Game Thinking OG: my tribute to Jesse Schell

I remember the first time I attended the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC), and realized what it felt like to be surrounded by people who were wickedly smart, analytically disciplined AND wildly creative. I’d found my people.

I started participating actively in GDC — giving talks and hosting workshops on community design and social gaming systems during the rise of MMOs and social gaming. That’s how I first met Jesse Schell— an engaging, witty guy and kindred spirit who’s as passionate about merging education and gaming as we are. Jesse helped create ToonTown, Disney’s first MMO for kids — and now runs Schell Games, a transformational games studio that develops VR/AR experiences and educational games.

Jesse is also the author of a one of my favorite game design books, The Art of Game Design: a book of lenses.

I recommend this book to all my Game Thinking students and clients to help understand how game designers approach problem-solving and creativity.

A few years later — at the beginning of the gamification craze — Jesse gave a memorable DICE talk that went viral and introduced his brilliance to a whole new audience.

After that talk, I’d meet with smart young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who wanted to hack habits — and they’d refer to Jesse’s talk (which most game designers read as a cautionary tale) as product inspiration. What ensued was a Gamification gone wild! Lots of experiments, lots of failures and learning.

Over the years, Jesse and I have worked together on several projects, including an experimental game-making community sponsored by Schell Games. You can learn more about Jesse’s approach to game design and innovation in this Getting2Alpha interview.

Here’s a particularly resonant quote:

I remember when we created Pixie Hollow, a massively multiplayer game for girls based on Tinkerbell. We had a whole design worked out that we felt pretty good about. We said, “Before we get into any production, let’s talk to girls and see how they feel about it.”

We didn’t tell the girls, “Here’s what we’re thinking.” We asked really simple questions, like, “If you were a fairy, what would you do?” We thought we knew the answer. We were wrong. The answer was “fly.”

We hadn’t been thinking about flying because we’d been focused on the Tinkerbell movie, where flying isn’t prominently featured. We immediately changed our plan. We made it so you’re flying every second of the game.

Early conversations can be really important.

Thank you Jesse for enhancing our collective knowledge through your books & talks & games & general awesomeness. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Do you want to learn the powerful design techniques leveraged by Jesse Schell, Raph Koster, Richard Garriott & other pioneers?

Grab your copy of Game Thinking and start innovating smarter today!

Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur

Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur