One does not simply make a diversity and inclusion game
“We need to do something with diversity. Let’s make a game for that.” That’s how it went. Kind of. So that’s what we did. We started out brainstorming about a perfect society where everybody could feel included and accounted for. This evolved into a Project Future where players are taking on challenges in order to convince a council of supporting the project. If players are able to cope with the challenges in the right way, they will receive the approval of the council and the project will continue.
So how do you create a game about a complex topic like this?
Step 1: Brainstorming
All design processes start with a brainstorm phase. This is the part where we throw all our weird ideas in and fantasize of what we could do. This is the phase that always helps in creating the high-level mechanics and dynamics of the game. Mechanics are the underlying currents of the game. Dynamics are the rules that people will actually follow and that will influence the structure of the game. Think of a game of Catan where each player is faced with an element of luck (mechanic) which is covered by dice (the dynamics). These are the kind of decisions that we try to tackle in this phase of the process.
Step 2: Creating wireframes
These are the rough drafts of what the game should look like. This part is not focused in the design, but rather on the content. Visualizing this helps in making the game more concrete and test assumptions early on in the process. What are different ways of visualizing the dynamics that we’ve chosen in step 1?
Step 3: Designs
When the wireframes are finished, we can start on medium- and high-fidelity designs. These will form the basis of the actual front-end of the game. Designers and developers will use these as the basis of the game. This is something that we can already show to potential customers to see what they think of our ideas. Also, it helps us in getting the potential complexities clear before we actually start developing them ourselves.
Step 4: Paper prototype
This is the step where we test out the game mechanics. By printing out the challenges in a rough draft version, we can see in real-time how players respond to challenges. Did we base our designs on the right assumptions? Is the level of the challenges right? This step makes it easy to tweak these things.
During these tests, we can already see the reactions of the players. Even though it’s a rough draft, people tend to get into the flow of the game.
Step 5: Development
Now we’re really starting off. We’ve briefed our developers in Indonesia about the concept and laid out all the user stories (the technical specifications of the product). Did we add some complexities that we should skip for now? We’re literally playing poker to see what we can accomplish in the sprints.
Step 6: MVP tests
This is the exciting part: seeing how people respond for the very first time. We know that bugs will mess up the game flow, but we do want to launch early to test and pivot as early as possible. This is the balance that we will always face.
While we do hope that the MVP product will provide a starting point for discussions, we know that D&I is and always will be a difficult topic. We will tweak the game and get a better understanding of players’ motivations and biases. This will allow us to optimize the game and get better at D&I.