Game Mechanics Introduction

Gabe Zichermann is an author, editor of The Gamification Blog and is the chair of the Gamification Summit. For the whole picture download or order our publication Gamification.

Gamification is a relatively new term, but not a new concept. It’s the process of implementing game mechanics into non-gaming scenarios in order to better engage audiences and solve problems.

Some common examples of game mechanics are points, levels, badges, leaderboards, challenges and rewards. From loyalty programs for businesses to educational video games, to rewarding children for doing chores, people have always been trying to better merge work and play.

You’ve already been participating in these games for years even if you’re not conscious of it. Your frequent flier miles through your airline and credit card are part of a gamified system that makes you want to utilize both more in order to garner more points and other rewards such as being the first to board your plane or a free upgrade to business class. Your Facebook account shows you who amongst your social circle has the most friends and your Twitter account, who has the most followers.

Do you sometimes work harder to increase these numbers purely out of a sense of competition? Many others sites use gamification much more explicitly: sites like Foursquare, Get Glue and even news sites like Mashable give you badges for checking into venues, watching shows or reading and reviewing articles.

Create motivation

If your job, working out at the gym, going shopping or doing your taxes could all be more enjoyable, you’d be more likely to stop procrastinating, work harder and have a higher rate of successful completion. Winning at a game is no different that accomplishing tasks in real life. You are faced with a challenge, have to follow certain steps or rules in order to get to your goal are met with a positive feeling when the game has been won.

Gamification can help increase customer loyalty in business but can also be used to fix larger issues such as education, healthcare and government institutions. But simply slapping points and badges onto a website isn’t the same as engagement. For gamification to truly work, the core of the experience has to pull the user in, make them care about the challenge they’re about to face and have a strong desire to see it through the end. The player has to be taken on a journey and you have to lead them there. You really need to start looking at the world as a game designer. So how can your world be rewritten to make it more fun?

Game mechanics

While there are many ways to create engagement in consumers through gamification, game mechanics are where most designers begin. As we discuss in my book, Game-Based Marketing, These elements of games can be deployed to create experiences that attract and retain users, but generally need to be woven into a coherent whole in order to really add value. Here are some of the most popular mechanics:

Points are used to track user behavior and provide feedback about progress. There are four key point systems (XP, skill, karma and redeemable), but only XP is necessary.

Levels are indicators of progress that show a user’s movement through a system. They don’t progress linearly and are often unnecessary if incorporated into levelling badges.

Badges are among the more controversial game mechanics for their diffusion in Foursquare – but they serve a few key roles: measuring progress, collecting items, providing an instance for social promotion.

Leaderboards allow users to quickly compare themselves against each other. Although they are ubiquitous, care must be taken to ensure leaderboards drive positive user behavior instead of abandonment from a challenge that’s just too hard.

Challenges are offers from the system to the user to complete a set of tasks in order to get a specific reward. Really well designed gamified experiences offer users a continuously unfolding set of challenges to complete.

Rewards can take many forms, though most marketers choose cash – and most game designers choose virtual. I use the mnemonic SAPS to list rewards a priori: Status, Access, Power and Stuff – it’s what consumer want in order, and what you want to give them.

So while the basic group of game mechanics may appear limited, their flexibility and broad appeal means they can be leveraged to create almost endless kinds of engagement with users.