I founded Leveraged Play in 2018 to make serious games that help organizations explore the future and explain the present. Over the course of 2019, I got to design a bunch of great games with wonderful clients and collaborators – I am thrilled with the output!
This post will cover the main games I made as well as the outlook for Leveraged Play.
HAL of Congress
The first commission of the year was from Santa Clara Law School as a fun closing activity their conference Internet Law Works in Progress. I teamed up with Mike Masnick and Leigh Beadon to create HAL of Justice.
The game is set in the far future where AIs control all branches of our government. The players take on the role of the AI judges and are assigned to three factions based on what they are programed to optimize: Human Happiness, Economic Output, Human Freedom. They then discuss and vote on five proposals to change the laws, each of which deal with different aspects of emerging technology.
For each case, three players are assigned as petitioners with different perspectives (e.g. the Cyborg, above) and quickly make their case to the room. Then, the judges have five minutes to ask questions to the petitioners. Finally the judges vote on whether to accept the proposal.
The event was a hit and attendees had a great time. The format worked well and was inspired by Jason Morningstar’s brilliant Ghost Court. Hopefully we get commissions to run more games like this in the future.
Climate Change & Land Use
Last spring I partnered with CollabForge and Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute to design a game for Climate Week QLD 2019. We designed an experience that kicked off a summit on climate change, land use, and biodiversity that involved senior scientists, business leaders, and government officials who were gathering for the first time with the goal of developing and prioritizing positive interventions.
The design process was a lot of fun – I got to dive deep on the complex systems around climate change and land use and to collaborate with some wonderful experts on both climate science and workshop facilitation. We developed a variety of different games and ultimately remixed them into a workshop in which participants quickly iterated on a series of project proposals. Several of those projects are going forward and will hopefully have significant impacts on the environment!
Walking the Future
In June, I ran Walking the Future at Refactor conference in LA. The game involved walking around a neighborhood and speculating on how it might transform in 2030-2040. You can read more about it in this blog post.
The rules are free on Itch – let me know if you have a chance to play!
Last month I teamed up again with Mike to run Threatcast 2020 – a brainstorm game focused on how bad actors might use technology to manipulate the 2020 election. This was a commission from a major tech company, though I can’t disclose which one.
The game was incredibly fun to design and run and our players brought tons of energy and creativity. We organized players into five factions and each group had to generate two interventions each round (one practical idea, one experimental idea). The game played out over five rounds, from the primaries through the aftermath of the general election. The interventions were devious, delightful, and provocative and I hope we develop safeguards so that they won’t end up happening in our timeline.
We’d love to run this again! if your organization is interested in paying for us to facilitate it, please reach out.
Trust and Safety
The final major games project of the year is about trust and safety teams at tech companies and the struggles involved in developing and enforcing content moderation policies. Mike and I received a grant to develop a game on the topic and it’s shaping up nicely!
We started by conducting interviews with some of the top experts on trust and safety – both in industry and academia. We then distilled our learnings into a variety of cases and roleplay scenarios and integrated them into a two hour game where players take on the role of trust and safety team members at a new startup. The players formulate policy, grapple with difficult cases, invest in new technologies, and have tense discussions with the CEO.
We’ve run four playtests so far and the feedback has been great! Hopefully we’ll be shipping the first version of the game this winter – stay tuned...
Leveraged Play’s Outlook
I had a lot of fun running Leveraged Play this year – it was a treat to work with so many great collaborators, clients, and players. I’m deeply grateful I’ve had a chance to combining my loves of game design, business strategy, and technology.
However, the market for serious games is tiny and the sales cycle has been incredibly slow. Because of this, Leveraged Play likely won’t be my main focus in 2020. I’m definitely still open for commission (email me!) but I’m not conducting outbound sales efforts.
My aim is that I’ll be able to return to Leveraged Play full-time in the future and be able to scale it to the point where it’s sustainable. The ultimate goal is to get enough revenue to support a vast network of brilliant designers and make games that generate major insights for huge organizations. Hopefully someday!