Interview with Melinda Jacobs – The Founder and co-CEO of Perkio

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This week, we are going to interview one of the brightest personalities in the world of Gamification, the founder and co-CEO of Perkio, Melinda Jacobs.
Melinda is a geeky nerd who found a way to combine her love of games and her fascination with people’s behavior into award-winning expertise.

Through Subatomic, which is another company she founded, she’s helped companies and organizations develop interactive experiences that change behavior through play, games, and gamification.
She has over 10 years of experience managing startups in the C-suite and is an active mentor, coach, and advisor. She frequently gives workshops, guest lectures, and talks on gamification, startups, organizational psychology, and technology ethics at companies, universities, and events around the world.
Before we start the interview, we would love to tell our audience all about your Gamification journey. 
I really got into “Gamification” in 2009, when I started my research Masters at Utrecht University. I found game structures and their influence on communities and individuals incredibly interesting and wanted to learn everything I could about it. I’ve published several papers on gamification
and its various applications. After that, I started what eventually evolved into Subatomic, an agency specializing in gamification and game-inspired designs. I still do some coaching and consulting through it for companies and startups looking to drive behavior change in their digital experiences.
Melinda Jacobs – Achievement Unlocked – Gamification Best Practices

Melinda Jacobs - Achievement Unlocked! Gamification Best Practices

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

Gamification, to me, is a mix of things. It’s an observation that games are extraordinarily good at bringing players into a state of engagement and flow. Thus, gamification is a decision to design experiences the same way we design games to achieve a similar level of engagement.
Ultimately, what good gamification is then, like games, good system design. It’s thinking about feedback, constraints, and adding artificial aspects that would not just exist in the real world to try and increase the enjoyment of the experience.
All of this is why I do not see gamification as a framework, a methodology, or a “plug and play” addition to a project. We need to look beyond the “mechanics” to the motivations behind them and how these motivations work together.

2- Based on your LinkedIn profile, we found you a multi-managerial person; what motivated you to opt for an entrepreneurship career?

Funnily enough, it happened without me entirely making a conscious choice. 
Before I started as a game producer, I had done a decent amount of research into how different platforms, such as an eCommerce platform, had designed part of their UX in a way that was similar to a game. They had seen pretty extraordinary results – such as users buying items they didn’t really want or need in order to participate – and I found that really interesting.
As I was working in the game industry, I realized more and more how businesses and organizations could benefit from the game design approach (system design). Another academic I knew was also coming to a similar conclusion. We decided to start a business together, helping companies use “gamification” to solve their design challenges and increase engagement. It wasn’t so much about “starting a business,” but rather, we were simply excited about providing value to business based on a topic we were both passionate about.
Although my co-founder went back more to the academic side, I realized I really loved building a company and working with people to help them grow and build awesome products, so I continued that path.

3- Your deep interest in writing makes you more creative; how would you define a creative writer specifically for the gamification niche?

I think one of the essential parts of writing is being able to build a convincing, thought-through narrative. Creative writing helps improve your storytelling skills, which is a huge advantage to have as any kind of UX or gamification, or game designer.

4- We would love to know about the current goals you’re working on. Would you mind giving us some insights into your latest projects?

The main project I’m working on right now is my own startup – with four other co-founders – Perkio. We’re on a mission to demystify wellbeing for organizations and individuals and help improve the quality of work-life for everyone. We use gamification to make complex concepts easier to understand and add a little extra to the core functionality to create this behavior change.

“Gamification” is an excellent fit for any product or service that’s based on a complex real-life system. Understanding and developing well-being are very nuanced and complicated. I’m excited to use my experience and skillset to build a company and product that will help make it more accessible to people and organizations.

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

I’m really happy to see more and more the “gamification” discussion move away from the “game mechanics” side of things and more to system design or behavioral science. I think it’s a really positive move that will lead to more realistic expectations and more successful projects.

Once we stop trying to add “gamification” as the last stage of a process, but treat a project from the beginning as the system it is, and see how the feedback, goals, challenges, rules, and narratives that are inherent to games can reinforce, explain, and help users learn and navigate it, our designs, overall will improve. But, it’s not just a matter of practitioners and designers understanding this, but also companies and organizations.

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

Don’t get too caught up in the discussions over “mechanics.” Read a lot about UX and game design theory and understand how both of those design processes work. System design is really the heart of it all. Also, try not to get sidetracked by trying to achieve vanity metrics like “daily engagement.” That’s only useful if your product or experience really needs someone to be on daily to provide value. Simply having someone log on every day will not increase the chances of success if it’s not associated with real purpose.

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

I really appreciate working with Dr. Marigo Raftopoulos – she’s an absolutely brilliant mind and a lovely person to explore the field of gamification with. I also appreciate the work of Dr. Jane McGonigal. I think she’s moved the field forward greatly and opened a lot of minds to using more creative, narrative-based approaches to solve problems. She was one of the first researchers I really resonated with at the beginning of my gamification journey back in 2009.

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

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