Posts Tagged ‘game mechanics’

The Power of Game Mechanics for the Real World

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

How Companies, Non-profits and Government Organizations Can Utilize Advanced Gamification


Cogswell Assistant Professor Albert Chen (second from right) and the panel of game mechanics experts

The idea of using game mechanics for business purposes is a popular one, with “gamification” elements being added to a lot of products or experiences. From profile completeness scores in LinkedIn, to badges in FourSquare to commenting leaderboards on popular blogs, game mechanics have become fairly ubiquitous.

But according to a panel of experts in the game mechanics space, these elements are just touching the surface of this powerful emotional and psychological force. Video gaming companies are at the forefront of developing increasingly sophisticated games, but businesses, non-profits and governmental organizations will increasingly be tapping into these powerful gaming mechanics as new models are created.

Read on to see why game mechanics are so powerful and how they can be used for various different business or non-business applications.

The Power of Game Mechanics

1) Game Mechanics Impact Brain Chemistry

Game mechanics are powerful because they impact brain chemistry. The different types of games can provide different types of physiological rewards to the player.

  • Learning (concentrating/solving problems/exploring) – Norepinephrine)
  • Overcoming Challenges – Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Building Social Connections – Oxytocin)
  • Building/Finding Order – Seratonin

2) Core Loops Lead to More Usage (and repeat visits)

Game mechanics create simple core loops that gamers do over and over again. These create an addictive cycle that makes it hard to stop playing.

For example, the core loop in Farmville is:

  • Plant Seeds -> Harvest Resources -> Buy Seeds -> Plant Seeds.

The core loop for Gears of War is:

  • Move to Next Position -> Select Correct Weapon -> Aim and Fire Until Clear -> Move to Next Position

It was argued that core loops in daily life can be powerful for consumer behavior beyond games. For example, the core loop for Starbucks is something like:

  • Arrive at Starbucks – > Order and Chat with Regular Barrista -> Enjoy Your Coffee -> Repeat Tomorrow

This core loop turns buying coffee into an annuity for Starbucks. Perhaps this ability to create a strong core loop is why the Starbuck’s model has been so powerful.

3) New Element Prevent Core Loop “Tolerance”

As with anything addictive, the emotional (and chemical) rewards provided by the core loop decrease over time. So, how does a game company (or other business) bring people back to play (or buy) again?

A game like Angry Birds does this with new worlds and increased difficulty. Another way they bring people back it is to show incomplete levels that require “clean up”, keeping people busy getting creating order!

Providing a special item that is only available for a limited time is a way to stimulate demand and sales (and to keep up interest). For example, the McRib is one of McDonald’s ways of stimulating their customer base. Happy meals and various giveaways are others. Disney DVDs that would come out of the vault and be available for a limited time is another example of this.

4) Games Don’t Depend On Increasing Player Motivation

Game mechanics can’t assume that players will become more motivated to learn or add skills to play higher and higher levels. In other words, the challenges can’t become so hard for any level of player that they give up. So, to create this “system of the grind”, as a player’s level increases, it should be just about as easy to kill the mouse from level 1 as it is to kill the dragon in level 10. Perhaps the player will have accumulated more powers and slightly more skill, but it can’t be too far off from the original level of difficulty.

For a real-life example, Village Harvest had success with taking donated fruit from people’s trees and giving it to the elderly. But with success, they didn’t necessarily want to expand the program, making it harder for volunteers to help. They wanted to make the process a simple habit (a core loop) for each volunteer, making the overall program more sustainable and not a burden on them.

5) Game Mechanics Can Be Applied to Real World Problems

Game designers have access to huge numbers of rabid fans and they are pushing the envelope in terms of building powerful experiences that are designed to influence user behavior.

Games like Call of Duty, SIM City and Grand Theft Auto are examples of immersive experiences where game designers have a choice of what to simulate and what not to – simulating real life but with parts specifically removed.  Mobile games like Angry Birds and Diner Dash create seemingly mindless but nevertheless addictive games. Both types of games attract millions and game designers are constantly refining the games to improve stickiness and return visits.

Cases: Applying Game Mechanics to the Real World

Game mechanics can be applied to solve real world problems, to generate new ideas, or to provide better (or cheaper) results. Some examples of practical applications include:

  • NASA and Life Support: NASA created a competition for developers to work on life support systems for travel to Mars. They used the motivation of competition to push for better and more unique ideas.
  • Netflix used a similar competition to improve the algorithm for its movie database.
  • Galaxy Zoo was created to use a game-like system to allow people to crowd-source the classification of galaxies. They received 70,000 classifications within 24 hours of the launch in 2007. That’s one approach to handling “big data”.
  • The problem that Hope Labs wanted to solve was that people would stop taking their medication, leading to health issues. So, they developed an immersive game where players could go into their bodies and shoot the cancer cells, allowing patients to visualize the power of the medicines.
  • FitBit, Fitocracy and other fitness companies provide scoring, social elements and feedback loops that help people keep up their level of activity.
  • Smoking: In an experiment in Canada, virtual reality games were used to successfully reduce the urge to smoke.
  • Poker and currency conversion: In another example, a poker site solved the massive problem of online currency conversion in order to facilitate play across the world.

How To Make Game Mechanics Work For Your Organization

In thinking about how to add game mechanics to your company’s products or services (or any other organization, for that matter), here are six elements to consider:

1) Make It “Crunchy” – Crisply define the target audience for the change (e.g. mothers between 25-45 years old) and the behavior you would like to impact.

2) Make It Measurable – Make sure the behavior is specifically described and is measurable.

3) Define Your Core Loop – Understand what core actions the person will do regularly to keep them participating.

4) Do Compulsion Analysis – Understand what will keep them coming back the next day.

5) Measure Behavior – Track and analyze the results.

6) Test Engagement Strategies – Make sure you engage with your participants and try different things to see the impact on their participation.

Game mechanics go beyond badges and leaderboards. They can wield significant power if used correctly in ways that align with participant motivation. While video game designers are at the cutting edge, increasingly companies and other organizations will be using more advanced game design techniques.

Are you integrating game design techniques into your company or organization’s business model?

Why or why not?

To Learn More…

To find out about Cogswell’s programs, including Game Design, Digital Art, Game Audio, Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Digital Media Management: Cogswell College, Silicon Valley, Programs.

This article is based on the panel by five experts, including Cogswell Assistant Professor Albert Chen and moderator Margarita Quihuis of SocialxDesign. It was held at law firm Sheppard Mullin for the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute on May 15th.

About the author: Tom Treanor will be teaching two courses in Cogswell’s Masters Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Fall of 2013. He writes about Social Media Marketing in the Bay Area at Right Mix Marketing.