Develop sustainable innovations with game mechanics
Sustainability as an innovation opportunity for companies
The goal of the CREATABLES initiative is to open up digital transformation and sustainability as an innovation opportunity for companies. We bring together SMEs, researchers and creative professionals, especially from games development and UX design, to shape the future together in interdisciplinary teams using creative technologies. The focus is on the development of digital applications, training courses, new products and services, and new business models. With its innovation vouchers and digitization bonus plus, the state of Baden-Württemberg offers attractive funding models for companies' digitization projects in the state.
Companies in all sectors are increasingly seeing themselves challenged and are facing pressure from investors to implement sustainability actively and transparently in order to secure further investment. Consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the issue of sustainability and are demanding credible satisfaction of their needs through appropriately sustainably produced products and sustainably operated services. Added to this is the political and social pressure in the context of the climate goals and the UN's 17 SDGs.
How can companies keep pace with the digitalization of business processes and at the same time adapt to the climate goals? And how can they use this change strategically and in a value-creating way for themselves in order to become sustainably fit for the future?
Creatables' mission in a nutshell:
- Finding new narratives for sustainable living and business - sustainability as an innovation opportunity.
- Thinking sustainability and digitalization together for new products/services
- Use motivating game mechanics for innovations
- Engaging creatives as translators of technical innovation into a good user experience - the importance of design and purpose in innovation
- Living interdisciplinarity in innovation teams
Creatables brings together SMEs, start-ups, game developers, universities and creative industries as an innovation team to promote cross-innovation in the context of sustainability on an equal footing, collaboratively with creative methods and in a very practical way. Sustainability stands for the necessity of change in our world, our society and our daily lives.
Games and media companies, UX designers, creative start-ups and researchers at the state's universities are champions of digital transformation. The level of digitalization in the creative industries is extremely high. Game and UX designers have valuable knowledge and experience in iteration, user testing, retention, engagement and user interface design. They know which techniques lead to the user using a process or a mechanic again and again out of an intrinsic motivation, how a good user experience is created and how the user also acquires important knowledge in a playful way. Digital games technologies, VR and AR applications, the use of games engines and creative working methods offer powerful new tools for the development of sustainable business strategies, new products and services, and training/education for all industries.
What has changed with the powerful movements such as the climate strikes last year and the current developments in the global conversation and what impact has this had on the games industry?
Steffen P. Walz:
For example, it can be seen that games that in the past were considered exclusively as so-called "serious games" or "games for impact" and might therefore have been classified as "too academic" or served "only a niche" are now published by global publishers with quite a reach - as games.
One example is Endling, which is scheduled for release this year - an environmentally conscious survival adventure about the last fox on earth and her young. As we can see from this example, sustainability-conscious and active people develop games; and there will be many gamers who want to and will play such games. And for those who are not yet receptive to games, such a game can be a reason to become enthusiastic about the medium. Sustainability development goals and the climate crisis have thus begun to form their own market.
In fact, in comparatively many non-game markets such as finance, mobility and even consumer goods, we can observe how products and services are increasingly being questioned and also demanded in terms of sustainability. Another aspect of this change is that the themes and values that games express and explore are evolving and games as a medium are also evolving. The indie developers, as the game "Endling" shows, have definitely discovered sustainability settings for themselves. So I have no doubt that we will see many more games, large and small, that will negotiate climate and sustainability related, i.e. deeply human - social, cultural and ecological - issues. In addition, many other digital thinkers and creative developers from the field of user experience are very interested in possibilities to incorporate sustainability in existing and future products and services in a playful way or with their own methods.
What I have learned over the past year from similar conversations with game developers, designers and business partners, and what I feel myself, is the urgency and necessity to act - and to see the climate crisis and other goals of sustainable development not only as a threat, but also as a huge opportunity for digital transformation and innovation.
