The second day of the Gamification Summit was a smaller workshop conducted by Amy Jo Kim (@amyjokim), who has gained a reputation as a leading guru on community, social media, and game mechanics. Kim walked us through a series of presentations and exercises.
You can get a comprehensive set of notes here. I’m going to focus on some of the main lessons I heard, starting with the morning session. This is the first of several posts about sections of the workshop. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a novice here. A lot of this will be old hat for experienced hands.
Kim’s workshop used this set of slides throughout the day. The morning session ran through the first 36 slides:
First lesson: Gamification is not about the game mechanics. It’s about the overall experience you give the audience.
“If you start off getting excited about game mechanics, you’re going to get stuck in a cul-de-sac,” Kim said.
Put another way, don’t start by thinking about leaderboards, progress bars, etc. You have to step way back from that and start with a higher level question:
“What is the journey that you want to take the player on?”
“What is the core experience?”
Kim said: “Game techniques are not the core experience.”
Just to stay with that idea for a second: It may sound obvious, but when thinking about the game experience, the “audience” or the “user” becomes “the player.”
Lesson 2: “Game designers design experiences that unfold over time,” Kim said.
That’s a very different mindset than what you might typically bring to designing a Web site. For instance, when I arrive at a new Web site, all the features are generally there, available for me to try. The best designs make it intuitive for me a user to figure out what I’m supposed to do.
Now, imagine that you’ve developed the most exciting feature or service you’ve ever conceived. And then you decide: I’m going to make people have to work to get to use the very best feature. If you’re designing a typical Web site, that would be crazy. But this is exactly how the game design mindset is different: They will hold back the most exciting content and/or experiences to reward people for working through other more mundane tasks.
Lesson 3: Motivation is critical.
There are two categories of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic are external rewards such as points, leaderboards, badges, progress bars. These offer shorter-term motivation, but are not enough to propel a player to stick with a game for the longer term.
For that, you need to identify intrinsic motivations, such as a sense of belonging, mastery, fun, meaning.
“If you can create a feeling among players that they feel part of something larger than themselves, than that is a very strong intrinsic motivator,” Kim said.
Lesson 4: The journey.
Once you’ve thought about the experience, and the meaning, you’ve got to work through the stages of the journey that you want the player to experience.
As the player moves through each stage, they need to be given challenges that are just slightly above their kill level that strike a balance between challenging them and not letting them get too frustrated.
“Good games give players something to master,” Kim said. “The more you can define progress and mastery someone can attain, the better your game will be.”
“The game in itself needs to present progressively more difficult challenges to keep progressively more skilled people engaged,” Kim said. “That’s the backbone of game design.”
Lesson 5: Rewards and dynamics.
I’m going to summarize the next chunk very briefly. A game designer needs to think about things like the pace of the game, how quickly someone progresses. And how they get rewarded. Variable rewards, which are given out more randomly, are much more addictive than fixed rewards, which are given out at regular intervals.
This is when you also begin to think about the mechanics, which allow a player to visualize their progress. And the aesthetics, which help define experience, which also help determine the emotions. Do you want the player to experience fun? Delight? Surprise? What are the sounds and visual elements?
“Emotion drives action and engagement,” Kim said. “A good game takes the player on an emotional journey over time.”
Lesson 6: Know the players and how they relate to each other.
The social interaction is critical. People want to know: Who am I playing with? How are we engaging? What are we engaging around?
But first, know your players. And design for the play style they’re going to want. (More on this in a follow-up post that breaks down the four main player types.) For now, ask: Who is playing? What is their style: competitive or collaborative? What problem are they trying to solve?
For instance: Foursquare gives players recognition for something they probably already do, like being a regular. It’s built around an existing motivation.
Lesson 7: The intersection between players’ needs and business goals = “smart gamification.”
What are you business and reveneue goals? It used to be that designers and the business side worked separately. Now, every game designer needs to embrace the business. Kim said: If you build the business goals into the game, things will go much better, rather than trying to tack something on after the game experience has been created.