Games that matter

Jeroen Trienes, graduate of Knowledge Engineering at Maastricht University, is now Creative Director at Goal043. This Maastricht company develops ‘serious games’, computer games that have some purpose other than pure entertainment: introducing new employees to an organisation, for example, or encouraging people to exercise more. How did he get into this area? “I just sort of fell into it really”, he says.

On a sunny winter’s morning we meet Trienes at the office of Goal043 at the Bassin in Maastricht. A thin layer of frost lines the streets outside. Fortunately, the atmosphere in the conference room is warmer. The walls of the cosy space are covered with screenshots of games developed by the company. “I really enjoyed my student days", he begins.

Britta Wielaard (tekst), Arjen Schmitz (fotografie)

Online bridge

Trienes didn’t have to think long when it came to choosing a study programme. “I actually didn’t look at any other programmes”, he laughs. “
I went to high school around here and I knew I wanted to do something with computers. I went to the Open Day in 1996 and it just felt good; there was this immediate click with a number of people on the course.” It may have been a quick choice, but it turned out to be a good one. “We were constantly looking at maths and computer science from different perspectives. It was small-scale and you got a lot of personal guidance. In no way were you just a number.”

He also got along well with the other 18 students. As early as their first year, he and three fellow students launched a company that produced custom-made software for organisations. “It wasn’t particularly successful, but it was great fun and I learnt a lot. And it was thanks to that experience that I was approached by my maths professor, Koos Vrieze. He was an avid bridge player and active at the time in the Dutch Bridge Federation, which was developing a system to play bridge online. We got talking and quickly decided we should do it together – me with my technical expertise and he with his knowledge of bridge.”

Around this time the Dutch government was preparing to issue licences for online gambling. The Janshen-Hahnraths group, known for its Fair Play casinos, was on the lookout for companies with expertise in this area. Before long the group came into contact with Trienes and Vrieze. “Within a year our company had been taken over and all of a sudden I was a shareholder in an online casino.” Combining his studies with managing a team of eight developers turned out to be quite a challenge, but he managed to complete his degree in 2002.

Serious games

By 2006, with the licence to operate an online casino still in the works, Trienes decided to leave the company. After six years in the entertainment industry he was keen to broaden his horizons – but he did want to keep on working with games. “By then I’d developed more than 100 games on the side.” And so it was that he ended up in the world of serious gaming.

Goal043 develops all sorts of different games, Trienes explains, gesturing at a number of posters on the wall. “These are competitive sales training courses for Vodafone and Heineken. And that’s a safety game that trains construction companies and students in situations that are difficult to simulate in real life.” He picks up an empty box lying on the table. “Usually this holds a wrist tracker, from a mobile game that encourages children to exercise more. And then there’s our dementia game, which helps caregivers of people with dementia to cope with difficult situations.”

In his current position Trienes serves as the link between the designers and the client. “I go to clients and try to find out what their question is. Then I make sure the team here has enough information and inspiration to find the solution.” He gets a great deal of satisfaction from his work. “We get a lot of positive feedback, especially for the dementia game. Recently someone said, ‘If only I’d had it a year earlier. My mother died of dementia last year and I recognise so many situations where I just didn’t know how to respond.’ That’s what drives us.”

Added value

What advice would he give to current students of Knowledge Engineering? “I don’t think you can really say anything generic. If I look at the group I graduated with, some went into academia, others work in business or the semi-government sector. One is stronger in terms of theory; another is good at translating theory into practice. I’ve learnt that I’m good at working together with clients to identify the real core of the problem, and then trying to come up with a practical solution in the form of product we can actually provide. So I guess my advice would be: know what you’re good at and try to be the best at that.”

Jeroen Trienes(1977) studied Knowledge Engineering at Maastricht University from 1997 to 2002. Since 2006 he has been Creative Director at Goal043, a Maastricht company that develops serious games.

Text: Britta Wielaard
Photography: Arjen Schmitz

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