Notes on application of game mechanics to functional systems. | Dafacto

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Notes on application of game mechanics to functional systems.

21 September 2010

I recently watched this interesting video from Amy Jo Kim about the application of game mechanics to functional systems — in particular social systems. For reference, here are the brief notes I took.

Social Media, what is it?

  • Player-created content. Try using "players" instead of "users" when designing game-like products.
  • Social infrastructure.
  • Tools for sharing.


  • "A system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome." Formal definition. (Check out Eric Zimmerman, "Rules of Play")
  • "A structured experience, with rules and goals, that's fun." Informal definition.
  • Games tap into our primal response patterns. They manipulate behavior.
  • Variable schedule of reinforcement - most powerful. Small or large outcomes without being able to predict what action will cause that. (Check out "Reinforcement schedules."
  • Games engage us in "flow" -- maintaining a progressive relation and balance between both increasing challenge and skill. It's a "channel" between the two. They unflow their challenges over time.
  • What are game mechanics? The systems and features that make games fun, compelling and addictive.

Five foundational game mechanics.

  1. Collecting. Show me your stuff. What do you have. "Completion of a set" is very powerful. Twitter followeres is a form of collecting. "Your profile is 40% complete." (another example of the collection principle.)
  2. Points. Many types of points. Game points, given by the system. Social points, given by other players. Flickr's "interestingness" metric. Redeemable points drive loyalty. Provides the feeling of "earning", not wasting time. Leaderboards. Drives player behavior. Introduce competitives. Establishes values (very interesting!) Levels. Keeps people on treadmill.
  3. Feedback. Accelerates drive to mastery. Real-time feedback. Feedback over time. Feedback adds fun. "Cooking mama" has a lot of feedback. "Social feedback" - notifications, retweeting, friending.
  4. Exchanges. Structure social interaction. A conversation. Taking turns. Exchanging gifts. Trading. Example of "explicit" exchanges. "Implicit" (emergent) exchanges. eBay doesn't require reciprical feedback. "Gifting" - you give, and that engenders obligation. "Add friend" is explicit. "Commenting" is implicit.
  5. Customization. Character customization. Custom profiles. Establishes investment in the game.

How is social media influencing games?

  1. Accessibily. Making UIs accessible. Good UI is getting more important. Devices. Open APIs.
  2. Recombinant. Services that allow their data services to be re-mixed and re-distributed.
  3. Syndicated. Content that lives outside its source.

Case Study: YouTube

  • What do you collect? Favorites. Subscribers. Videos. A lot of things you can collect on YouTube. They could make it look more like a collection - that would make it more powerful.
  • How do you earn points? Star ratings. Views. Most discussed. YouTube has multiple, parallel leaderboards.
  • How do you get feedback? Comments. Inbox. Messages. Statistics.
  • Where you can you have exchange? Video response. Back and forth. Comments. Something else you could do?
  • Customization? Customize your profile page?
  • Accessible? Yes, they make it easy to get your videos uploaded.
  • Recombinant? Yes, can create playlists.
  • Syndicated? Absolutely.

Case Study: Twitter

  • Collect? Followers.
  • Earning points? Anything that's a number. Updates, followers, following.
  • Feedback? Replies. Direct messages.
  • Exchanges? Same things - replies, messages. They could probably express the exchanges more concretely.
  • Customization? Yes, your background.
  • Accessible. Yes, dramatically.
  • Recombinant. Yes.
  • Syndicated. Yes.

PhotoGrab — Project at ShuffleBrain

Presented a game they're developing at ShuffleBrain. (Coincidentally, we at Makalu had the opportunity to cross paths briefly with the ShuffleBrain folks on a past project.)

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