This article inaugurates a series of interviews with the major protagonists of Italian and international game design.
We have had Francesco Lutrario, Professor and Head of GamificationLab of La Sapienza University in Rome, tell us about it and his projects and his vision of the gamification sector, as designer of gamified applications for the optimization of business processes in Sicheo.
We asked him in particular, his opinion on the needs that a gamification platform must satisfy, in order to give real support to developers and game designers.
Professor Lutrario's career began in Rome in the 1990s, as the founder and manager of the Ludonet company, the first Italian company to deal with Gamification. At the same time he held courses on game and simulation design in Milan, Bologna, L'Aquila and Rome. Six years ago he founded, together with Professor Paola Velardi, the GamificationLab Sapienza laboratory.
Today he is also the director of a business unit dedicated to the design of games, simulations and Gamification solutions at the company Sicheo, which specializes in applying these projects to the governance of complex business processes.
How did your passion for Gamification come about?
I was lucky enough to be a player interested in many different genres and media and I had the opportunity to work in contact with players of all ages and to design games for different goals. Over time I became the author of both physical and digital games, the first of which I designed for a civil protection center, then for the Telecom quality area.
At the same time, the teaching activity allowed me to have a privileged observation point and to carry out research on the theme of gaming and related technologies. Working for different targets and customers, I was able to test the advantages brought by games in different contexts.
How is the Gamification Lab structured? What skills do your students develop?
The GamificationLab Sapienza is both a complementary training activity for postgraduate students and a course, Game Design & Gamification, for the students of the three-year computer science degree. These two courses, plus the remote course provided by Unitelma Sapienza, provide the bases on the theoretical and technical/practical level for the professional figures destined to operate in the field of planning/design of games, video games, digital simulations and gamification applications both in the field of company and for social and cultural purposes.
The course includes the fundamentals of the methodologies and tools used for game and gamification design and for the creation of the models that underlie video games and simulations.
Every year the students are involved in a simulation during which companies or institutions present a brief for them to design a gamification solution; students also create an application prototype necessary to test the solution, especially the mechanics, they themselves have designed. Those interested can find the projects carried out in previous years on the laboratory site.
Let's move on to your company, how does it integrate Gamification and simulation techniques into the projects that Sicheo develops for its customers?
Sicheo uses gamification methods and simulation techniques to create clear and timely representations of corporate complexity by simplifying the usability of information, facilitating the monitoring and governance of complex processes and developing innovative learning, training and assessment programs.
In fact we operate at the intersection of Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Business Analysis and modeling, simulation and gamification techniques.
Gamification is one of the methods we use to implement new generation Predictive & Decision Models. Data is acquired through data mining techniques and thanks to AI systems and machine learning methods are used in order to govern business processes, predict and manage critical conditions, perform both forward and backward analysis on the outcome of the process. The companies that have used these systems have obtained significant advantages in terms of reduction of errors, waste and costs, less stress, increased information sharing, etc.
Can you give us some examples of the success of your Gamification projects applied in business contexts?
The most successful case concerns a group of construction companies that have applied gamification to govern the movement and safety processes as well as to train their managers; the objective was achieved by creating a single application thanks to which significant advantages were obtained in terms of cost reduction, site downtime and recourse to external suppliers.
The most recent case concerns a software designed to govern the human resources of medium and large companies through which it is possible to perform simulations of new organizational scenarios in the HR field. The system takes data from existing systems (ERP such as SAP HCM or Zucchetti) and represents them as if you were in front of a simulator. I am now working on solutions to simulate and manage the batch processes of the pharmaceutical industry.
What are the needs and demands of the companies that come to you?
In summary, governing corporate complexity, improving the processes themselves by simulating and forecasting the related outcomes, and optimizing the effects of training, learning and assessment programs.
What do you expect from a Gamification platform?
I expect it to facilitate the work of designers and developers regarding exogenous components of game and simulation mechanisms and to simplify the connection between real and digital actions. Once the gamified mechanics has been designed, this determines effects that must be made evident, both to users and to the managers of the initiative, in terms of score, leveling, etc.
A platform can make it easier to design these components or enhance the levers provided by the game/simulation system.
All the various components of a gamification project (leaderboards, actions, rewards, processes, metrics and teams) can be set in the Playoff dashboard. Which elements do you consider strategic for the development of a game design project?
Working in the design field, I am particularly interested in the actions (which I call levers) and the related evaluation metrics; from a technical point of view team management is a problem that can certainly be facilitated by a platform especially if designed in such a way as to favor the task of the developer and in general the definition and practical implementation of these aspects. Even the definition through an intuitive interface of the pre and post conditions can greatly facilitate the task of the designer.
We would like to hear your opinion regarding the use of gamification, in any context, from sales to training, which have particularly affected you for originality, results or otherwise. Can you cite some examples that you consider particularly successful?
Unfortunately, the data that companies make available is limited or partial. On the other hand, I would not like to talk about projects in which I participated personally.
For example, McDonald's has been active in the field of gamification for several years both through live entertainment events and digital solutions. Turning to the Kineo company, McDonald's created a simulation game to train the knowledge of the staff on the new cash register system; a further goal was to teach employees how to offer customers a better experience. So the solution acted both in terms of simulating and training.
Not many know particular aspects of the project that have a significant relevance and that show how the real gamification experts participated in the project. I will cite just one example above all: the employees were not obliged to use the simulator and nevertheless over 80% of them used it. In fact, a game cannot be prescribed; nobody can be forced to play as Gregory Bateson teaches in his "This is a game" - Why you can never tell someone «Play!».
Using the right approaches, the company has seen significant improvements in customer experiences, sales and therefore profits. The success of the project has led to the development of additional learning tools based on game and simulation techniques.
I take this opportunity to point out that right now the GamificationLab Sapienza students are planning a gamification solution for the Ronald McDonald Italy Foundation for Childhood. The goal is to encourage interaction and socialization among children and young people, guests of the Ronald homes, who despite sharing health problems come from different countries and cultures and, speaking different languages, have difficulty interacting with each other.
It was a pleasure to have Professor Lutrario as our first guest. His words were for us a confirmation of the fact that the direction we have taken in the development of Playoff, may be of interest and useful for those looking for an agnostic, ready-to-use rule engine that drastically reduces time to market.
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