I am Chloe Varelidi. I work for Mozilla and I also run Athens Plaython . This is my blog. Sometimes I write about my work at Mozilla and sometimes about other things. Like games, design, learning and one eyed monsters.
If you want you can check more of my work at varelidi.com or ping me @varelidi on twitter.
Two years ago exactly- in November 2011, I run my first event. I was a total events n00b, feeling pretty terrified about it and confident that would be the last time I took on such an endeavor. That was a small arcade event in Athens, Greece pre-launching what would become the Plaython Festival in 2012. Since then I have had the opportunity to produce and curate a bunch of events including the Game Track at the Mozilla Festival, the Athens Plaython Festival and the Game On Competition and Jams. Those events ranged in participation numbers from 50 to 2000 people.
Nowadays I consider myself less of a n00b, and even though I still feel a little bit terrified before an event starts, I have to admit… I manage to very much enjoy it. A reason for that is that I have learned A LOT along the way -mainly from messing up quite often. I have been meaning for sometime to neatly pack some of my lessons learned from running games + tech events and share them over here for anyone interested. So voila, my top ten list below;
1) Put Community First
Sure, “it’s all about the people" sounds like a cliché but trust me those peoples who are participating in your event? those are the ones who shape its success. A good way to find the right crew is by creating opportunities for community building beforehand.
For example, a year before launching our first Athens Plaython festival we started hosting monthly meetups. Those were pivotal in both spreading the word, gathering interest from a range of participants with very different backgrounds and helping test our final games to ensure a great experience the weekend of the festival. And because our community spent so much time together they had build a strong support system, always looking out for each other during the actual event.
2) Don’t Play The Numbers Game
When planning an event we often strive to get high participation numbers. But before celebrating the fact that your event was so popular that you didn’t even have enough chairs to seat your attendees, take a minute to reflect on how successful your event really was; did people make meaningful connections? How many people stayed throughout the entire event? Where there enough peer to peer interactions? Was there enough finger food? Ok, fine maybe this last bit is not as crucial, but being a good events wrangler also means being a good host. It is expected that you make your guests comfortable while they are in your space and ensure they feel like it was a worthwhile experience after they leave.
3) Consider The Freebie Problem
Putting aside the rare occasion that everyone who RSVP-ed actually shows up, you should estimate *at least* 40% no-shows at free events. If you have to cap the number due to space restrictions and you want to ensure the majority of your RSVPs show up, a good strategy is to make a large percentage of tickets available the week prior to the event. It is more likely for people to remember about an event happening in a few days, than if they RSVP-ed for it a month ago.
4) Embrace The Chaos
In any kind of event, EVER there will be a certain level of chaos and a disaster or three will occur. I know it is really hard not to burst into tears when say your keynote shows up with a hangover that makes them speak an incomprehensible language or better yet they don’t show up at all or one of my personal favorites; a nine year old girl at a youth event demoing a game she made about f*ck bombs (in front of her stunned/horrified parents).
Chaos and unfortunate incidents are bound to happen; try to keep a straight face and act calmly in the moment. Remember, facilitators and attendees look up to you to support them in those moments. Having a panic attack in front of them will only augment their own stress and make the situation worse than it already is.
5) Diversity; Take It Seriously
Are most of your speakers male? Is your audience from similar ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations? Would you say most of the participants are “experts” of some sort? Yeah, so please don’t do that. Those situations describe a big majority of events in the games & tech world at least, that make them often boring and unsafe for people who don’t fit the privileged norm.
Make it a point to have a diverse range of voices in your event that feel safe to speak up and be heard (in a constructive way). One of my favorite events that handles this very well with their inclusivity statement is the Different Games Conference.
6) You Don’t Need An Army of Volunteers
Volunteers are an invaluable part of every event. They bring their sincere enthusiasm for supporting your cause and in my experience, they often make next years’ speakers and event leaders. However there is this misconception that the more volunteers you have the smoother your event will run. This is not true unless you have a dedicated person to manage a large group of volunteers, include extensive training beforehand and define clear roles. Otherwise, having an army of people who want to help you but don’t know where to start will end being more time-consuming than you think.
7) Set Expectations; Or How To Handle The Divas
Setting expectations early on so people have a good understanding of your budget and manpower might save you the occasional diva attitude. But just in case that happens, don’t be afraid to be honest with the person in question and explain to them politely why you cannot fulfill their unreasonable request. If you encounter an attitude problem that cannot be dealt with, take into account how much value this person will really bring to your event versus how much energy you will spend trying to deal with their negativity. If the later is the case consider calling off their participation and finding a better fit.
