Office Hours: I was on the early design team of Rock Band, The Sims, Netflix, Cover Fashion, Ultima Online,, and Happify. I’m Amy Jo Kim. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Amy Jo Kim, CEO of Game Thinking Academy. We help startups, game teams & global brands 10X product/market fit & build high-retention experiences.

After getting a BA in psychology & a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience, I dove into tech & worked as a systems & UX designer on connected games, services & apps. I founded & sold a gaming startup, & co-authored a book sharing what I learned helping unlikely hits like Rock Band, The Sims, Netflix, Cover Fashion, Ultima Online,, & Replika come to life.

During my downtime, I enjoy playing bass, singing karaoke, & taking family hikes around the beautiful Bay Area with our rescue dog Cleo.

Ask me anything about game design, game thinking, designing for retention, gamification, smart innovation, finding product-market fit, product design, social systems design, UX design, creative direction, design coaching, product leadership, or funky afro-latin bass grooves :-)

Thanks so much for joining us @amyjokim!Elphas – please ask @amyjokim your questions before Friday, January 12th. @amyjokim may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Thanks for you time, Amy! My question is about designing for retention. How do you handle the ethical challenges of designing games and apps to be engaging without encouraging overuse or addiction? I feel like this must be a common dilemma.
You're right, it IS a common dilemma. Some app or game devs don't care & try to drive addiction. If you DO care, you need to align your incentives around the behavior your want to see. For example., if you want to have people use your app for 2min each day - if that's "healthy behavior" - you incentivize for that in your progression systems & data visualizations.
Thank you for being here Amy! What does the process to create a game look like? pardon my ignorance this is not at all my area of work or expertise so I am just curious!
"What's it like to create a movie?"Depends on the genre & type of movie you're creating, for who, with what budget. Could be 1 person with a camera... or a team of hundreds with a 100M budget. Games are made by 1-person studios AND by 100-person teams - with everything in between. But at the end of the day, it's a team sport. As with movies, there are many different genres of games, which require different skillsets. Some games involve sophisticated art & sound - like Rockband, or Candy Crush, or Red Dead Redemption 2.Some games are built on a strong narrative, like It Takes Two. Others are system-based sandboxes, like The Sims. Creating a game is 100X harder than creating an app or website - because of all the tuning & integrating of multiple elements & systems. But in the end... when you get it right... you're able to deliver joyful experiences to millions of people around the world. And there's no better feeling🥰
love the analogy with films! makes a ton of sense.
Hi Amy! So nice to meet you here and the SIMS defined my childhood! WAS A BIG FAN growing up!!I am curious how did your background in behavioural neuroscience informed your work today?And what do you distinguish a good game developer vs an excellent one?
My background informs my work in 3 key ways: - I use the scientific method to test ideas early & find market truth- I read scientific papers critically and see through skewed research results- I use my knowledge of psychology & neuroscience to design experiences that motivate people both intrinsically & extrinsicallyExcellent game developers know that it's 10% design+build, 90% tuning+testing
Thank you Amy!
My pleasure!
Hi @amyjokim - Thanks for joining us! Great timing as gamification is on our mind and product roadmap. We are in a non-traditional "gaming space" (breastfeeding!), however see power in turning the challenging nursing and pumping journey into something to be celebrated and shared. We have user research, early design ideas in motion and intuition, however, building for gamification is new to us and we want to make intelligent, small and trackable moves. Would so appreciate your seasoned insights.On my mind:At the earliest stages of design, how do you go about determining the very first (and most impactful) gamification product moves? What is most important for us to learn early on?What might we not be thinking of that we should? Have an example or two of when you knew you were on to success with any of your previous amazing projects? Thanks for making time and for sharing your passion. Amy
At the earliest stages of design, the right place to focus is on designing a core activity loop that includes some type of skill-building feedback (even very simple), and a growth path for that activity (e.g. progressive missions or unlocking UX elements). Once you've got your Core Loop & Customer Journey sketched out, you can layer gamification elements like streaks, levels & rewards systems onto this structure to support the intrinsic journey. Slack is a good example of this core loop strategy - so was The Sims, Rock Band, Replika, & other products I worked on. And Instacart is a great example of a strong core loop, amplified by a simple, authentic progression metric. When your order is delivered, Instacart shows you how much time you've saved OVER TIME using the service. This metric connects to EXACTLY why we use the service - to save time - and makes it LESS likely I'll leave. But note: they added this to the service once the core elements were in place. Here's a video with more details:
So helpful, thank you for the insights and especially the video. Love the Core Loop strategy.
@amyjokim Thank you for taking the time and sharing wonderful pictures of your family and dog :)My question is around product-market fit. For an application idea I already have how do I go about doing the market research to uncover the product-market fit?My application (product) would be similar to Looking forward to hearing from you given your expertise with them.
Finding product/market fit faster is EXACTLY what we help our clients & students do. These 5 steps will help you uncover PMF faster than you thought possible:1) Target a small, high-need beachhead niche2) Analyze your closest competitors (e.g. what your niche is already trying, & tried) 3) Sketch out your core habit loop & customer journey (at a high level) 4) Create end-to-end storyboards visualizing your product experience over time5) Test your storyboards with "just-right" customers looking for a solution like yoursIf you follow those steps, you can discover what works & what doesn't without investing in code, art or even detailed designs. To learn more about how to pull this off - check out our book, Game Thinking:
@amyjokim Thank you! so much for putting the GAME PLAN in simple 5 steps! Book already bought- looking forward to some snow days winter read :)
Hi Amy! What advice would you give to someone starting their career in game design or UX? What do you think makes a candidate standout?
Build your own games. Build, fail, learn. That's THE single most important thing - to learn from what you've built & have something to show.
Hi Amy! Thanks for making the time for this. I want to start out by saying that I think you're the coolest – and so is your dog! 😎You've got such an impressive and fascinating trajectory. I'm curious about how you go into the gaming industry – was it a clear and intentional path or did you stumble upon it? Did someone inspire you to explore that industry or were you a gamer yourself early in your career? Or was there another driving force in your interest for the industry?
I played board games with my family growing up - but I didn't identify as a "gamer."I fell in love with the industry when I first attended the Game Developers Conference, on behalf of Paramount Communications, my employer at the time, who wanted to learn more about the opportunity for connected gaming and sent me (the resident Internet expert) to the conference. I felt like I'd found my people - brilliant, creative, quirky to a fault, a bit messy, sometimes unkempt... and playful. Always ready to engage creatively. Art, music, sound design, system design, UX design... all playing together in harmony, in service of delivering a joyful experience. So I pivoted my tech & UX career in games, & got my first gigs as a UX designer on gaming platforms... then shifted into being a Social System Designer on games like Rock Band, The Sims, Covet Fashion, & Happify,
Thank you for sharing that! I think it's so important that you mentioned feeling like you found your people in the gaming industry – oftentimes, when we think about careers, we prioritize thinking about the "what" and forget to think about the "who" (you will be working with).
Gamification is a concept that seems to be thrown around a lot these days. What do you think most people get wrong about gamification? And what do they get right?
Most people don't understand that stand-alone gamification often backfires - and can even lower your long-term retention. Most people DO understand that there's something about great games that keeps us playing & coming back - and they know that they want a bit of that magic in their own app.