Sep 14, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Apply Game Mechanics To Non-Game Services

One of the great benefits of investing in the social gaming space is the opportunity to be immersed in game mechanics. Game mechanics don’t just apply to gaming companies: they apply to virtually every web site on the net.

Here are my top 10 ways to apply game mechanics to non-game services:

1.       Your service: The game. Start thinking of your service as a game and it’s easy to envision all the subtle and not so subtle ways to take advantage of game mechanics in your service — whether it’s a consumer offering or an enterprise one.

2.       Status / reputation. People want status. It’s human nature. But the thing about status is, it has to be visible: both to the person who has it and to everyone else. The driver of the hot yellow Ferrari doesn’t drive it 20 miles per hour down the street so that he can see it: he drives it so that he can enjoy everyone else seeing him driving it. The easiest way to make status visible is through badges. Badges are simple and easy. Start with silver, gold, and platinum. Then add special badges – badges that are only available for completing a certain task, or in the case of a shopping site, a special, rare shopping cart for elite shoppers.

3.       Gifting and reciprocation. Surprise: People love to receive gifts! In the gaming world, that means giving high status users free coins with which they can buy goods – not for themselves, but to send to other people. What makes gifts so powerful is they cause a very personal feeling of reciprocation. In the gaming world, the gift recipients will reciprocate – the key is that they have to pay in order to do so. So by letting your highest status users give away something to others (for free), you get revenue in return.

4.       Hybrid monetization. Let your users choose how they want to pay you: with their time or with their wallet. As long as you get the money, you don’t care whether it comes from your user or from a third party who wants to pay you for access to that user. This doesn’t work for big purchases, but for small purchases, such as upgrades, it can be used to great effect. Let your user choose: they can pay you for the upgrade or they can watch an advertisement. It’s up to them. (Of course, you get to set the price on what the ad is worth.)

5.       Leaderboards and points. People are competitive by nature. Associate points with actions so that people can earn points. Those points don’t necessarily have to convert into anything – simply making them visible (in the form of a leaderboard) gives them value.

6.       Free stuff. Just like gifts, people also like to get good old free stuff. In the gaming world this comes in the form of “150 coins for logging in.” It feels good to get 150 coins for doing… well, almost nothing! Give people free stuff to get them to show up. Give away a little bit of what you offer (storage, for example) to users for completing certain tasks.

7.       Make the virtual real. How do you make a virtual good feel real? Through look and sound. If you’re going to use coins, for example, give them the look and sound of real money. Animate them. Add accurate sound. That’s why Vegas casinos have all that sound of money – because even though you can’t touch it, you can hear it.

8.       Social proof. One other thing that people want: social proof. When users see that their friends are doing something, they want to do it too.  If 80% of people have purchased a certain upgrade, let the rest of your users know that: they’ll wonder why they haven’t.

9.       Create scarcity. In games, this means things have a limited time – the special potion or weapon only has a life of a few minutes or a few hours. The same phenomenon can be implemented in non-game sites: coupons that quickly expire, countdown timers on items so that once they reach zero, the item is no longer available.

10.       A/B test and track the metrics. Game designers are constantly running side by side experiments on everything from the look and feel of their virtual coins to the optimum path for a user to make a purchase in an online store. You can do the same even down to the animated versus non-animated buy button. The key is to measure the results like there’s no tomorrow and track the resulting metrics.

Of course, there are many more ways to apply game mechanics to your service. Hopefully, this list will get you off to a great start.

16 Comments

  • Great list, Dave!

    I would argue that #10, A/B Testing, is one of the most important points. Game Design is tricky, and not as simple as just adding points—you have to be willing to experiment and try new things.

    My goal with http://Reputely.com has been to enable developers to quickly integrate game mechanics while also allowing them to iterate iterate iterate until they’ve optimized their integration.

    I’d suggest people wanting to add game mechanics start by defining their most valuable metric—for Friendfeed, they found out that they would retain a user if they had 5 friends already using the service; with Blogger, Ev Williams focused on new blogs being created because it drove all their other metrics.

    From there, start to brainstorm how game mechanics can be used to encourage users to complete actions related to those metrics.

  • Loved the article.

    What Dru added about defining an important metric is very important. We have many companies approach us at http://www.IActionable.com and just tell us that they want ‘Game Mechanics’. We quickly explain that you can’t just throw stuff in or you can actually hurt your community. Its not just about adding some ‘points’ number as users click things. A company needs to define what makes their company successful and how their users help them achieve it.

