Interview with Karl Kapp – Co-Founder at Enterprise Game Stack

We feel lucky to have Karl Kapp for our myCred interview. Karl is a big kahuna for the gamification industry and has been involved in such an industry since he started teaching at Bloomsburg University.

He believes that game-thinking is a powerful tool after writing various books on gamification. He is a multi-tasker and possesses managerial skills. He is entitled to be a consultant, entrepreneur, speaker, board member, book author, and gamification expert.

Karl likes to share his ideas through writing and motivate people with his inspirational speaking sessions on different topics related to his field.

Before we start the interview, we want to tell our audience all about your Gamification journey. Can you please write a little on what intrigued you about gamification and what your personal experience has been so far?


1- What does the term “Gamification” mean to you?

It means the careful application of the concepts, ideas, and approaches used in designing games applied to non-game situations. An example would be using the concept of transparency of progression. Games do a great job of letting you know how far you’ve gone and how far you need to go to get to the next level. This same concept can be applied to learning. Games do a great job of letting people fail without serious consequences and then try again. That’s an element of gamification, the official definition I used in my writings is “the application of game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning and solve problems.” The important thing is that it is NOT creating games but, rather, using the principles, concepts, and ideas of games to help motivate and educate.

I’d also like to add that it’s the use of “deep game” elements like feedback loops, freedom to fail, story, virtuous loops, and other items that make gamification impactful, simply throwing points, badges, and leaderboards at instruction (or anything) doesn’t make it engaging and motivational.  Like anything done well, gamification needs to be implemented properly and with careful attention paid to desired outcomes and results. It’s not something that can be done haphazardly. We’ve all, unfortunately, experienced poorly designed and implemented gamification.


2-  Give us some insights on what it’s like to be Karl Kapp, the Co-Founder of Enterprise Game Stack(EGS). Tell us about the challenges you have to face on a daily basis?

It’s exciting, nerve-racking, disappointing, and exhilarating all at the same time. Some days I am demoing the tool and people are genuinely excited and want to sign up. Other days, I am fighting with procurement offices trying to get set up as a vendor, other days, I am hearing that a potential customer loves everything but wants a feature we don’t have.

Other times I am fortunate to observe people playing one of the games we created and they are having a great time all while learning valuable information. Co-founding a company is a constantly changing range of emotions and range of activities, we have got to figure out pricing, taxes, marketing, sales, operations all while developing a product roadmap, making sure we have the right features in our minimum viable product (MVP) offering and then deciding who our target market is going to be. The most interesting thing is that it’s a series of challenges that need to be overcome one after another, it’s making strategic and tactical decisions all the time and hoping that you are creating something people love. We’ve gotten great feedback, signed a number of Fortune 100 clients, and gotten great input so far but it always feels like you should be doing more or growing faster.


3- We are excited to know more about your Enterprise Game Stack (EGS) offering and how it can help develop communication and critical thinking skills. Explain how a real-time, multi-player digital card game can help individuals, as well as organizations, grow?

The tool is a cloud-based digital card game builder intended for corporations to build learning games and activities quickly and easily. If you can use a spreadsheet, you can build a digital card game for either a solo player or for a group of players. We say it’s like sitting around a table with your friends playing a card game.

We have several game types in our tool. But let me tell you about one of my favorites which, on the surface, appears to be a simple scenario-based role-play game but is actually much more. The game is played by creating a deck of cards each with a different scenario. The scenarios can be text-based, audio-based or even video-based. The first player flips the card and responds to the scenario. Then the other players can either vote up or down if they liked or didn’t like the response or they can challenge the player’s answer.

Challenges are the most fun because when a player throws a challenge, one of two things happen. Either the original player must respond or the player who challenges gets to respond.

We were playing the other day and what the challenges do is ask the players to dig into their answers or link their answer to a specific model or provide more detail or add critical evidence or additional insights into the response. In short, the game challenges a player to go beyond their initial answer to a deeper, more meaningful answer. The challenge mechanism means the player who initially responds needs to think critically about their answer and the other players need to think critically as well because they might want to challenge the response. It promotes critical review of responses and the creation of critical responses.

The game blows traditional role-play activities that are conducted in sales training and other situations away. It is engaging, encourages deep dialogue, and challenges a quick “memorized” answer by asking for more detail and evidence. It’s exciting to watch the learning and insights that occur as a group of sales professionals and others play the game.


