New Professorship for Game Design with Focus on Independent Games

We are very pleased to announce that Dr. Greta Hoffmann will be joining our team of professors as of February 1! She has been appointed as Professor for Game Design with Focus on Independent Games. Thus, the CGL teaching team consists of nine professors again, ranging from Game & Media Studies to Game Economics, Game Arts, Game Informatics, and of course Game Design – now with an added emphasis on Independent Games.

Prof. Björn Bartholdy, co-director of the Cologne Game Lab, is satisfied when looking back on the past years, in which many academically recognized scientific and artistic personalities have already joined CGL as professors or lecturers. “With this appointment, we have succeeded once again in expanding the thematic spectrum of the CGL. Welcome to the team, Greta Hoffmann!”

Getting to know Greta Hoffmann

Greta Hoffmann is a game designer and researcher. She works on digital and analog games that transform unpopular educational topics (e.g. waste sorting or financial education) into small, digestible, and fun adventures. Her research focuses on in-depth research of specific design elements as well as a holistic, ontological approach to understanding game design elements.

During her studies at the Karlsruhe University of Arts & Design in the field of product design and media art, she focused on games and eventually became head of the GameLab Karlsruhe, where she was responsible for the curriculum and lectures on game design. After completing her diploma, she worked as a lecturer for game design and gamification at various institutions, including Karlsruhe University of Arts & Design, Pforzheim Academy of Communication, Reykjavík University, Macromedia, and many more. In parallel, she developed games such as “Müll AG” and “InvestNuts” and worked as a UX designer for various companies, including Bosch, Union Investment, Center for Art and Media Technology Karlsruhe (ZKM), and Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). Finally, she continued her university education at KIT as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Economical Science at the Institute of Information Systems and Marketing. The doctorate was completed in 2022.

To mark the beginning of her professorship at CGL, we talked to Greta about her previous work, teaching style, and future ideas:

How would you describe your style of teaching?

My teaching concept is rooted in the principle of gamification. I understand the lecturer as a character in the game called “university”. Following this idea, the students are the player characters, the quest-takers, and the heroes. The lecturers are the NPCs, the non-playable characters of the game: the quest-givers, reward-awarders, the help function, the pokedex, and the final bosses – in short, the game masters.

I approach the conception of each seminar from the perspective of both a game designer and a lecturer: What concepts should students know and understand before they graduate? But also, what lecture elements will be interesting and fun to participate in?

What can students expect in your seminars?

For me, the basis of a good seminar is not only the density and complexity of the content but also a strong connection to the real-world implications of the subject matter. For example, in a seminar based on Caillois’ concept of mimicry, I would focus more on psychology, sociology, cultural studies, and history; in a seminar on level design, I would cover the fundamentals of geography, geology, and architecture.

Since game design draws on real-life concepts, game designers, especially independent game designers need to have a broad overview of a wide variety of facets of human nature. While students are strongly influenced in their specialization by their own intrinsic interests and their work on semester projects, I see it as my job to give them inspiration and insight into areas of knowledge they have not yet encountered.

Your professorship focuses on Indie Games. What excites you about this genre?

Given their smaller scope and more individualistic nature, independent games are the chaotic playground for game design innovation. By applying a game design lens to the various perceptions of real life, we (the students and I) learn to see the pattern “game” in any system, phenomenon, or curiosity and train how to condense and reapply it into appropriate media.

What are your other research interests?

I originally come from design and media theory, which influenced my view of game research towards game theory and philosophical perspectives. When I started my Ph.D. in economics, I adjusted my goal and was now working on optimizing knowledge transfer in games. To this end, I put together an ontology of game design elements that can be consulted when using different gamification elements. This comprehensive graph aims to give users an overview when designing their respective systems and find appropriate game design elements for their particular use cases.

In another research project, I conducted studies on the design elements of games – particularly in learning contexts. Educational games face the challenge of having to comply with educational standards and guarantee learning success, while at the same time, they have to fulfill certain entertainment-oriented user expectations. In the context of my dissertation, I investigated the effect of three different learning- and performance-oriented design elements and their expected outcomes in a field trial and in laboratory experiments. These experiments were well received in the information systems community, building on a game that in itself can claim some success with over 60.000 downloads and critical acclaim in the form of several prizes (GIGA-Maus Preis, Zukunftspreis Kommunikation, KULT Preis) a showing at KIKA (Timster) and great reviews by learning experts.