Yeo Xi-Wei, Director of Living Theories, has a varied occupational background. He used to work in the F&B industry for a while, before transitioning to Singapore Airlines for a couple of years, prior to starting Living Theories. Learning is an important concept to him, and he aims to enrich the learning journey through gamification. Taking inspiration from modern games and shows, the programmes that he creates with his teams seek to engage participants in a modern and innovative way.
Check out their official website – http://www.livingtheories.com.sg/
Q: Give the readers a short introduction about yourself and Definite Studios. What is your role? What is your company about? What is your “origin” story?
Living Theories was created in 2015 to answer a key question: How do we engage people meaningfully and effectively? We were fascinated with the power of games to endlessly engage and drive their players to incredible levels of commitment, time investment and growth, and we wanted to harness that power and apply that to real-world settings.
The first programme we ever built was a Tabletop RPG simulation called Dreamcatcher. We used concepts of character creation and ability planning to help youths figure out their own futures and career paths. We’ve since progressed to taking on a consultancy role as Engagement Designers to help organizations and teams build new engagement strategies and initiatives using gamification.
As the Director, I play the role of Chief Minion Overseer, and ensure that the team is well-equipped to help clients think and design new strategies. I also help our clients design new concepts and visualize their strategies through ideation workshops and programmes.
Another responsibility of a Chief Minion Overseer is to keep the company fire burning bright.
Q: What type of clients or customers do you normally work with? What kind of services does Living Theories provide?
Because of the nature of what we do, we work with a whole spectrum of different clients. From boutique shop owners to government agencies and international organizations, we work with anyone and everyone!
We function as engagement designers: if you need to engage people, be they your consumers, citizens, or your own staff teams, we help you conceptualize and develop your ideas. We build frameworks and strategies using game design and mechanics. We’ll then work with a curated team of partners to bring those designs to life, including Game Design Studios, Training Partners and Industry Specialists.
Q: Has it been difficult promoting gamification in Singapore? What challenges did your company face when it first started?
It was, at the very beginning. Most people who think of gamification think of it in two ways: I need to build a fun game to engage people, or I’m adding Points, Badges and Leaderboards to make things more exciting. So when we share more about what gamification actually entails, it forces them to rethink their approach and strategy, which can be a painful process at times.
When we first started, no one in the region really knew what gamification was. It was (and still is) a major buzzword, but no one knew how to deploy it. There weren’t, and still aren’t sufficient case studies on concepts that are not digital or eLearning based. So we had to build a litany of case studies from scratch, with a bevy of different clients who took a chance with us, for which I’m eternally grateful.
We’re fortunate to have built a small name for ourselves, so clients who approach us now are more aware of what we do and how we can assist them.
Getting schools and students on board to learn through the benefits of gamification.
Q: What are some of the company’s core vision and beliefs about using games beyond entertainment?
Games have a unique way of capturing one’s attention, whether for 5 minutes while waiting for the next bus, or as an hour long dedicated activity. They’re a great way to subconsciously drive your emotions, sharpen your skills, and reinvent your perspectives. This is why most people prefer playing sports to just going running or sprinting.
We believe that Learning is Living, so we’re always trying to play new games to learn how designers engage their players, and what functions they use to drive specific behaviors. If you open and humble your mind to learning new perspectives, then games are a fantastic gateway into a multitude of different worlds that you can experience and grow from.
Q: One of your signature programmes involves team-building using a table-top role playing adventure. How is this different from a conventional game of Dungeons and Dragons?
Ah, I see you’ve done your homework on us! Yes, we created the game called Dreamcatcher to teach career awareness. We focus strongly on a step by step process in creating your character, from building your character’s backstory, to then choosing your character’s motto, and then selecting your character’s character class and skills based on that.
This is a close reflection on reality: Understanding your personal experiences and origins will lead you to choosing or designing your own life motivations, which will ultimately lead you to choosing an appropriate career (character class), and the skills and knowledge required to get there. Basically, know WHY you do WHAT you do, and then figure out HOW you’re going to get there.
Because our audience might not be that familiar with D&D, we had to design something that was a lot more tactile and visual, so instead of just telling the story, they have character cards that they move, together with card-based obstacles and enemies. This became one of our biggest sells, because participants loved the visuals and the movement of the game, and the freedom to explore how they played it.
Another game, PATHWAYS, is a team-building exercise that focuses on helping teams identify their core drive and purpose.
Q: What games do you play for leisure? What games are you passionate about?
