Posted by: Waern | March 23, 2009

Play it Forward

Well, GDC already ‘paid off’ for me, in listening to the very first presentation in the ‘serious games summit’. Austin Hill from Akoha presented the motivation and design inspirations behind their ‘game for good’. Inspired by the feelgood movie Play it Forward, Jane McGonigal’s work, and geocaching they have designed a gift economy game. When you sign up for the game, you get a deck of cards with ‘good deeds’ on them. Do the deed and hand the card to the person who you did it to. This person logs into the website and documents the event, becomes a participant and can then pass the card on to a new person. The best description of the game is actually this YouTube fan video , which is both an accurate and enthusiastic description of the game.

Austin stressed a couple of design ideas that carry over to a lot of other pervasive games. One was basing the game design on the traditional structure of a gift economy.  In these, the act of giving is typically done publicly and duly recognized, so that it’s a self-esteem boost just as well as a good deed. I liked that. When we think about good deeds, we often require them to be so tremendeously good, as if they have to be completely selfless and altruistic to count. But it is actually more fun to be good if you also gain points and recognition from it, and the good effect is still there.

Austin called their project a ‘Web 3.0’ design, referring to how the cards and events exist in the real world, but that they are made persistent through online documentation and sharing in a web community. The same principle carries a lot of the games we have been inspired by, including Deathgame and flash mobs, and The Truth About Marika for that matter, and Austin’s term fits the design principle rather snugly. Akoha are also inviting players to design new cards and card decks, which probably will give them the most  interesting decks in the long run.

Another thing that I found refreshing is that Akoha is not a research project but a commercial endeavour. They want the company to earn money so that they can give away a fair deal of that to charity. They are looking for brand collaborations (Starbucks was mentioned) and they seem to have a sound, hardcore business plan. Again, this is a refreshingly pragmatic view on philantrophy.


  1. Hi Annika,

    Thanks for your review of my GDC talk.

    The Web 3.0 term came from one of our players & it’s a fun catchphrase. When we describe it we use the term social reality game.

    One of the concerns we’ve had is how to position the game for a wide audience. The terminology around ARGs, MMRG (Massively Meaningful Reality Games), Web 3.0/2.0 or other industry acronyms were terms that we found casual mainstream audiences were put off by.

    Glad you enjoyed the conference.

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