As I proceed with this project, I’m going to post notes periodically about things I’m learning. For experienced game designers, much of this will be old hat, of course. But I want to leave a bit of a trail for others new to these concepts to follow along, if they wish.

I’m going to start with notes from the various sessions I attended last week at the Gamification Summit. The host was Gabe Zichermann, who opened the day with this definition of “gamification”:

“Gamification is the process of using game thinking & dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.”

For me, engagement has what has really attracted me to this concept. The engagement factor with well-designed games is off the charts. And yet typical news Web sites have struggled to be more than just a place where people read one story and then move on. Engagement can also drive loyalty, as Zichermann noted. And of course, a wide range of industries have had loyalty programs for decades. Frequent flyer programs being just one example.

Engagement is about more than just page views. It opens up new kinds of monetization. As Zichermann said, this is a secret that game designers understand: “The most engaged user pays more.”

But how to create that engagement? That’s a complex question. Zichermann said one of the key elements is understanding what kind of rewards you can offer, and how these are valued by “players.” Zichermann outlined the four major categories of rewards that players want in order using what he called the “SAPS” system:

  • Status
  • Access
  • Power
  • Stuff

Though maybe not the first step, this is a key area obviously for a news organization to think about deeply and creatively. There are a lot of things we could give users that have nothing to do with money or deals.

The other important theme that I’m hearing is how deeply social games are in general. “Throughout the whole arc of human history, games have been social,” Zichermann said.

Game designers break players down into four archetypes using something called: “Bartle’s Player Types”:

  • Killer
  • Achiever
  • Socializer
  • Explorer

Richard Bartle, a British researcher, defined these types as follows:

  1. Achievement within the game context: Players give themselves game-related goals, and vigorously set out to achieve them. This usually means accumulating and disposing of large quantities of high-value treasure, or cutting a swathe through hordes of mobiles (ie. monsters built in to the virtual world).
  2. Exploration of the game: Players try to find out as much as they can about the virtual world. Although initially this means mapping its topology (ie. exploring the MUD’s breadth), later it advances to experimentation with its physics (ie. exploring the MUD’s depth).
  3. Socialising with others: Players use the game’s communicative facilities, and apply the role-playing that these engender, as a context in which to converse (and otherwise interact) with their fellow players.
  4. Imposition upon others (killers):Players use the tools provided by the game to cause distress to (or, in rare circumstances, to help) other players. Where permitted, this usually involves acquiring some weapon and applying it enthusiastically to the persona of another player in the game world.

One of the keys to designing the game is to understand who your players are? That will help map out what their emotional motivations, and then what kind of rewards might or might not work best. Bartle notes that some players drift between different categories, but largely exist in one of them.

Finally, Zichermann noted that it was important to think broadly about the whole game experience that you want to create. People to take to just sticking badges or leaderboards or other random mechanics on their site are largely missing the point and the potential of gamification. It’s likely these slapdash efforts won’d deliver many dividends, and that will sour people on the concept in general.

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