Bastiaan Reinink

Feb 112016
 

Feisty volunteers hard at work at a project

Feisty volunteers hard at work at a project

A month and a bit ago I decided to do “something with board games”. And as only playing games most likely isn’t going to be paying any bills, I had to think a bit broader.

One of the things I’ve been trying my hand at is designing a game. After all, I’ve played enough of them, how hard can it be?!

This started with brainstorming on interesting “mechanics”, which are the core of the “rules” of your game (e.g. in Yahtzee it’s throwing dice, in Settlers of Catan it’s resource management and trading). Now, there are a lot of games out there, so finding something truly new is highly unlikely. But perhaps I could find something rare…

The mechanic I settled on was “giving stuff away”. In most games you’re trying to get as much as possible, but what if you reversed that?

The next step was a theme, “what is the story behind this?” So, where do people tend to give things away? My first thought was philanthropy, where people give away ludicrous amounts of money. And in return they would get “status” or “prestige” (both of which would work very well with the common game mechanic of “victory points”).

Thinking about it a bit further however I found something that was even closer to my heart: Volunteering.

In 2011 I spent 2 months volunteering in Peru, building houses for people who were living in tents after an earthquake. Surely there is really a lot of giving involved there.

I’m finding that coming up with ideas (for games) is easy. Testing whether they actually work is hard though…
I settled on a game where you would work on “projects” (e.g. building someone a house) with a group of volunteers. Of course volunteers want to work, so keeping them idle for a turn should be bad. In game terms, not using your resources (volunteers) results in minus points. Sometimes however there will not be a good way of using your volunteers, so you in that case you can donate them to one of your fellow players. This gives you additional points (because look at how selfless you are for giving something away!), but it also gives your opponent the chance to use those volunteers to score additional points…

I’ve played two different iterations of the game now and there seems to be a decent “flow” to it. The “giving away” mechanism however still needs some work. There needs to be a balance between how much you gain (or don’t lose) from giving away your resources and how much the other player gains from those resources…

So who is up for a game?


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Feb 082016
 

Of course shrinking the elephant makes things even easier!

Of course shrinking the elephant makes things even easier!

Launching my own startup is the scariest thing I’ve ever done!

Though before that, moving to London for an assignment was the scariest thing I had ever done.

And before that, going freelance.

But before that, quitting my job and going on a sabbatical.

Before that, changing jobs.

Leaving university.

Going to university.

Etc.

Every life has a number of “big changes”. And at the time they happened they are all the scariest thing you have ever done!

Now I look back and I remember being scared, but I don’t understand (or perhaps better to say, I don’t feel it). Because seriously, how scary is it to change jobs? Everybody changes jobs multiple times in their lives. What was the fuss? Or moving somewhere else. People move to different countries all the time, so why worry?

I worried (was scared out of my brains!) because it was new for me!

Now it’s not new anymore. Taking away any feeling of fear.

Except for the current new thing (launching a startup)! So many things that I need to figure out, so many things to learn. What is the industry like (confusion!)? How do you figure out how what product to go for (aaargh!)? How do you market a product (panic!)? So many steps to take, each of which I haven’t a clue about and which can fail (miserably!). It’s overwhelming and difficult and scary!

Though, it’s mostly scary when looking at is as a whole, when considering all the steps that I need to take at the same time.

Because each step individually might be difficult and unknown, but it’s not overwhelming.

So, I need to figure out how to do marketing? Ok, let’s read up on marketing. Ask some people. Think about it hard. And maybe experiment a little bit. Sure, there are things to learn, it gets confusing and it’s certainly not easy. But with sufficient time and patience, I will get this bit. The process itself is simple enough to follow. It’s repeatable. And thus that single step is not scary anymore.

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself”. But it can be even better, fear can be an indicator of where you need to focus. This part scares me, so I probably don’t know enough, am not certain enough of my skills yet. Practice and learn and the fear goes away.
So far, this has been the case for all of the sub-steps. There are certainly failure points (when do you know enough? Are you missing anything crucial?), but they are manageable, the risk can be diminished to any desired degree (still too scary? I can take four years to do a university study of marketing…). That might not be effective, but it’s certainly possible. The question thus becomes “when do I move to the next part?” And the good thing is, if I feel that I moved ahead too quickly, it’s definitely possible to take a step back.

