Archive for the ‘Notes’ Category

At the end of the morning session at the Gamification Summit, Amy Jo Kim challenged everyone to complete the following elevator pitch for their project:

My company, (company name), is developing (a defined offering) to help (target player) (solve a problem) using (secret sauce/unique differentiator).

I’ve been thinking about that a lot. And I’ll give my version in my next post, which I think will help begin to clarify a direction for this project.

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:

Gamification 101: Design the Player Journey

View more presentations from Amy Kim.
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.

I didn’t get a chance to hear the presentation by Wanda Meloni of M2 Research. But she gave an overview of the Gamification industry, including vendors, spending, and a few interesting trends in her slides:

I have a bunch of stray notes and quotes from the various panels of Day 1 of the Gamification Summit. In most cases, I’m not sure who said what. But the messages stuck with me, so I wanted to round up a few of the most important points I heard during the day.


One representative of a shopping company using game mechanics noted no one on the staff was really an expert on gaming. They were using badges, levels and points. But they launched without figuring out what the “elder game” was. That is, the core experience that would sustain players over the long haul. “That motivation is what will make a game durable.” What I heard over and over is that game design should start with thinking about the core experience, rather than looking at the tools and levers you can use.


On good gamification design: “If the first word that comes out of their mouths is, ‘Oh, this is a game,’ then we haven’t done our job well.” Gamifying a site should be subtle, with users/players not necessarily knowing that they are entering a game.


“How do you optimize the user expectation?”

“You have to have some kind of community within your brand. You can use these techniques to turbo charge that community.”

“If you’re a content company today, you have to add community if you want to compete in the global marketplace. Gamification can be the social glue that brings this all together.”

I recently interviewed Jane McGonigal for my day job at the Mercury News. The subject was her new book, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.” I just finished it myself, and can’t recommend it enough. In particular, the first one-third of the book breaks down the elements of good game design in a way I found very instructive. I’m going to post my notes from that soon.

In the meantime, McGonigal gave the keynote at the Gamification Summit, and I wanted to share some of her additional thoughts. Mostly, these are some random quotes I found of interest:

“We become better versions of ourselves when we’re in games.”

Her definition of a game: “Games are unnecessary obstacles we volunteer to tackle.” She noted that definition doesn’t say anything about graphics or interactivity.

“We invest 3 billion hours weekly playing online games because we are not challenged enough in our real lives.”

“I don’t think this is about making games fun and easier for our users. I think games are about tackling things that are harder for us, for the fun of it.”

“Why are we spending so much time tackling unnecessary tasks?”

One answer: “People want to be connected to something larger than themselves. They want to do things that have meaning.”

(My note: I think news organizations are in the perfect position to design something that taps into our higher aspirations to help our neighbors and our communities).

“If you’re trying to gamfiy something, you should be looking to turn them into super empowered helpful users. That’s what we become when we play a good game.”

“People prefer cooperation games to competitive ones by 3 to 1. If you look at what’s happening in gaming, most people don’t want to compete. They want to work with their friends to achieve a common goal.”

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.