A few weeks back, Clay Shirky posted about the lack of games coverage on Many2Many
. That got me thinking about the relationship between game design and social software, and about why social software apps like buddy lists, blogs and social networks FEEL so game-like to me.
First off -- what is a game?
In Rules of Play
, Eric Zimmerman defined a game as a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.
It's certainly true that many games fit this definition - including board games, card games, organized sports, RPGs, and most single-player computer games. But what about best-selling simulations like SimCity
, The Sims
, and The Incredible Machine
? And MMPs like Lineage
, and Star Wars Galaxies
? And avatar-based visual chatting apps like HabboHotel
? Clearly, there's a lot of playful, engaging digital entertainment out there that's game-like, but not strictly "a game" in the classic sense.
To make these musings concrete and actionable, I'm gonna try to articulate the elements that make an experience feel "game-like." I've sketched out a short list of ideas - here's the first. I'll post more ideas over the next few days. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well, so please jump in!
Points & Levels
Earning points (in one form or another) and asociating levels with earned points is a common and powerful game mechanic that taps into basic human nature. When you earn points for in-game actions, you gain a sense of progress and accomplishment -- which motivates you to keep playing. And when you're rewarded for your persistence with a new 'level' that offers greater status, powers and challenges, that compounds the motivational power of the mechanism.
This basic idea has wide application beyond games. For example, Frequent Flyer programs allow customers to earn points via economic transactions, and award loyal, active customers with special status and privileges when they reach certain levels. Anytime you have the means to track and assign value to social or economic transactions within a system, you have the opportunity to introduce a mechanism for earning points and assigning levels.
A great non-gaming example is eBay's reputation system: buyers and sellers earn points via successful transactions, and the 'star' levels offer a simple yet highly motivating "carrot." Another example is Amazon's Reviewer Rating system: reviewers earn points by posting useful reviews that are rated highly by others, and the 'Top Reviewers' lists (Top-10, Top-50, Top-500, Top-1000) provides 'levels' for reviewers to aspire to.
The drive to accumulate points and track accomplishments is so powerful that people will often'make up' a game when one doesn't explicity exist. For example, social networks show you the number of friends you have, and the number of connections you've 'earned' by having those friends. This simple feedback mechanism encourages some people to think of a social network as a 'game' with the goal of 'collect the most friends with the greatest number of connections.' As with the Amazon top reviewers system, adding statistical lists of Top-Performers
to a social network reinforces the sense that this is a game to be won, a 'skill to be mastered.'
Which brings me to tomorrow's topic:
Rules, Competition & Mastery