Looking at the whole thing, it’s scary as hell. But I never have to deal with the whole thing, I’m only dealing with small nuggets of it at a time. It’s like eating an elephant: Eating the whole thing is impossible. But eating one bite at a time is perfectly fine. Until at some point you have actually eaten an elephant. Or launched a startup…


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Feb 032016
 

How many times do I have to tell you to close the gate to the abyss behind you?!

How many times do I have to tell you to close the gate to the abyss behind you?!

Once upon a time I built quantitative models. And building models is creative work. In general you have a vaguely defined problem and there are hundreds of ways of solving it. Freedom abounds!

When you develop models at a bank however there are a lot of rules, policies and regulations that you have to adhere to. There are managers that have opinions and a validation department that is going to check your work. Then if you’re (un)lucky the central bank will take an interest and do a final triple-check. Unless the audit department got to you first of course…

So even though in essence building models for a bank is creative work, in practice there are many many constraints. There is a narrow space in which you can try to shape your ideas. And though I wasn’t happy with this, I always took it as a fact of life, something you learn to live with.

Now I’m going through a different creative process, that of launching a startup.

All the policies that I have to adhere to I have to write myself. My manager is me. There is no validation unit, no audit. And I most sincerely expect that the Dutch National Bank isn’t going to be taking an interest in the startup any time soon.

Which means that there are no limitations, no boundaries. Freedom!

Except… When everything is possible, when there are no limits, where do you go? What do you do? I can’t try every possible option, I can’t even think of every possible option!

There is this gargantuan void staring me in the face, mocking me to make something out of it, to choose the best option. Out of thousands. Millions. An infinity!

Any choice is freedom reducing. The thing about freedom then perhaps is not its perpetuation, but having the possibility of making satisfying choices.
So to I started creating my own boundaries, limiting my freedom. I will do something with board games (and not computer games, formula one racing or space exploration). I will do something with smart devices (so not just a board game consisting of a board and cards). It has to make money eventually (not entirely sure what would make money, but I do know a lot of things that won’t make money).

And so bit by bit I make choices, cut away huge swath of the possibility-space. Shrinking the gargantuan void to something that my mind can encompass.

In part it feels like a loss; of choice, of freedom. But you can’t stare in the abyss for too long and expect to keep your sanity…


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Jan 252016
 

I couldn't find any appropriate pictures so I completely randomly took this one because of its pretty colors

I couldn’t find any appropriate pictures for this post so I completely randomly took this one because of its pretty colors

Playing games is great! For some time you immerse yourself in a different universe, building cities or empires, defeating armies or dragons, being a hero!

And where my personal preference goes to board games, I fully understand the appeal of computer games as well (I’ve played more than my fair share of them; just a few more turns in Civilization… (And before you know it it’s 3 o’clock at night!))

The best of games you don’t ever want to stop. Let’s play once more! Just let me finish this level? More than once I’ve described a game as being addictive.

And in a very real sense, they are addictive: Action X givers response Y, which brings you closer to goal Z. Your brain is learning and it’s loving it! Reward centers are light up and so it’ll keep on doing the same thing to keep getting that buzz (until the other players really need to go home or your mom tells you that you have to go to bed now…).

This is what you paid for. You put down a fair amount of money and then you could enjoy your game for as long as it stayed interesting. Because at some point you’ll have figured it out; you know the best strategies, you beat the end boss. The learning stops, the buzz stops. And thus you stop playing.

Unless it doesn’t. Unless you get new content. New levels, new things to try, new lessons to learn, new ways of activating the pleasure centers, new morsels to feed the addiction. Still, you might say you’re just getting really good value for money.

Unless you don’t. Because maybe you got the game for free. And it really is free, you don’t need to pay a dime to play. As long as you’re willing to accept a few minor minor nuisances. Like having to wait for a few minutes to retry a level. Or like having to try a level over and over again until finally (after many times waiting for a few minutes) you bash your way through it.