8) Have A Buffer For Your Budget
So you might have all your digits typed away in a pretty excel document, confident that nothing can ever go wrong. But as mentioned above, events are full of unexpected incidents, like that time you had to take a 100$ taxi to pick up an inflatable elephant from the other side of town (true story!). Always have a buffer on your budget. I personally estimate a +15% for every item and that usually works well.
9) Accept That People Don’t Read Emails
I have tried everything; [Important] in the email title, sending emails to each speaker/designer separately, compiling humorous reminders and breaking emails into TL;DR and all the info you ever wanted portions. However the truth is that people (yours truly included) just hate reading emails. Don’t take it personally; instead just make sure a) you don’t spam people with unnecessary emails, b) follow up if you have an action item that you are waiting for c) buy a beer to that one lovely person who always answers promptly.
In addition I have found it super useful to have at least a 1:1 call with each speaker/designer prior to an event, blast them with information and answer any questions they might have. At Mozilla Festival we also have a great facilitators prep session the day before the event, which works wonders for setting the tone and tying up any loose ends before everything begins.
10) Document It Or It Didn’t happen
Documentation will make your event live happily ever after. That doesn’t mean counting on yourself or your first cousin to take pictures. If your budget allows hire the triple threat of documentarians; a videographer, a photographer and a social media enthusiast to cover, err #hashtag the heck out of your event. Spend time with them beforehand mapping the story to be told.
If you do not have budget for this, put up a call for volunteers with those specific skills. You will be surprised by the many talents your volunteer superforce brings to the table. In the worst case scenario that you have no one to help you, plan ahead; I often prepare drafts tweets the morning of an event and use something like tweetdeck to schedule them throughout.
There are probably many more things I forget to mention now but hopefully this was a helpful start. Especially if you are thinking of starting your own event and feel overwhelmed. I would also love to know any tips you have from your own experience running similar events in the comments below. I also promise to update this list as I learn new things.
It has been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. The truth is that a ton of things have kept me busy these past months so buckle up for a series of posts; there are lots of things to say :)
BadgeKit will consist of open, lightweight tools that can snap together or be used alongside or within other sites or systems. - Erin Knight. More about why BadgeKit is our next step in this nicely written blog post .
One of the key components of this work will be designing career pathways that help anyone discover new learning opportunities within the Open Badges ecosystem. This is a feature we have been exploring since the summer through user research and prototyping alongside my brilliant colleagues Emily Goligoski & Mike Larsson. We also just got a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue this, so there you go.
I have been exploring lately some principles behind playful design. I will tackle three of those below and explain how they have influenced my approach in designing a Pathways Tool.
- Play as means to enhance creativity.
Play enables the individual to discover new approaches to dealing with the world- Bateson & Martin, “Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation.”
In this context discovery is not simply exploring and gathering information about the world, or in our case ones’ learning. Playfulness empowers us to constantly discover something new about ourselves. In terms of design, we can think of Pathways as an experience that empowers users to creatively engage with their learning and the badge ecosystem.
2. Play as trial and error.
It is not enough to merely be a systems-literate person; to understand systems in an analytic sense. We also must learn to be playful in them. A playful system is a human system, a social system rife with contradictions and with possibility. - E. Zimmerman, Manifesto: The 21st Century Will Be Defined By Games
We often talk about the Open Badges system, or better yet, “ecosystem”. We also refer to Pathways as a way of visualizing a skill-tree like system. But that is not enough. We want to design interactions that allow for users to be playful within the system, push its boundaries and essentially reveal its possibilities as those apply to their learning.
Based on the above principles as well as the user research Emily has been doing I developed a series of prototypes. After some iteration and feedback from the team, we focused on building a fast prototype for Mozilla Festival with Mike.
It is a playful tool to create your own puzzle-like pathways. Import badges from your backpack, drag them to the play area and snap them together in various shapes. You can try it out for yourself here: http://pathways.meteor.com/. The next iteration aims to include not only badges you already own but also those you aspire to get.
That’s all for now, would love your feedback in the comments below as well as any ideas or suggestions you have. What are next steps? in the next few weeks we will be exploring the interaction design behind pathways as a system, namely points 2) 3) above. So stay tuned for more!
