Gamification Part 2

jkane By John Kane

22 September 2017 // Design and UX

Game design: The guts of gamification

Missed out on reading part 1? Check out Gamification Part 1.

Games, distilled down to their simplest idea, are a series of interesting choices. Game designers spend a lot of time figuring out how to make those choices interesting, the same way a UI/UX designer figures out how to structure a website's content, and just like UI/UX, there's a bit of jargon to get through:

Some words you need to know:

Flow: The mental state of total immersion in a task. Often a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment.

Fiero: The pride experienced in the moments following a personal triumph over adversity. When a footballer scores a goal, or runner finishes a race and throws their hands up? That's fiero.

Feedback Loop: When information passed from the user to the system gets given back in a new form which informs the next action.

Verbs: "Verbs" in game design terms refer to a potential action that a user might take. Not having enough verbs can make a system feel dull. Having too many to choose form at one time may lead to "Analysis paralysis".

Resistance: The degree to which a system makes progression difficult. In a web context, case sensitivity, or requiring registration is a form of resistance. In games, the number and strength of adversaries is often the main cause of resistance.

Juice: Powerful reinforcement of feedback loops through visual/audio cues. See the end of a Peggle level for a textbook example of "juice".

Emergent Behaviour: An unexpected behaviour where users exploit a system in an unintended way to progress through it more efficiently.

Affordance: An affordance is an action a person perceives as possible. Adding a handle to a door adds an affordance, and invites the player to open it.


How to think about games

The Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics Framework

Mechanics are the base components of the game. Its rules, every basic action the player can take in the game, the algorithms and data structures. In Mario games, you can stand on the ground, can jump, and fall due to gravity.

Dynamics are the behaviour of the mechanics acting on player input and "cooperating" with other mechanics. In Mario, you can jump to hit things from below. You can land on enemies from above but not hit them from below, and you cannot jump while already in the air.

Aesthetics are the emotional responses evoked in the player. In Mario, you feel exhilarated by moving fast, and feel mastery at reaching the end. They are also the affordances the player perceives in the game. In Mario, a block may look "breakable" so the player knows it can be broken when hit. On a website, it's the way elements are perceived as interactive/clickable.

The game maker controls the Mechanics first, then the dynamics, in a hope to shape the aesthetics. The player experiences the Aesthetics, and learns the dynamics and mechanics through play. 


There are eight commonly accepted aesthetics of play:

  1. Sensation (Game as sense-pleasure): Player experiences something completely unfamiliar.
  2. Fantasy (Game as make-believe): Imaginary world.
  3. Narrative (Game as drama): A story that drives the player to keep coming back
  4. Challenge (Game as obstacle course): Urge to master something. Boosts a game's replayability.
  5. Fellowship (Game as social framework): A community where the player is an active part of it. Almost exclusive to multiplayer games.
  6. Discovery (Game as uncharted territory): Urge to explore game world.
  7. Expression (Game as self-discovery): Own creativity. For example, creating character resembling player's own avatar.
  8. Submission (Game as pastime): When playing a specific game becomes the pastime, rather than the act playing games in general.

While they're the most common in gamification, the mechanics of points, leaderboards and badges only contribute towards two of a possible eight aesthetics of play (Challenge and Fellowship). There's plenty of fertile ground to be explored in speaking to the other six.


Game Mechanics

So, we have 8 aesthetics, or kinds of play. How do we pick the right mechanics to evoke the aesthetics we want in our users? There's hundreds of possible mechanics, and choosing which works well with which is not an exact science, but here's a few examples:


Transparency of data

What information are you giving users as feedback? Are you showing how their input relates to other peoples? Are you showing the effect their input will have?



Giving users the tools to structure their own goals is a powerful way to keep users engaged, by letting them explore and express themselves.



Badges can be a useful mechanic, if your system allows for a diverse range of experiences. Badges and trophies serve a reminder of the experiences the user has had, and point towards other experiences still out there.



"Levels" are a tool to compare yourself to other users. If you're engaging with a large user base, levels can be a good sign of another person’s status in that community. If your users can't see other user's input, giving them levels will be pointless.



Also called "Cascading Information Theory". Drip-feeding information to the user as they need it is the most effective way for them to learn a new system. A series of small interruptions can be less painful than one big one.


Competition vs Collaboration

Are you putting your users in direct competition with each other? Do you need to be? Competition can be a powerful motivator to be the first or best at something, but creating a sense of collaboration can be as powerful. Look at "Foldit", and how that fostered a community by giving it a single shared goal.



Are you giving your users a sense that their actions count towards something? Is it counting towards a goal? Is there an end to their actions, or can they go on forever?


The End

Any website can be gamified and made more playful. Adding movement and colour are a great first step. Remember, your rewards don't have to be "points". A treat for the eyes can be as good as a treat for the achievement list.

Small adjustments to your registration and onboarding process can yield huge results. Make the users feel like they're signing up for something fun, they're more likely to stick through to the end.

Give users tools for discovery. If it's hard to get through your UI, your users may think they've seen everything long before they've found what they were looking for.

Users want products that get the job done, do it well, and are a pleasure to use.

Your website is a product like any other. If it's hard to use, or is a chore in itself, your users will go somewhere else.

We know how gamification and playfulness work. We've worked with international clients on large-scale gamification ventures. Those projects saw a large return on investment, and increased user acquisition. If you'd like to talk to us about gamification and what it can do for you, please contact Raw Ideas.


jkane By John Kane

Tagged: gamification

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