INTERVIEW: Vries enlightening

Playful Company boss, Thijs de Vries, shared his thoughts on the progress of the serious gaming market, and his own approach towards using games as a strategic solution…

The Playful Company boss, Thijs de Vries, shared his thoughts on the progress of the serious gaming market, and his own approach towards using games as a strategic solution…
Considering one of the most talked about new business solutions, with market projections upwards of $5bn over the next four years, there are some who are not entirely happy with the speed at which this market is growing.
The Playful Company boss Thijs de Vries, is one. He doesn’t strike you as the impatient type, but he’s of the opinion that the serious games market, the gamification market, call it what you will (and there is endless debate about that), whilst it is still heading in the right direction, is not making the progress he expected it would by now.
Part of that seems to be a disconnect between what clients want, need and expect and what service providers are able to deliver.
“Where I see a lot of people entering the gamification business, they have a background in games but I have a background in design thinking. A more academic approach,” explains De Vries.
“Something I have noticed at a lot in conferences were the viewpoints from the gaming industry. A lot of the research and models are from the gaming perspective. The approach I try to use is from a design thinking perspective, gamification as a follow up to that approach. Game thinking can be seen as an extension to deliver this experience to people. So when I design something I think about the touch points of a product with it’s user and the enjoyment I want to give people.”
De Vries suggests that what is needed is a closer marriage between strategy and the application of game design.
“There are many solutions witThijs talkingh game design elements, but a lot are poorly designed and just don’t work effectively. But it’s a difficult profession and a lot of research still needs to be done in order to achieve the right results. We are definitely in the early stages of gamification. Eventually the term could become obsolete. But for now, there are lots of advantages to using that term because it’s a starting point for a conversation.”
Perhaps some of the friction currently dragging on the progress of the market is from the bigger clients who are on the one hand leading the charge with more ambitious projects but, on the other, are not realising the full potential of the solutions by working closely enough with their workforce.
“It differs from client to client. I’ve done projects for bigger multinationals and small start-ups and there’s obviously a big difference. Multinationals are keen on using design techniques, but there’s a strong hierarchy in these companies. Often these innovative projects are only rolled out as pilot projects rather than fully investing in it.”
“Gamification can be a trojan horse. I always try to ask why they want to use it. It’s possible that gamification is not the best solution.”
“One of the things a lot of companies still don’t understand is the amount of project planning and testing involved in delivering good products.”
This experience is beginning to alter The Playful Company’s approach to creating gamified solutions.
“I’m shifting to a more strategic kind of thinking because people are asking for that more and more,” says De Vries.
Greater understanding among those at the sharp end who are utilising the products is also desirable he believes.
“Management has to have more of a gaming mindset. It’s something I really believe in. When looking at education for instance, there are lots of gamification solutions, but they only work if the teachers have the right gaming mindset. Within companies, managers need that in order to be able to steer the company in the right direction with regard to problem solving and so on. You can not only solve it with solutions and products and not have that particular mindset”
The Playful Company has been working with some big clients, including Dutch airline, KLM and electronics giant Philips. For KLM, the firm delivered a programme designed to increase employee engagement and team participation. Called KLM’s Next Top Model it involved 3D printing and getting employees working together in a way which they were not used to. People from other departments who didn’t know each other and had to come up with a models about the future of aviation. The project was more about the process than the end results.
Rather than the traditional and some would say, over-used, route of offering badges and rewards, De Vries feels that content sharing is what can drive engagement and interaction. “I’m not doing a lot with sharing and badges but focusing on shareable content, online and with friends. Making sure people have something to be super proud of.”
Despite his disappointment at the speed and the manner in which gamification is being used, De Vries his still extremely positive about the market and feels that it is all part of the learning curve of a new market, heading in the right direction towards maturation.

The Playful Co  

Playful Case Studies



WOO is the equivalent of Runkeeper for kiteboarding. By using an external sensor, you can record every session you do, without bringing your iPhone to the water.

 The Playful Company worked closely with the WOO team to create the accompanying iPhone app with the WOO sensor. Thijs consulted on a core gamification strategy to be used in the app. Goal of the gamification was to get advanced kiteboarders to jump higher and do more tricks, but also to motivate beginner kiteboarders to find new friends and new spots to kite.

Just after market launch, the WOO was used as measuring tool in the famous Red Bull King of the Air challenge in Cape Town, South Africa. The realtime leaderboard for this competition could be seen by anyone who downloaded the WOO app. 

KLM’s Next Top Model


This was the mission of a small team within Air France/KLM IT department to reach three main goals: cross divisional cooperation, learn about and use new technologies, bridging the gap between business and IT.

Different components (multimedia, events, badges, leaderboard, storyline, challenges, etc.) have been folded into an engaging experience with its fierce director, recruiting multidisciplinary teams, competing, getting to know each other strengths and thus unknowingly generating the future of their own organisation.

If you want to deliver a successful game or gamification solutions, you need ‘autonomy’, ‘mastery’ and ‘purpose’. KLM’s Next Top Model had these three ingredients. Autonomy is about control. Can you choose your own strategy as player? Can you influence the outcome? Mastery is about learning, about getting better. What can you learn from playing this game? Does the game reflect this? And finally purpose (often called meaning or relatedness) is about having a clear goal. Is this goal meaningful to the player? Does the player find the subject important?

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