I have this little silly game I play every time I visit a new city. I don’t remember who told me the rules to it but it goes a little bit like this; whenever you hit a traffic-light on a crossroad, if it’s red turn right, if it’s green turn left. In case you are in a city with not so many traffic lights (what?! isn’t everywhere like New York?!) you can change the rules to something of your choice, like take a right turn every time you see someone wearing a red hat etc. If you are the explorer type this a great way to discover a new city and almost certainly get lost. (Friendly Warning! Don’t do this without a GPS device that will help you find your way back.)
One might call this kind of activity a flânerie, a word that derives from the term “flâneur.”For those of you unfamiliar with this fancy french word it emerged out of the Parisian literature scene of the 19th-century, namely Walter Benjamin. While it literary means strolling and wandering around, a flâneur is by no means a lazy person. On the contrary the act of flânerie involves the curious observation of your surroundings. It represents an urban explorer of sorts who strives to understand a city’s various layers.
Flâneurs in their hometown of Paris, photo by yours truly.
How does this connect to Open Badges you might wonder? Well it seems that our work is increasingly tied to cities; in Chicago Summer of Learning, organizations are issuing badges on a local level and users connect with others who live close by to learn new skills. In this ecosystem (as we often describe it in our team) there seems to be plenty of space for orgs to create top-down opportunities and pathways for learning. But what about learners creating their own pathways and as a result building their own badge ecosystems?
What if we designed an experience that encouraged learners to be flâneurs. What if their city became a canvas for inspiring and creating their own learning. What if badges were a layer that intertwined with the city itself. A layer that was constantly growing; seeded by the things created by the learners themselves.
In discussing these thoughts with the design team, the metaphor of natural environments and organisms seemed to reoccur. From Emily’s insightful user interviews to Susse’s portfolio prototypes and Jess’ Backpack redesign, we talked about learning pathways as something that grows like a tree or a garden.
Brainstorming Pathway Design: yes…the word tree came up a lot ;)
The game designer in me (especially the city game designer in me) naturally took this opportunity to design a city wide game system that would evoke this sort of learning flânerie, if you will. The sketches below are showing my design process to create a playable prototype.
1) I started thinking of the mechanics and pathways as gestures. How does one create their own path? how do we move when exploring, when curious to discover? (these sketches also double as Chloes’ Sol LeWitt toy ;))
2) Then I started solidifying the metaphors for the game and deciding my components. Strings could work as pathways, as traces of your journeys on a city map. Seeds would be activities, things you do along the way. And Gardens would be badges, an organic and spatial manifestation of your skills.
Components of the game; Gardens, Seeds and Strings.
3) Then I came up with a simple resources system where players draw their own “strings” in the city, collect “seeds” and create “gardens”. Here are some of the main choices for the game.
*Create a trace by walking
*Collect seeds and/or water (in which case you have to stop walking for some time)
*Give or ask others for seeds and/or water
Here are some of the rules
*You can only hold a certain amount of water/seeds per day. If you have too many of these you need to give it to someone else.
*To grow gardens you need to have walked a loop (a closed shape) and to hold enough seeds and water to maintain it. If you don’t water your garden it dies.
*You can play along without interacting with anyone, or play alongside others. When you play with others your gardens can overlap, which means you are both responsible for watering them.
4) I build a turn based board game prototype, using a grid as the city streets and pins to tie the strings around. Below you can see a two player round- where the green player had chosen to “walk” more without collecting seeds and the yellow player is following a strategy of gathering resources and creating gardens. Eventually they both benefit from each other and have to work together and manage water so their gardens don’t die.
*What seems to work so far; interacting with other people’s gardens, unexpected collaborative gameplay, visual transparency of layers
*What seems to not work so far; game balance, need to shift numbers- think more of how water works.
GamePlay; the resource rules made for collaborative choices
GamePlay: The strings (pathways) overlaping was visually interesting.
And with this little all-french and garden inspired blog post I leave you as I pack for #BadgeCamp in Maine next week, where I will be meeting with all my favorite badgers and playtesting a real life version of this game IN AN ACTUAL garden :) Oh yes I also plan to eat many lobster rolls.
Carla Casilli’s Paraquel to badge pathways : https://carlacasilli.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/badge-pathways-part-1-the-paraquel/
Emily Goligoski’s user research insights: http://emilygoligoski.com/2013/07/18/how-does-your-garden-grow-considering-open-badges-discovery/