Or you could remove some of those nuisances. And really, it’s very cheap. A few cents and you get an extra life, or you don’t have to wait, or you can skip a level altogether. And you can go back to playing, back to lighting up those pleasure centers like they’re a Christmas tree.

Many people don’t, seeing it for the trap it is. But many people do. Because really, what’s a few cents? And so you pay once.

Which is the beginning of a new habit. Before it was: Play => Pleasure. Then it became: Play => Get stuck => Persist => Pleasure. But now it’s: Play => Get stuck => Pay => Pleasure.

So after doing it once, you’ll do it twice. And if you do it twice, you do it a hundred or a thousand times over. A thousand times a few cents… It starts to add up.

Of course, for the other side, the company that made the game, this is a pure gold-mine! They discovered the same business model as crack-dealers: Get someone to “try” your stuff for free until they are addicted, then milk them for everything they’ve got.

“But people make their own choice in playing these games!” Just like a heroine addict makes their own choice…
Literally millions are made by pushing addictive substances on the unsuspecting public. That in my book is evil! Worse, there is absolutely nothing illegal about this!

Now, I am launching a startup around games. And there is a very strong possibility that there will be a digital / online component. For any game to be fun it has to push the right buttons, it has to provide pleasure. So the beginnings of an addiction machine, of an evil empire are there…

For now I’d like to believe I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the eye if I went down that path. But what if things are going bad, debts are due, wages need to be paid…? Taking the moral high ground is easy when things are going well, but if you’re struggling just to survive?

Maybe I should make a game in which you have to defeat the evil games corporation empire? :-)


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Jan 212016
 

It's amazing really that a human mind can absorb millions of pages of information and then make something useful out of it...

It’s amazing really that a human mind can absorb millions of pages of information and then make something useful out of it…

In high school the teacher would stand in front of the blackboard and write stuff on it, whilst explaining what he was doing. And you could be fairly certain that the stuff that was in the lecture would be exactly what you needed to succeed (i.e. to pass your exam).

At university this repeated, except that the questions on the exam tended to be of a variety not seen exactly during the lectures, so you would have to generalize.

When I got my first job I got told: “Go work on this small internal assignment. And when you feel like doing something else, read this book.” I read the book and I Googled for information that I needed for the work at hand.

During my last assignment I would discuss with the client what needed to be done. I knew generally how that would work and the last bits (10%?) I again diligently Googled.

My information requirements have been very “incremental”. Everything builds on the previous parts. I learned basic mathematics in high school, which turned into advanced mathematics at university. This I used to step-by-step increase my knowledge of finance, risk and modelling. Sure, it could be tough, but it was never overwhelming… And through the years I’ve built up an entire edifice of knowledge on risk modelling, allowing me to quickly get up to speed with anything relating to it.

Now I’ve stepped into a completely world: Games.

Sure, I’ve been playing games my entire life, but that’s different from actually knowledge on them. Also, knowing something of mathematics helps, but it’s not the most fundamental building block. And having some intuition about risk is sure to be a benefit, but only a small one.

In essence, I’m starting from scratch.

And unlike taking a class, there is nobody who decided what would be good to absorb. Or unlike getting into a new job, there is no boss that tells me what to focus on.

So I just started reading.

Reading about addiction of online social games gives me the oppression that the builders of these are only a tiny step above heroine dealers…
A book on game design (find a balance between theme, mechanics, fun, fairness, interaction, story, …). A blog post on inflation in Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (large amounts of loot can completely disturb an online economy). A review of the latest Dominion expansion (they thought it was awesome). An article on how they make “social games” (e.g. Candy Crush or Farmville) addictive (I felt defiled after reading it, even though I only played the tiniest bit of Candy Crush).

And for every post, article or chapter I read, there are three, ten or a hundred more that I could read.

Very slowly things are coming together. I’m just about ready to buy the paper on which I could make a sketch of the blueprints for the foundation of the gaming-knowledge-edifice that is to be erected…

All of this doesn’t feel particularly productive; I’m not building anything. On the other hand, how “productive” was 20 years of primary school + high school + university?

Sketches of blueprints of foundations… But in the end I’ll get there!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!