Flamel.AI and IBM Garage created an AI-powered web app for tabletop role-playing games. Built on IBM Cloud with IBM Watson, it gives gamers a richer experience with more play and up to 75% less prep.
Alex Migitko started playing tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) 15 years ago. But as life got more demanding, he couldn’t commit to the time needed for preparation and play, both as a game facilitator and player. Though passionate about gaming, he ultimately stopped.
These “aging out” stories are all too common. Players fall in love with gaming because it provides such depth and breadth of creativity and escape. They can get lost in the near-limitless worlds, characters and scenarios. However, the intensity that’s needed to design such a rich experience for each session can also be the game’s greatest hindrance. Game facilitators typically show up for sessions with a collection of books, dice and props. Usually, they manage complex worlds and track sessions manually in something like Microsoft Word or Excel. Players might also keep binders of handwritten character sheets for months or years. On average, a game session’s facilitator spends four hours preparing maps, storylines and character backgrounds. And, there may be dozens of sessions over the course of a year.
Envisioning a bold app for gamers
Migitko, who founded tech startup Flamel.AI, was committed to making gaming more convenient for all. His timing was fortuitous because the COVID-19 pandemic intensified people’s desire for entertainment and escape. New players. — including families — were eager to enter the RPG world, and former players wanted back in.
Migitko envisioned creating a bold, unique app that would streamline game preparation and simplify sessions. He chose to work with the IBM® Garage™, which drives idea to outcome and outcome to scale through a single, innovative journey that’s human-centric and data-driven. He wanted the ability to be imaginative and consistent at the same time — a challenging concept. “The IBM Garage was my best shot because we could check risky hypotheses and access global expertise — engineers, researchers, developers and architects,” says Migitko.
Following the agile IBM Garage Methodology, the team co-created the Flamel.AI web app in only seven weeks. During an Enterprise Design Thinking™ Workshop at the IBM Garage in London, Flamel.AI collaborated with RPG players and IBM experts to identify user personas and brainstorm solutions to pain points. The team was thoughtful and deliberate in prioritizing features and creating a roadmap for the project. “At the IBM Garage, the whole approach was ‘How do you do it right?’,” says Migitko.
During the architecture workshop, the team decided to build the minimum viable product (MVP) on IBM Cloud® and use IBM Watson® Machine Learning and IBM Watson Natural Language Understanding technology to boost AI functionality. The ease of developing the app remotely was a pleasant surprise. Continuous integration and continuous deployment meant that the developers in Czech Republic, England and Germany could work on the code, and within 20 minutes of finishing, the Flamel.AI team in Serbia could be testing it on the app. Migitko says the hardest part of virtual development was not being able to socialize together after a long day.
Decreasing game prep for a richer RPG experience
With Flamel.AI, game elements like imaginary worlds and characters are integrated, and gamers can execute plays with the click of a button. When there is a battle or complicated session, the facilitator and players don’t have to constantly check the rules or calculate scores. The facilitator can also send a link to players ahead of a session so that the gaming team has access to the same interface.
The Flamel.AI app complements the experience, but the players are still in complete control. Artificial intelligence (AI) can instantly create elements like characters, themes, maps or kid-friendly stories. But facilitators get to decide how much they want to use the app and the AI features to enhance the game. For example, when characters grapple, some players love all the dice-rolling and rule-finding; others think it’s tedious. “This app helps you do more role-play with less math, less rule-checking and cross-referencing,” Migitko explains.
Powered by AI and pre-loaded with imaginative game elements, Flamel.AI makes it easier for RPG facilitators to create and run sessions that are richer and more creative. Features are organized in one place and available through an intuitive online interface. User testing shows that facilitators decrease game preparation time by as much as 75% — from four hours to as little as an hour. Migitko credits this success in part to the IBM Garage Methodology. “IBM finds exactly the people who can deliver what you need, and this was the greatest value of the IBM Garage for me. There was a whole protocol, and a designer who makes it so easy for me to sit back and observe and have epiphanies.”
Migitko has had such a powerful experience with the IBM Garage Methodology’s design thinking, human-centered design and collaborative app development, that Flamel.AI is no longer focused only on gaming. “By adopting the practices and culture from our IBM Garage experience, we’re able to drive even more innovation as an organization. We want to further develop the app and customize it to be used outside the gaming world — in HR, for instance,” explains Migitko. “The idea is to bring the power of gamification — game elements and techniques such as collaboration, puzzle solving, decision-driven narrative — to empower employee engagement and boost productivity. We have plans to bring new apps to market this year and we hope 2021 will be a good year for creative and strategic thinking.”