I play a variety of different games, from board games to PC and nowadays, mobile games. I’m a League of Legends player, so when I need to escape from the world for a couple of hours, that’s what I usually deviate to. I like playing meta-builds though, so it’s enough that I’m on the edge of competent. The rest of the time is devoted to, “Ooo can we play a character THIS way?” It’s good for my emotional resilience too, because there’s a high chance I get flamed a lot in games because of this.
I play a few physical games (aka sports) as well. I’m a regular tennis player. I socially dabble in futsal and basketball too. I love the idea of a community that meets up and exhausts each other over a good game or two, and then have breakfast or drinks after.
I love exploring games with strong narrative elements, like This War of Mine, Last of Us, or Call of Duty. Board game wise, T.I.M.E Stories fulfills that niche for me. I managed to pull myself out of World of Warcraft to avoid the time suck, but I miss its progression of narratives. Blizzard’s a master at story lines.
Q: How does Living Theories manage funding and recruitment?
Living Theories is self-funded. It started as a bootstrapped team, and remains so till this day. I’m always open to speaking about funding, but any potential investors should be deeply aligned with what we do and what we’re trying to achieve.
We’re actually building a team of mercs at the moment: individuals trained in critical thinking, while also sharing our vision or using game design as a medium to explore people engagement. I work with a majority of my teams on a project basis; I think it’s important that the team goes out and gets real-world experience as well by taking on other projects.
We’re open to taking in researchers, game designers and creative designers who share our vision as well!
In speaking engagements, Living Theories share more about using gamification to create the right types of motivations in users.
Q: How does Living Theories handle marketing for the brand and its services?
It’s just me, unfortunately. Being a small boutique firm, I do most of our business development. We post on our social media accounts when we have things to update our base about. We’re blessed to have a few projects to hold our attention right now, so we’re managing that a step at a time.
Q: What is your company’s work environment like? Any quirks or interesting stories you would like to share?
We’re a hyper casual team. We have set meeting days that we meet on to discuss projects, build new frameworks or play games. Aside from that it’s get your s*** done and that’s it. So I need people who are self-motivated and driven, think you can see why!
When we first started Living Theories, we worked at cafes and working spaces. We’re now actually renting an apartment from a good friend of mine as an office space, so we have a dining table to work on, a kitchen as a pantry, and plenty of sofas and a bed in case we need forty winks! The other main reason for renting this quaint awesome space is that my friend is a hardcore board game collector, and has over 200 games in his place, which we’re given free rein to play! So it’s quite literally our paradise.
Nothing bonds a team more than a new adventure. One that’s fun, refreshing and original.
Q: While the concept of gamification is trendy, there are a lot of misconceptions on its implementation. How do you think gamification can be better adopted or accepted in other industries?
I think people need to put in a lot more thought into what they want to achieve from using gamification strategies, and how they wish to design their process. Merely creating a fun game isn’t going to make your users like you more. If it doesn’t drive any sort of sustained behavior in your target audience, then it’s a very expensive and possibly foolhardy endeavour. People then blame the concept of gamification, and shy away from future applications of it.
Next, people always have the assumption that, “this is not a game to my staff” or “my consumers don’t like to play games”. Gamification isn’t always front-and-centre-smack-you-in-the-face obvious. It can be very subtle and play a supporting role in your initiatives as well, without having to feel like you’re playing a game with all the bells and whistles. A well designed membership programme has many gamified elements in it, but you don’t always sense it.
Additionally, it’s important to be realistic about what gamification can and should achieve. Designing a gamified solution isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and it’s hard to achieve many different objectives at once. So keep your vision clear, and look at specific purposes that you would like to drive enhanced engagement in.
Q: If you have anything more that you would like to talk about, feel free to add them here.
I’m all dried out of words!
But in all seriousness, perhaps I have a couple of points. One, it’s really important to know WHY you do what you do. Having a sense of purpose will keep you alive even when the working hours or horrible bosses get in the way of you having a life. You’re doing it for wealth? Great. You’re doing it to make a difference to the lives of others? Even better. You’re taking low pay and long hours because you’re there to learn as much as you can? Good for you. As long as you’re clear on your purpose, every job is a good job.
Lastly, if you do work for a startup, it’s not about freedom. It’s about commitment to growing something together. That means working harder for less pay and maybe less recognition, because you have fewer resources at your command. That’s life, and you have to know that before “gallantly” quitting your job and starting your own gig. Keep up the hustle, and the rewards will come!