Kim is a specialist in player dynamics, design, and AI and is obsessed with brains real or otherwise. She holds a Ph.D. in computer science and an Honours degree in cognitive science. She was a principal technical designer at Riot Games, where she helped shape the Player Dynamics design discipline; today she co-runs her own studio, Stray Bombay, in Seattle, WA, focusing on cooperative games.
As an indie, she was part of the team that created Fantastic Contraption for VR, among many other titles. In a past life, Kim was a university professor doing games on the side. Outside of her work, Kim is obsessed with both martial arts (she holds several black belts) and retro gaming/computing (don’t get her started). She also helped co-found the Fair Play Alliance in 2017 and has been supporting companies around the world in developing awesome player dynamics by design.
I had the privilege of meeting Kim back in 2017 when we were introduced to each other by leaders from our respective companies. Since then, I’ve had the honour to work alongside her in the Fair Play Alliance as co-founders and executive steering committee members. I have learned so much from her about the player dynamics discipline and how to enable positive and productive player interactions online.
For our second panelist spotlight in our series, we caught up with Kim about our upcoming panel “Player Behaviour: Your Secret Growth Tool” on the digital GamesBeat Summit 2020 as well as her thought leadership at the helm of Stray Bombay.
Carlos Figueiredo: I’m looking forward to our panel “Player Behaviour: Your Secret Growth Tool”, Kim! Even though we’ve worked together on many projects and conferences, we’ve never been fellow panelists. What are you most excited about as we get closer to the day?
Dr. Kimberly Voll: I think for most of us on the panel we’ve been working in this space in some capacity for many years, long before it was a consideration at most companies. It’s so exciting to see that changing and to see events like GamesBeat Summit making space for these critical conversations.
There’s a growing realization across the industry that not only do we have to take player dynamics seriously if we’re going to get the most out of our games but that it makes such a huge difference for the safety and well-being of our players.
Although player dynamics is a complex and still nascent space and there’s a lot to learn for all of us, we’re seeing such momentum building in the industry to develop and leverage best practices. I’m confident we’re going to see some awesome changes in the coming years, and it’s going to get easier for companies big and small to take advantage of these best practices, which is great news for players of all ages.
CF: I can’t wait to play the game you are making! Can you tell us a little about your work at Stray Bombay and the player experiences you are crafting?
KV: There’s not a lot I can say just yet, but as a studio building a cooperative game we think very deeply about the interplay aspect.
Successful player dynamics are critical for every multiplayer game, especially cooperative games, and players deserve to have every company investing in this space to the best of their abilities”.
There’s still so much to learn for all of us; at Stray Bombay, we’re committed to leveling up not only our games but the industry in whatever ways we can.
CF: Could you also tell us about your work in the Fair Play Alliance and how it relates to our panel?
KV: With player dynamics still a relatively new and nascent aspect of game development, we’re focused on helping lift up the best examples of fostering successful interactions and reducing unhealthy behaviour.
There are so many considerations in this space, everything from player compatibility to handling disruptive behaviour to child safety, and an extreme need for more industry best practices—though crucial, it can be understandably overwhelming for a studio of any size to tackle these problems, nevermind the often-added burden of convincing stakeholders to invest alongside all the other challenges of shipping a game.
Our hope is that through a cross-industry effort we can shoulder much of that burden on behalf of the industry through sharing knowledge, tools, and development practices, and help inspire more investment and learning.
Healthy interactions are about so much more than just dealing with incidents when they happen, it starts at the very first design meeting.
We want to help get the accurate information and the right tools into the hands of developers so they can make better choices and have the best chance of healthy, awesome interactions that bring out the best in their games.
Most importantly, players deserve the best investment possible as an industry toward their safety and well being, and having an awesome time together.
CF: Here’s a question with a bonus one snuck-in ;). In this challenging time, with a big part of the world’s population staying home for extended periods of time, what social need can video games fulfill as we spend more time online? You often speak about games being an excellent reflection of humanity. What do you mean by that?
KV: Anyone who has played games for a long time knows that games are often incredibly socially fulfilling. They’re a place to hang out together, no matter where you are in the world and can lead to lifelong friendships. They’re a space where we can often find who we really are, and meet others with similar interests.
Where my generation grew up with arcades and malls, today’s youth are growing up with virtual spaces as the place to hang out. But like any place where humans gather, we can sometimes struggle to get along and don’t always treat each other as we deserve to be treated.
It’s time we considered video games and other digital spaces with the same level of respect and care that we treat in-person spaces. Games are an important part of today’s social landscape and we all have responsibilities when it comes to how we conduct ourselves in those spaces, how we teach our children to behave in those spaces, and how we build and oversee those spaces.
This isn’t about creating overbearing rules or otherwise dampening the creative, amazing spaces that games can be, rather it’s about creating games in a way that support the vast tapestry that is humanity.
Games that support a baseline of respect and safety, with the tools and support in place to help players who encounter difficult or dangerous situations.
Games that provide spaces where we can be ourselves, and help us in finding other, compatible people with whom to share amazing experiences.
Games that uphold and celebrate sportsmanship as a core value, and aren’t afraid to stand by those values in every way.
Games that enable the same level of care and attention as when we send our children to the playground and equally take a share of the responsibility for keeping our children safe.
Because at the end of the day, we’re all dual-citizens of the digital world.
Hear more from Kim in our GamesBeat Summit 2020 panel discussion “Player Behaviour: Your Secret Growth Tool” — and make sure to download the accompanying checklist with new best practices and insights inspired by our panel discussion.