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What can we learn from game mechanics?

In this week's issue we check out some of the best stuff on game design to understand how these techniques can be applied in the global south. As ever, if you like what we do, please share!

🎬 Looking back, in 2014 the Gates Foundation included video as one of 4 key innovations for poor farmers, coupled with a grant to Digital Green, a video enabled approach to agricultural extension. In 2018 an RCT found that "the effectiveness of mediated video-based training on individuals’ adoption rates of a new agricultural technology (alternate wetting and drying) in rural Bihar, India... increased by 0.05 for those who viewed DG videos… [i.e.] videos can serve as a feasible and scaleable method for improving agricultural outcomes”.

Now it's 2019, what might drive new change? One area of digital tech in the global south is on the rise...

📱The future trends (games). GSMA estimate that by 2025 78% of all development market mobile connections will be smart. These phones can amplify the power of video, seen above, but what else? Interestingly, India is among the top 5 mobile game countries globally, expected to surge to 368 million gamers in 2022. If this is a bell weather for developing markets, we can expect gaming to be a significant force across the global south. 

🕹 Game designer Jane McGonigal argues we need 21 billion hours of gameplay per week. Why? Gamers are “super empowered" and "hopeful" individuals, who are amazing at "collaborating online". This power has been used in unexpected settings: Blockbyblock uses Minecraft as a tool to improve the urban design process; Hellblade (with support from University of Cambridge neuroscientists) gives players an insight into psychosis; GRID sets out to affect social change with interactive apps catered to “the bottom billion”. These trends seem to get most attention in the education technology sphere when it comes to major funders and policy makers, but capitalising on the power of games cuts across almost all sectors. The key is that the learning outcome of the game is determined by the product designer, and that’s where the potential to address social impact problems comes in...

🛷 Avoid gamification bandwagon. Instead shoot for fun. Raph Koster explains this well in his book, A theory of fun:

"There is a design practice called “gamification” which attempts to use the trappings of games (reward structures, points, etc.) to make people engage more with product offerings. Does it miss the point of games? It is often layered on top of systems that lack the rich interpretability of a good game. A reward structure alone does not a game make…"

"Fun, as I define it, is the feedback the brain gives us when we are absorbing patterns for learning purposes”… [if you are going to make a game] "your sole responsibility is to know what the game is about and to ensure that the game teaches that thing. That one thing, the theme, the core, the heart of the game, might require many systems or it might require few. But no system should be in the game that does not contribute towards that lesson."

👾 A Theory of fun is a compelling read and Koster notes "the part of games that is least understood is the formal abstract system portion of it, the mathematical part of it, the chunky part of it.” To dig into more detail I recommend viewing this talk from 30:00 to understand the notion of a “game atom”, and later Koster’s game grammar.

If you want to get a flavour of what core mechanics look like in games, check out this 160 slides on understanding game mechanics for social games (note: social here means many players together, not socio-economic impact).


Unrelated info nuggets of our last 2 weeks

🗜 Worryingly there have been more internet shutdowns every year for the past three years, and this tool shows that the recent 3 day shutdown in Zimbabwe could have cost the economy $17M

🚨 Fascinating read on How Building the Amazon of Africa put me on Interpol Most Wanted list, by Marek Zmysłowski

💻 African devs on the rise where Anthony Kiplimo makes the case for better developer relations over a backdrop of devs rising from 500,000 in 2015 developers compared to approximately 800,000 in 2018 (based on StackOverflow).
📈 Interesting trend, a business outsourcing boom in Madagascar thanks to its super-fast internet: there are now 233 BPO companies in Madagascar employing between 10,000 and 15,000 people.

💸 Whose in the money? the top 10 disclosed deals in Africa tech that Ventureburn reported in 2018

💰 In the money. Software developer training and outsourcing company Andela has announced a $100 million Series D round (one of the largest ever single rounds raised by an African-focused tech company)

💡 9 surprises from Bill & Melinda Gates 2019 Annual letter, complete with slick videos.
🖍 Chalk in IndiaGlobal Education Census report finds (of countries surveyed) students in India are least likely to use smartphones in lessons (16%, versus the 42% global average). 35% of students worldwide say blackboards and chalk are used during lessons, this rises to 67% in India.

🤔 A different take. Gloo founder Olumide Olusanya says there’s no strong need for eCommerce in Sub-Saharan Africa after Gloo shuts shop.

🔬 AI in health A free app that lets patients do quick health checkups on themselves (first of its kind available in Swahili) supported by Gates Foundation

Final thoughts...

Games have been discussed plenty when it comes to tech in Africa/Asia, international development etc. And there are very powerful games already capturing vast amounts of digital attention in the global south (we didn't even mention China!).

What's not often discussed is 'how to' actually wield these games in a more rigorous way. 'Gamification' may take us down the wrong track: a reward structure, arbitary points and badges won't do. If we want to get serious about harnessing the power of games we need to study how and why existing games really work. This study won't be trivial (in fact it looks deeply mathematical), but perhaps it will yield the next big digital innovation for farmers - and others - to make front page of the next Gates Note!

A quick request...

📩 We're just kicking this newsletter off... If you liked it and know anyone who might be interested in these musings please forward them the newsletter by sharing this link.

Thanks for reading!

Georgia & Adam

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