4- What inspired you to create “The Unofficial, Unauthorized History of Learning Games” video series on Youtube?

This is really a passion project. I’ve always loved games and a while back I wondered just how long have folks on this planet been using games for learning. So I did a little research and was fascinated by what I found. For example, in the 1600s elaborate and detailed games using maps were developed to help train soldiers to fight wars, in 1930, the first corporate game was released in Russia and, around 960 AD, people were creating drinking games with cards containing scenarios and instructions for how much you need to drink and the list goes on.

There is so much that can be learned from our history and so I wanted to document that in a fun and engaging manner. I use the series in my classes and have found out that some other professors who teach instructional game design are using the videos in their classes as well. It’s exciting to see the interest growing around what we can learn from history and how we can apply it to our own work. If anyone wants to check out the channel on YouTube, they can visit this link.


5- You have three honorary awards, each of which was given for contribution to education. It seems like teaching has always been your priority. How do you manage to teach while pursuing a career in gamification?

To me, gamification and education go hand-in-hand. I am constantly looking for ways to make learning more engaging and meaningful. Having been an avid video game player my entire life, I know how engaging some games can be (and how boring others can be) so I decided at one point that I wanted to see if I could combine the engaging elements of a game with my instruction. At the time (in the late 1990s) the word “gamification” did not exist so I just started adding game-like elements to my teaching and instruction. After a while, I started writing about what I was doing and then stumbled across the word gamification and knew that was what I was doing. I became really interested in the concept and the result was my book “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education.” It was one of the first books on gamification in the learning and development space and I’ve continued my interest and fascination with combining games, gamification, and instruction to this day in my work at Bloomsburg University and in my independent work within the field of Learning and Development.


6- We would love to know more about your current goals and projects. Would you mind giving us some insights on your latest work?

I continue to teach graduate-level courses at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA. that’s my first passion and I look forward to another year of great students, great conversations, and great insights. I learn a great deal from my students.

One project that I am working on is called The Learning and Development Mentor Academy. It’s a project that involves the development of a community of like-minded L&D professionals who share ideas, concepts, and lessons learned with each other in a guided framework. The Academy has both live, monthly sessions as well as self-paced online workshops I’ve created to help someone with 3+ years of experience move their skills to the next level. The advice and mentoring are based on my 25+ years in the field and my mentoring of thousands of others. What excites me the most is the scalability it offers me. I am time-bound with only 24 hours in the day to mentor and council folks but with this offering, the advice and counsel for those who want it can be almost unlimited. It’s a chance to help a lot of people and I enjoy helping others.


7- What changes do you want to see in the next five years? Any future predictions of this industry?

More of an evidence-based approach. It’s easy to get into L&D without much training or formal education. I think in some ways that hurt the field but regardless of how a person enters into the L&D field, they should take the time to learn the science behind learning. I think that would be an exciting change that I’d love to see in the next five years.

Of course, I’d like to see gamification and game-based learning more widely accepted as well. There are still many pockets in the world that view games as “bad” or a “waste of time” which is simply not true if they are designed and delivered correctly.


8- If you could give one piece of advice to the people starting in the gamification industry, what would it be?

My one piece of advice is always the same. Play lots and lots of games. Play games you love and games you hate, play solo and group games, play cooperative and competitive games, play mobile and board games. But don’t just play the games, think critically about the games. What did you learn from the game? What did you like? What did you not like? What would you change? What would you definitely not change? You need to be a consumer of games if you want to really understand games and gamification. You can’t do it effectively without playing games.


9- Name a few of your mentors, influencers, or friends you think have helped you understand or increase your knowledge about gamification.

In no particular order, Tom Peters for his business acumen and approach to organizations. His work influenced me a lot. Jesse Schell’s work on a game design made an impression on me and I have learned a great deal from his work. Amy Jo Kim is just brilliant in her discussion of a player’s journey and her approach to game thinking. Sharon Boller, who is one of my co-authors on the “Play to Learn” book, always shared great ideas and concepts. Deborah Thomas founded Silly Monkey and has been doing corporate learning games for decades and Kevin Thorn has a great sense of visual design.


10- Could you share a picture of your workspace with our readers?

Okay but it’s usually pretty messy:)