Initial Playtest Results — Collaborative Next Step Iterative Design

Positive: concept/theory

Not-so-positive: engagement/participation

Call for a “Bee” Team to take Next Step Iterative Redesign

(“Plan ‘Bee’ is to make Plan A work”)




78.9% say YES.

Making an elearning game together CAN

help nonprofit social entrepreneurs

solve the mystery of earned income venture profitability.


most Selearninggames wiki visitors


So far:

Selearninggames is ‘engaging’ on a conceptual/theoretical level, but not engaging on a level of participation in making the game. We’re not having fun yet (in fact, it sounds more like work).

Profound questions were posed.

what does making the game “together” mean?

what’s a good source of real-life data?

what does playing “Flood It” have to do with social entrepreneurship?

is it the game? or is it MAKING the game?

The Selearninggames concept has been referred to as a “breakthrough” idea.

“This game could be about developing a game to design a game to design a solution that our non-profit could employ as its social venture”

“Building a game in which players look to achieve the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] would be unreal.”

“I think the essence of fun in MMO’s is working with other people to overcome challenges. Can we figure out how to replace the fun of killing monsters with the fun of slaying real world challenges?”

One cool example of actually playing the making-the-game game can be found in the comments to my earlier post (where myself, Bernie DeKoven, and Steve Sherlock play with making a Question/Answer + Duck-Duck-Goose game).


Results like these guide our iterative next steps.

Concept/Theory is good

My theory is that social entrepreneurs over the past 10 years have built up enough collective experience/collective intelligence to solve the profitability problem – we just don’t know what we know!

We can make a learning game together to discover what we know — apply what we learn in the game — and improve real-world profitability for individual ventures.


Game Goal = improve profitability for individual nonprofit earned income ventures
Game Concept = game goal is accomplished thru collaborative discovery and application of strategic meta-pattern solutions to common profitability problems hidden in our collective real-world experience
Game Design = collaboratively player/learner-made


Building blocks of the concept:


  • Together, nonprofit social entrepreneurs know everything any one of us needs to know – we just don’t yet know that we know it.
  • The strategic meta-pattern solutions to our common profitability problems are hidden in our collective real-world experience.
  • Patterns are common solutions to common problems that have been proven effective over and over again.
  • Games are inherently ordered by a pattern language – therefore, a game is a natural structure for us to think together with for the purpose of discovering our hidden patterns.
  • MAKING a game (even more than playing a game) facilitates higher-order, big-system analysis of the relationship between our common questions, our common problems, and systemic consequences.
  • Multi-player/learner communities are capable of massively parallel problem-solving.
  • Problems solved in the virtual world can be applied to change outcomes in the real world.
  • Results of real-world application can be fed back into the game, making the game better (and more useful) as player/learners play.


Here’s how I see it “playing out”:

Design Phase: player/learners engage with free Web2.0 tools (wiki and blog) to collaboratively create game content and rules of play built out of collective real-world experience.

Development Phase: put the tech to it: features and functionality of game engine, learning management systems, and business intelligence technologies mobilize the player/learner-made game content and game rules.


Design Dilemma: Over-design/Under-design

Selearninggames wiki to date is poised the horns of that dilemma: it is both.

The question about what to do and how to start making the game together draws a fine line in the sand.

Selearninggames is striving to straddle that fine line between:

  • enabling us to do-it-for-ourselves (make our own game together)
  • telling you what to do (make the game for you)

external image podcast_merholz.jpgPeter Merholz
“Designing for the Sandbox” (jump to about minute-10 on this podcast), and others, have suggested that the designers’ role is to set the stage with a vision, values, tools and context; then embrace the chaos: people will make something useful of it for themselves.

I also read somewhere “let them build it and they will come.” They came, but didn’t engage in building something useful yet.

Qualitative and quantitative feedback tells us that Selearninggames is “under-designed.” Visitors to the wiki don’t know what to do, don’t know how to get started, and therefore, have not participated (re: page edits, discussion comments).

Redesign challenge: facilitate player/learner engagement and participation in making the game together … tell us what to do without “telling us what to do”

Interestingly, there has been a higher level of “backchannel” participation – communication in private messages or in other forums. Correspondingly, there has been more blog comments than wiki participation; more wiki discussion than wiki page edits.

Redesign challenge: encourage the backchannel into the collaborative open space … get us started without “telling us how to start”

Selearninggames may also be “over-designed” in the sense that the concept/theory is too much in the forefront. (in my own opinion – may be what makes it sound like more work and less play; so if you want more concept/theory details, just take a look at the wiki!). Paradoxically, it is the concept/theory that has attracted the positive attention.

Redesign challenge: set an attractive stage: present concept/theory with vision, values, and context — without erecting a barrier to participation


Call for “Bee” Team: Next Step Iterative Redesign

My Photo

Jane McGonigal suggests an approach based on how “I Love Bees” worked to engage a multi-player community in participation.

Despite a lack of instructions, and nowhere to turn for direct answers, players across the world self-organized into small groups to approach the problem from different angles.

These small groups proposed various solutions. Some were incorporated into the rules about how to play the ‘large-group’ game (indeed, some solutions initially rejected were later adopted as the game evolved). Armed with these solutions, players made sense out of a collection of Web2.0-delivered GPS coordinates and times. These GPS/times data revealed clues about virtually coordinated real-world action steps to unlock the mystery posed by the game.

Our Selearninggames “Bee” Team

This is what I’m talkin’ about:

I am talking about a small collaborative core team to generate the next iterative redesign of Selearninggames wiki and blog tools.


Make it clearer “how to” participate in the making-the-game game.

  1. Find that fine line between under-design and over-design
  2. That will actively engage broad-based, cross-community participation in the making-the-game game

This is not what I’m talkin’ about: I am not talking about a “seed” participant group. I am talking about resolving a tool design problem.

I read somewhere that a successful wiki needs to get a jump start from a small group of dedicated participants who “seed” the engagement and participation of others. I thought that such a seed group might emerge, rather than be artificially constructed; it didn’t. I thought this emergent seed group might grab hold of and resolve making-the-game game design questions themselves; they didn’t.

It’s a tool design problem we need to solve – there is no point in attempting to seed participation, until participants have a clearer idea about “what to do.”

What does the “Bee” Team look like; how will it work?

(Heard on NPR this morning: “Plan ‘Bee’ is to make Plan A work”)

The “Bee” Team looks like:

The “Bee” Team is one small group (6-12 ?) composed of like-minded folks approaching the wiki & blog redesign goal from different perspectives:

  1. nonprofit social entrepreneurs
  2. gaming
  3. elearning
  4. Web2.0 community-building

How will the “Bee” Team work?:

The “Bee” Team will work collaboratively with Web2.0 tools.

Our Redesign Goal: make it clearer “how to” participate in making-the-game game

I have set up a “Bee” Team workspace page on the Selearninggames wiki for us to get started. We can work directly in the wiki; we can work on this blog (maybe even set it up for multiple authors?); we can use Skype for collaborative conference calls and IM conferences …

Please comment on this post:

Let me know what you think about this small group redesign approach. Will this work to break the engagement/participation barrier to nonprofit social entrepreneurs making an elearning game together that solves the mystery of earned income venture profitability?

Please let me know if YOU are interested in being part of the “Bee” Team.

Add yourself to the “Bee” Team wiki page, or

email me: sdickinson at columbus dot rr dot com


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