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Game Design On Demand. Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.


Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.

Filtering by Tag: building games

2 Red Flags When Building Fun Stuff...

Kellian Adams


People often bring the Green Door crew on to a project to make it fun. "We want people to be happy. Can we add badges to it? Can we add some graphics? How about points?" This is known- of course- as chocolate covered broccoli or: gamification. Can we have all the mechanics of a game without it actually being playful? Can we make people do exactly what we want them to do in the way we want them to do it but make it look like they’re enjoying it? Oh boy...


People’s hearts are in the right place: they care about something. Maybe it’s their product or their cause or their business and they want people to enjoy interacting with it. Badges and points seem at first glance like a quick way to make people happy. So actually- making unfun things fun, I do think this is possible. The key is to have clear user goals and then flexibility in getting there. In fact, In my mind, those are only two really serious red flags that can kill the fun in your fun project. Shall I elaborate? Well if you insist:

#1. Unclear User Goals

What do you want people to do? “We want people to just have some fun, reach out to a younger demographic, engage people in 21st century media.” Wait, what does that even mean?? What are we actually trying to achieve? These are probably good “throughlines” or overall big picture things but how do you know when you’ve achieved them? You need to really narrow down what you’re trying to get people to do, don’t waste your players’ time! What are some good goals?

  • We want 100 people to visit 5 places in Boston
  • We want people to look more closely at these three pieces of art
  • We want people to make connections between art and science.

These are things we can actually achieve and we know when we’ve done it. If you REALLY want people to just “have fun” you’d hand them a bottle of beer and a can of silly string and set them loose. I suspect you want something more, so figure out what that thing is and then you can figure out how to achieve it in a playful environment. Now as you may have noticed, if you don't have clear goals... then just get them. Not impossible. The only deal-breaker is when people refuse to clarify, they cling to vague goals, they list like 20 goals or they keep shifting their user goals.

#2. Inflexible Dynamics

You want to build an app to make people eat healthier food. Great! But it has to have a flower in it and it has to be blue. They have to get points and they have to reach goals and they have to get badges and they have to play on Tuesdays between 12 and 2 and that’s how it is. NOW U GO HAVE FUN!

If we have user goals, we need be flexible on what to do to make them happen in a playful way. Our goal is not to do it OUR way or the way we pictured it, our goal is to do it in the simplest and most achievable way possible. Sometimes you take a look at your user goals, restrictions and resources and find out that what you need isn’t actually a game at all. Maybe it’s a personality profile, branding, a storyline or more instructions. Sometimes you do need a game but the best way to do it would be with a word game or a board game.  Your goal is not to build a game- it's to achieve something through a game. If what you want can be more easily achieved through other media, that's what you should be doing. (Unless your goal is to build a game... and that's valid too... but chances are you have to build a game FOR something: you want to get more media, more attention, show your technological abilities, research how games work etc..)

So these flags aren’t a big deal, right? You can totally set clear user goals and then be flexible about how to achieve them! So with that in place, can you make your boring training session/ orientation/ historical tour/ conference fun? Probably. Just be super clear about what you want and then be flexible about how to get there.


So I'm not gonna lie, I like broccoli and chocolate covered broccoli might not be half bad. In fact I think often chocolate covered broccoli is better than no broccoli at all so if badges are the only way you're going to get your project on the road, go to it.

What do you think? Have you come across these problems before in building or playing? Were they deal-breakers for you as they were for me? Are there other red flags that you've seen derail a game design project? Come on readers, I want to hear from BOTH of you! (heheh...)

Game Jams and why you should be running them with every kid you know right now.

Kellian Adams

When I was a kid, I remember watching movies and TV and genuinely being upset that there was a media monopoly: I had to watch the stations’ programs because I couldn’t produce my own. They could reach millions of people. I never could. Well those days are long, long over, aren’t they?

I remember that frustration and think of what a much, much better world we live in today, where kids can build music, movies, games, art- anything- without having to be the child of a media producer. Even things that ARE hard to build: metal sculptures, machines, robots, wooden structures, 3-D printing aren’t out of our reach. Organizations like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Peabody Essex are creating quality maker spaces to ensure that anyone can build anything they feel like building with just a little chutzpah and the necessary time. So maker stuff is HAPPENING! What about games? Well- we can make those too.

Kids building STUFF at the Newark Art Museum maker space.
Kids building STUFF at the Newark Art Museum maker space.

People ask me all the time: “what language should my kid learn to program to build games?” The easy answer, right now, is Unity. But I’d like people to think of game building the way they  think of a maker space: “What machines does my kid have to learn how to use to build a robot?” Well… the machines aren’t really the barrier to building, the process is. Even if you know how to weld and use a lathe, you still might not build much of a robot. I’d love to see people learn more about the process of building games than the machines to build them: How do you tell an interactive story? Where do you start? What do you need? The only way to learn is to do it - and that’s where Game Jams come in.


A Game Jam is when people get together with lots of pizza and coffee, form teams and then have 48 hours to build anything that’s playable. Usually there are some sort of game parameters like “It has a heart” or “It’s a game for change”.  The goal is more like NanoWrimo, not to build a perfect game, just to build A GAME from start to finish- and one that can be played.

The catch with Game Jams is that often you need to have a programmer of some sort- and I think that’s bunk. Programming means kids, teachers and museum educators don’t have access to the awesome process of building games- that’s why this weekend we’ll be running our very first Kids’ Museums Game Jam with the Field Museum and Green Apple Camps. The kids have 48 hours to build a mobile game for the Field Museum in Chicago (and then in two weeks, at the Harvard Museum of Natural History).

Kids at the Joslyn Art Museum play mobile games they built themselves!
Kids at the Joslyn Art Museum play mobile games they built themselves!

I’m so proud and so excited that this Jam will run off of our very own Edventure Builder: no programming required- focus on the storytelling. And I suspect  the kids will be building some weird and very cool things. (I’ll share them next week.)

So what are you waiting for?! There are things for kids to build and you can be the one to make that happen right now. Run your own Game Jam for kids! Don’t fall victim to the falsehood that you need special programming technology to build games. You can do card games, board games, ball games, guessing games- games need nothing but people with a willingness to play. Here’s a quickstep list of the steps that I use to run a lightning Game Jam.

  • Choose a theme and a medium. You can have kids build paper scavenger hunts, field games, ball games, interactive stories, trading games, role plays… whatever you want. It helps when you set some content parameters like “sweet”, “red” or “historical”. Remember that parameters help people to be more creative. Say “build a game” and people clam up. Say “build a card-trading game with three people about blueberries” and you get some stuff.
  • Find a location… have your kids show up there Friday night, form teams and choose roles. You’ll want a Producer, a Writer, an Artist, possibly a techie/logic person and of course, playtesters.
  • Let the kids loose. Worksheets are a good place to start. Always have them build a paper prototype and have the kids from other teams play it while they take notes. We always say “no game survives its first player”.
  • Have them build out the final version and go crazy with the art assets
  • Have a launch evening where families come in to play the kids’ newly minted games!

So don’t delay! There are games to be made and kids to be inspired! And if you happen to live in Boston or Chicago, join us for our Green Apple/Green Door Museum Games Jam!

April 12th: Chicago’s Field Museum

April 26th: Harvard’s Museum of Natural History

Read more about it (and sign up!) here: