Gamifying – The Building Blocks
Based on the document “Gamification 101: An Introduction to the Use of Game Dynamics to Influence Behavior”, I’ll be discussing other ways of categorizing game elements that can be seen as gamifying elements, as well as giving some examples that are discussed in the document.
Right off the bat, the most interesting definitions made in the document were those of Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics. The interplay between the two is very distinct but plays an important part in understanding how certain elements from a game can yield certain experiences normally found in games made for entertainment purposes.
- Game Mechanics: Game mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms used to gamify an activity – the aspects that, taken together, create a compelling, engaging user experience. In other words, the actual tangible elements of a game such as its challenges, its structure, its virtual economy and more. As their definition says, when you take all these things together, you get the gameful and pleasant experience.
- Game Dynamics: Game dynamics are the desires and motivations that are the result of the compelling, motivational nature of the experience created by game mechanics. As the definition implies, dynamics flow as the natural result of what the mechanics attempt to accomplish. These can include status, self-expression and competition, among others.
So what kinds of Game Mechanics can prove beneficial to non-gaming contexts? The document proceeded to stipulate a few. Many of these are more common, widespread game elements, but it is mostly their interaction with human desires that offers an interesting view on which are useful in which contexts.
Some of the mechanics discussed were:
- Points: Just like any form of currency, points will be very alluring for anyone using the application. Just collecting a massive amount of them for no clearly defined purpose can prove effective. Naturally, to reach a wider audience, you’d have to allow users to spend these points of various goods, be they virtual or otherwise.
- Levels: In gaming contexts, levels are usually some numerical value that increases as the strength of a character does. Naturally, this cannot be translated into a non-virtual context very easily, so they are often changed to fit a slightly different, but essentially identical interpretation. The document gives examples of belonging to different classes in frequent-flyer programs, colored belts in martial arts, and more. Obviously, higher levels would imply status and achievement, both very powerful motivators.
- Challenges: Challenges is another way to describe trophies, badges and achievements, all basically the same mechanic that is used quite often in current gamification applications. I’ve already discussed at great length what makes these tick, so I will leave it at this.
- Virtual Goods: Greed is a powerful motivator, even if in innocent quantities. This mechanic is closely tied to points as game economies often need a form of currency to work. The power of Virtual Goods stems from the desire to buy better, nicer or plain more expensive equipment. To get these goods, you will have to continue ‘playing’, or in a gamification aspect, you will have to continue with the activity that is being gamified.
- Leaderboards: Another often represented game element is the leaderboard. A simple high-score immediately urges users to compete for the number one spot.
It is a simple, but effective mechanic.
- Competitions: A simple observation of the popularity of sports will testify to the effectiveness of competition. Competition need not be applied to a multiplayer experience, however, as combining it with high scores and the like can add a “multiplayer effect” to applications intended for single users.
The interaction of each of these mechanics with various dynamics was presented in an insightful table.
Figure courtesy of “Gamification 101: An Introduction to the Use of Game Dynamics to Influence Behavior”.
It is easy to see why Challenges have been so prominent in gamification. They have the potential to satisfy each of the discussed dynamics. Other very effective mechanics include Points and Virtual Goods, both elements that have not been used as much, surprisingly. Levels, on the other hand, does a far worse job, most likely because of the difficulty involved in meaningfully translating them to a format usable in gamification.
My Brief Thoughts
The document itself was mostly useful in supplying a clear comparison between known options in gamification. It is by no means exhaustive, but the mechanics expressed are the most common ones that also occur in various gaming genres. Using that single table could aid a great deal in determining which mechanics are viable for your application. I believe that a study of the human desires, or the game dynamics that would flow naturally from the experience that you wish to gamify, will prune the selection of mechanics, allowing you to study the remaining more in depth before dedicating yourself to a number of them.