A recurring question that emerged in these discussions was: "How can I, as a designer, developer, entrepreneur, researcher, publisher, hardware manufacturer and consumer, bring about change and actively contribute to the social and environmental development goals of sustainability? One answer for me personally was to initiate the Creatables movement together with Dr. Angela Frank from MFG Baden-Württemberg, the games industry experts Sven Schmidt and Prof. Sebastian Stamm, and the user experience experts Phillip Rigley and Frieda Preuß. The aim of this was to bring together digital creatives from different backgrounds with each other and with companies and organizations in order to tackle sustainability goals in a very pragmatic way, through creative design and digital thinking. Incidentally, a similar initiative is playing4theplanet.org, for example, which is supported by the United Nations Environment Program, although it is centrally concerned with games; in this context, the UN recently published mission1point5.org, which is not just a game but a campaign that includes advertising in other video games; another example of how the industry is reacting.
These initiatives are important, but I believe we could do so much more: For example, consider services and products outside of the gaming arena and work with these areas to motivate and engage audiences, for example to encourage behavioral change; or we can bring ourselves in as a creative force to design effective business models with social or environmental impetus, as is possible with modelsofimpact.co, a method game by design strategist Matthew Manos that allows you to invent and spell out sustainable yet profitable business models. So each and every one of us can ask ourselves: "How can I achieve positive effects with my expertise, my art, my design and my coding - and then become active with it?
What can we expect from the new format of the Creatables Conference?
Steffen P. Walz:
With the Creatables format, we want to bring together game developers, UX experts, design thinkers, start-ups and universities with representatives of small and medium-sized companies to jointly invent digital solutions for sustainable innovations. Motivating game mechanisms and design methods will play a central role in developing products and services in line with the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations. In addition to inspiring keynotes and other presentations, there will be panels on the topic of digital sustainability and playful workshops in which we will work together with SMEs in interdisciplinary teams to come up with sustainable solutions and develop them further afterwards. The latter point in particular is very important to us and we also want to draw attention to funding instruments such as the innovation vouchers in Baden-Württemberg; last but not least, we will also focus on the cultural and educational sector as a space for digital, sustainable innovation.
Due to the corona pandemic, we started with an online conference on June 17 and will launch other formats over the summer and fall. On October 15th, the Creatables Conference will take place in Karlsruhe, in connection with the established bizplay conference.
We co-organizers lookd very much forward to the first event on June 17th, 2020 and the further Creatables formats that will follow. We hope that these will reflect the special spirit of the Creatables movement, namely to actively address the goals of sustainable development together and with each other, across creative and digital disciplines. The coronavirus crisis in particular shows how we can use digital means to absorb crises. Health and well-being are also sustainability goals, and we should also view the coronavirus pandemic in the context of global warming - many countries do not have the infrastructure that we have in Germany or the political and systemic conditions; this is precisely where we can provide support in the future through sustainable digital approaches.
A few more words about the content of the conferences in June and October: We will see contributions from "Germany's most sustainable brand", the outdoor equipment manufacturer VAUDE, and experience how the brand cooperates with the Stuttgart-based virtual & augmented reality specialists Lightshape and with iFixit, the repair activists. We are also pleased that we were able to win Ruth Lemmen for the moderation, who will be known to many as the co-founder of Womenize! Games and Tech, an action program to promote diversity in the digital industry.
We are also networked internationally: our keynote speaker in June will be the above-mentioned Matthew Manos from Los Angeles, he is a design strategist, managing director of the sustainability consultancy verynice, professor for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Southern California, author of several books on the topic of Impact & "Social Enterprise" and, of course, inventor of the fantastic game Models of Impact. In October we want to give Maria Sayans and Helen Fuchs a stage. Maria is CEO of https://www.ustwogames.co.uk (Assemble With Care; Monument Valley); Helen Fuchs is Design Director at UsTwo. The group of companies is of great relevance for our topic: The games division, led by Maria, has created beautiful and almost poetic interactive experiences that make us aware of our humanity; the UsTwo product design studio, for example, works on health technology by applying game and game design principles - a fantastic example of how cross-innovation can be used for sustainable products. The company as a whole has also recently become a B-Corp, i.e. has been certified as an ethically and ecologically responsible company. As far as I know, this has never been done in the games industry before, and only a few digital companies have done so - here, too, we see a great opportunity especially for SMEs, not least in view of possible future regulations, for example in the area of climate neutrality.