    Companies will quickly learn what motivates their users and should listen closely to feedback. Different communities like different kinds of feedback. Some may want Levels/Titles where others want Leaderboards and Points.

    It still amazes me what people will do for the chance to brag or show off their expertise in something. Giving users credit for accomplishing or contributing somethings is sometimes the best way for a company to quickly say thanks.

  • [...] a recent blog post, David Feinleib, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, lists the following 10 ways to incorporate game mechanics into [...]

  • [...] a recent blog post, David Feinleib, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, lists the following 10 ways to incorporate game mechanics into [...]

  • [...] a recent blog post, David Feinleib, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, lists the following 10 ways to incorporate game mechanics into [...]

  • [...] a recent blog post, David Feinleib, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, lists the following 10 ways to incorporate game mechanics into [...]

  • Brilliant piece of work.

    I would say a lesson to take away from gaming is that people like interaction, definition/identity development, achievement, and immersion. In anything, really – these are parts of being human.

  • Dave, nice article!

    I would also warn people against “biting off more than they can chew”. It sounds easy to add badges, levels, leaderboards, virtual stores, etc, but it can get extremely complex and difficult. The “game” can get out of control very quickly. Starting off with a few awards and levels not only gives the website owner the best introduction to game mechanics, but also your websites users.

    I agree with #10, you should constantly be iterating on your game depending on how your community is responding. This also helps you address the issue of people getting bored. There will be people wanting different challenges to stay engaged with your community and the analytics will give you insight to those buckets of users.

    This list definitely makes adding game mechanics to a website sound easy, but the smartest way to do this is to partner with a company like http://BigDoor.com. We have already created a powerful API that will handle the game mechanics you listed above and is supported by in-depth analytics to help you make the right decisions.

  • One of the things that I discovered while doing this is that, while you do have to make sure your game doesn’t become the reason for the website (StackOverflow pulled this off; Mahalo did not), you should ask yourself what the purpose of the game mechanic is in the first place.

    Dan Cook has an excellent entry on how to add game mechanics to just about anything. He talks about the game feedback loop, the single most important thing that any game mechanic has to add, and what you give the user at the end of the loop: not badges, or stickers, or awards. What players want is a reason to keep playing. You do that in your website by awarding them knowledge and tools. What they can do next, “Did you know you can…” entries, and “Now that you can…” notices. Game mechanics are another way of creating an engagement relationship. If you just think in terms of badges and rewards, you’re missing the point.

    If you designed your website up front using Agile or XP, you’ll have a whole bunch of 3×5 “story cards” hanging around that you used to describe what it is your users do with your website. Lay them out on a table in rows: the most facile ones (log-in, sign-in, read the FAQ, whatever) at the top, and the most obscure and difficult-to-achieve ones at the bottom. That’s your gamification roadmap: on top of each card add another card describing what reward the user gets for finishing that story, and to which cards in the next row down your reward leads the user.

    The mechanics of basic gamification is trivially easy. I wrote the outline of one in Django in a day. It’s getting your customers to apply it correctly to their websites that’s the hard part. You have to know what you’re selling, how deeply you want your customers to go, what the return is on encouraging engagement with the deep and obscure, not to mention what sort of overhead that engagement might mean for your team. You have to know your customers. Otherwise, it’s all just throwing good money after bad.

  • [...] a recent blog post, David Feinleib, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, lists the following 10 ways to incorporate game mechanics into [...]

  • [...] met Dru through a comment he left on the blog of our guest, venture capitalist David Feinleib of Mohr Davidow Ventures. David led investments in companies [...]

  • [...] met Dru through a comment he left on the blog of our guest, venture capitalist David Feinleib of Mohr Davidow Ventures. David led investments in companies [...]

  • Dave, great post when it first went up. We couldn’t reply as yet due to embargo for participating in TechCrunch Disrupt. You may have seen our launch last week at the show – we won Audience Choice Award.

    We have a whitepaper report that goes into detail on a lot of points you make above. Nice work!

  • [...] a recent blog post, David Feinleib, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, lists the following 10 ways to incorporate game mechanics into [...]

  • [...] in September of 2010 I wrote 10 Ways To Apply Game Mechanics To Non Game Services. Instagram did just that. In addition to a great user interface, lightning fast filters, and [...]

  • [...] Top 10 Ways to Apply Game Mechanics To Non-Game Services « vcdave. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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