Saturday, January 5, 2013

Part 2 - Game Thinking

After leaving Google the founder of Dodgeball Dennis Crowley created FourSquare which was a similar platform to Dodgeball but it was also different from it. While Dodgeball wasn't very popular, FourSquare became really popular and we can see many people nowadays checking into places through Foursquare. What made it so popular was the fact that Foursquare was gamified, unlike Dodgeball which didn't offer any incentives to its users whether they checked in or not. You could see where your friends checked in but there was not much else you could do. As it didn't offer much variety, it didn't seem to engage people as much as Foursqaure did. However, Dodgeball was very social and allowed users to compete against their friends and to see where they were. But what Foursqaure did was to create a sense of progression by implementing a concept called Mayorships. There are also badges that indicate users' status and their progress and/or leadership. Foursqaure also built a system which made it easy to notify friends on Twitter or Facebook about one's progress which created the sense of competition and made the act of checking in more fun. They also introduced special purpose badges and leveling up for checking in at a conference or a health club ot at an airport a few times. It is still just checking in but now it has become a more varied activity. (More on this here)

A takeaway from this story is to view a business problem or a problem in any other context in the same way that a game designer would think about the challenge related to creating a game. So whatever your goal is and whatever problem you have to solve, think about that as a game. If it were a game that participants were playing, what would you do?

Start by thinking about people involved in your system as players. This means that you should build your system around your players who should be in the middle of the game, because to players the game revolves around them, it's no way about who built it or what purpose it is supposed to serve. So your business should be built in a way that your players are at the centre.

Secondly, your players do not only need to have a feeling that the game revolves around them but they also need to feel that they are in control. So think about how to create a system where players feel that they are in control and they can make their own choices.

Finally, the goal of a game designer is to create a sense of play for a specific purpose. Play is a feeling of free motion with a set of constraints and the purpose is to get the players playing and keep them playing.

Now about some basic design rules. First of all there is the face that players need to be involved in a conceptual journey, i.e. their walk through the game needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end and ideally in some sort of progression. Basically the steps are onboarding (getting the player into the game), scaffolding (providing the necessary training) and mastery at which players feel that they have achieved and/or accomplished something. (There is a very clear example of this in Zombie vs Plants game.) Secondly, there should be balance - not too hard, not too easy; not too many choices, not too few choices, etc. Balance is something that a game needs at every stage. Third design rule for gamification is to take something that is not game-like and make it feel game-like by creating an integrated experience. (Read a review of to get a feel for this).

While creating gamified systems it is important not to forget about the aspect of fun which is what makes playing engaging and makes us want to continue doing whatever it is we are doing. So the categories of experiences that we would create the feeling of fun are as follows:

  • winning,
  • problem solving,
  • exploring,
  • chilling out,
  • teamwork,
  • recognition,
  • triumphing,
  • collecting,
  • surprise,
  • imagining and daydreaming,
  • sharing,
  • role playing,
  • customization,
  • and just being silly.
Nicole Lazzaro, a researcher and a game designer, talks about 4 Keys to Fun, 4 different kinds of fun that appear in any game-like context. The first kind of fun is EASY fun which is about relaxing, chilling out and hanging out with friends. This doesn't have to be taxing. The second category is HARD fun; fun which involves challenges, problem solving, mastery, completion, etc.The third category is PEOPLE fun which is about interacting with others, teamworking, socializing, basically fun that requires other people. Finally, serious fun; fun that is about doing something that is meaningful, that is good for the planet, for the family of the player, for the community. (More on this read here.)

Four different kinds of fun and not necessarily mutually exclusive. When we think about introducing fun to a gamified system, we cannot just focus on one or two aspects of fun; we should keep all four types in mind not to miss the opportunity to engage all our players and make things fun using the other categories. (Marc LeBlanc identified 8 kinds of fun about which read here.)

To sum up this extended discussion about fun, it can be said that fun does not happen on its own - it has to be designed. Fun isn't always easy - it can be hard and serious. Finally we should look to exploit as many kinds of fun as possible to make things motivating and engaging.

Examples of fun in non-gaming environments are:
Volkswagen's Fun Theory with the lottery for non-speeding drivers, or their piano staircase, or the deepest rubbish bin, or LinkedIn's Progress Bar. And this is what gamification is about - finding fun aspects and using them to create an environment that moves people towards an objective. 

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