In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the introduction of cloud-based gaming platforms. Do you think it would be irresponsible to develop such energy-consuming technology when we know that global consumption levels must fall?
Steffen P. Walz:
Games - and the Internet itself - have a huge impact on the environment: Think of the combined footprint caused by the production and assembly of tiny computer parts such as transistors, the execution of computing power with graphics cards, and the operation of high-quality screens, and think of the footprint caused by the production, testing and operation of a game.
In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley and sponsored by the California Energy Commission has revealed that in the U.S., gamers in the U.S. consume more household electricity by playing games than the energy required for freezers and washing machines; and that streaming games consume more energy than playing on location. So yes, from this point of view, cloud-based gaming platforms do not seem to contribute to reducing consumption levels; the focus could be on how sustainably the electricity used has been produced - is it zero-emissions electricity or electricity from fossil fuels? Or how about a main switch that completely shuts off the console, TV and peripherals when not playing? How about making computers, servers and data centers similar to the Fairphone - so that ultimately all our electronics are sustainable, made from sustainable materials, repairable and ethically produced? These are just tiny so-called "moon shots"; I'm pretty sure that the big technology groups that offer game streaming and cloud computing and that have also pledged to become carbon neutral will bring a lot of business models, creative engineering and design to this challenge; that's exactly what needs to happen. The coronavirus pandemic can help us, in the sense of resilience, i.e. understanding a crisis as an opportunity for growth and development, to set a course here. We are currently witnessing the acceleration of digital transformation, and this is an opportunity to think about sustainability; after all, health and well-being are also among the sustainability goals
Prof. Dr. Steffen P. Walz
diconium digital solutions GmbH
Mr. Falstein, you are a veteran of the games industry and have carried the topic of games and game design into the most diverse areas of life and business over the past decades. You have advised companies on corporate training but also in the field of medical education. In 2002, for example, you worked as a designer on the game "Hungry Red Planet", which is about teaching children about healthy nutrition by building a Mars colony.
What motivated you to take the topic of game design into other areas such as health?
I began working as an independent freelance game designer in 1996, and only gradually became interested in the field that became known as „serious games“ and these days as gamification. My first experience with that was consulting for Shell Oil to come up with ideas about using games to train people about safety on oil platforms. As a game designer I’ve always been interested in how people think and why games are compelling. From there it was a fairly small step to considering how games could have the capability to help people in ways beyond entertainment. Soon however I became drawn to health and neuroscience in particular as the most direct way to understand how games affect us.
Would you say that game design can be an innovation driver for current and future challenges in the field of corporate sustainability?
Certainly. Games are particularly good at teaching people about systems and how they interact, and sustainability is fundamentally about complex systems with many interdependencies. Games allow us to try many more variations with greater safety than in reality – and at their best they are also much more accessible and compelling than mere simulations.
What do you consider to be outstanding examples where game design has contributed significantly to creating or improving a product or service in the context of sustainability?
Perhaps the best example is the game Sim City, which has had many generations of refinement. From the very beginning it had the concept of dealing with power sources and pollution.
Are currently involved on a sustainability game?
I am not currently involved on a sustainability game, but I have done some design work of my own on how we can make a game to help people prepare for a wide variety of natural and man-made problems, many of which are directly related to sustainability. Some day I hope to put these ideas into practice.
Thanks for the interview. We are looking forward to your contribution at the creatables conference on 15 October 2020!