Can game mechanics help us to make applications and websites more fun and engaging? My presentation at the UX Camp Europe 2010 on May 29 and 30 in Berlin attempted a sobering look at what user experience designers can and cannot learn from games.
Just add points? What UX can (and cannot) learn from games
Just add points? what ux
designers can (and cannot) learn from games Sebastian Deterding UXCamp Europe Berlin, May 30, 2010 cbn
The Fun Theory Problems... 1
3 2 4 Why games What we are fun can learn There‘s a meme currently circulating in the UX community that the best way to motivate user behaviour is to make it fun – and the best way to make it fun is game mechanics. Today, I‘d like to (1) present this meme, (2) summarise the research on why games are fun, (3) show some problems with applying game design in other contexts, and (4) point out what we can actually learn from game design.
Can we get more people
to use the bottle bank by making it fun to do? The most articulate version of »The Fun Theory« is a recent viral video campaign by Volkswagen Sweden that runs by that name. Here‘s one example how they use game mechanics to motivate users to use the bottle bank.
»Fun is the easiest way
to change people‘s behaviour.« Thefuntheory.com On the campaign website, you‘ll find more videos, a (now closed) competition and the core idea: »Fun is the easiest way to change people‘s behaviour.« (One thing I always wonder is: What happens on day 2? What is the »replay value« of these designs? But more on that later.)
1982: Thomas Malone To wit,
the idea that we can deduce heuristics for designing more enjoyable applications from video games is nothing new. If you look up the scholarly HCI databases, you‘ll already find papers on this in the early 1980s, the first heydays of video games (http://bit.ly/ csscek.)
Work made fun gets done!
1994: The Fish! Strategy In the 1990s, there was a business bible craze around »The FISH! strategy«. Briefly, it states that for employees to be productive and creative, they have to be intrinsically motivated, which is best achieved by a playful attitude towards their work. (In a sense, Dan H. Pink‘s recent business bible »Drive« is just a reiteration of this focus on intrinsic motivation.)
Research Design Application Yet there
is also a growing amount of serious research (especially within the learning sciences) on creating more motivating work and learning environments by leveraging game design. Within the design community, you find no shortage of presentations and blog posts on the topic, and there are already some applications explicitly using game mechanics (links at the end of this presentation).
Games With A Purpose Maybe
the most well-known application are the »Games With A Purpose« by re:captcha inventor Luis von Ahn, like the »ESP Game«: On the surface, players earn points by guessing which word comes to mind of an anonymous counterpart when seeing a picture. In the background, the inputs are used as highly accurate image tags.
Book Oven Another example is
»Book Oven«, a web platform for book publishing. The platform crowdsources the otherwise tedious act of proof reading by presenting users with small snippets of text. Users earn points for every snippet checked, and can compare themselves with other users on a leader board – to apparently amazing effects:
»One editor told me: Your
bite-sized edits is Crack Cocaine for proof readers.« Hugh McGuire cofounder, bookoven.com According to co-founder Hugh McGuire, a lot of professional proof readers who do this kind of thing for a living during daytime log into Bookoven in the evening to do it for free.
twitter In a very similar
way, Twitter has recently crowdsourced its translation – again with small snippets, points earned per snippet, and levels. Even these bare bones mechanics seem to work quite well: To achieve level 11, one has to translate 1484 snippets – and I know quite a number of people in my twittersphere who are at level 10.
2 Why games are fun
So the obvious question is: Why? Why is this so motivating, so much fun? What exactly is at work here?
Just add points! The answer
I find reiterated over and over in most of the current debate in UX design is: »Just add points (and leaderboards)!« Points are seen as a kind of monosodium glutamate you can spice up any interaction or product with.
Foursquare Foursquare best exemplifies this
approach: To motivate a desired user behaviour (check-ins), users earn points for performing it. The points are then displayed on leaderboards to stimulate competition, and users can achieve levels or badges with a certain number of points or combination of check-ins.
»Fun is just another word
for learning.« Raph Koster a theory of fun for game design However, this approach is way too simplistic if seen in context of the wealth of thought and research in game studies and game design. Personally, I think that Raph Koster most concisely summed up what we currently know about why games are fun when he said: »Fun is just another word for learning.«
»Fun from games arises out
of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. With games, learning is the drug.« Raph Koster a theory of fun for game design Now, »fun is learning« sounds quite counterintuitive at first. What Koster means (and what is backed up by research on intrinsic motivation) is that the fun of games is the positive experience of mastering something: a new skill, a solved puzzle, a recognised pattern. We win a game by noticing and then mastering the rule patterns – and this experience of competence creates fun.
»Fun is just another word
for learning.« under optimal conditions Raph Koster a theory of fun for game design What separates games from school (and what we have to add to Koster‘s definition) is that games create optimal conditions for learning. Fun is learning – under optimal conditions. And games show us just what exactly those optimal conditions are.
»Reality is broken. Games work
better. … Games are the ultimate happiness machines.« Jane McGonigal ux week 2009 In a sense, this is the point researcher and game designer Jane McGonigal makes: Games take to heart many principles of positive psychology, which is why they are far more enjoyable than everyday life. So – what are those principles? Let‘s return to the crowdsourced twitter translation. Even this simple interface already shows many of the most important design principles.
S.M.A.R.T. goals Principle #1: Games
set specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timed short- and long-term goals (you might say they do time management 101 for the user). Short-term: I am level 4 and want to get to level 5. Long-term: Level 11! In contrast, think of how often in life (or school) we have no, unclear, vague or even conflicting goals? Not so in games.
Clear, bite-sized actions and choices
Principle #2: The available actions to achieve our goals are made explicit – and prepackaged so that we can directly execute them. Twitter presents the text we have to translate directly and in small doable portions: 1 Action = click & translate 1 sentence. Game menus in point-and-click adventures are overviews of objects and verbs – we »just« have to decide which action is the right one (cf. designer Sid Meier: »A game is a series of interesting decisions«). In everyday life, the actions and choices available to us are mostly unclear, vague or not packaged into immediately doable steps, i.e. »lose weight«, »write that novel«, »get rich«, ...
Clear action–goal relations Principle #3:
The relation between the available actions and choices and our goals are clear. It is uncertain whether we succeed in performing the action (here: translate the text), but how success brings us closer to our goal is immediately visible with numerical exactitude. Conversely, do we know in everyday life whether a chosen action will really bring us closer to our goals, and how much so?
Clear status Principle #4: Our
current status ist absolutely clear. In games, we always know »where« we stand – spatially (via map displays), in terms of our skills and possessions (listed in menus, inventories and character sheets), in relation to our goals (points and mission stats) and in our relation to other players (visualised in leaderboards or social graphs).
Excessive positive feedback Principle #5:
Games give instant, unambiguous, excessively strong positive (and negative) feedback. My favourite example is the Pachinko-like game »Peggle« by Popcap Games. The goal is to shoot all orange pellets from a screen with a bouncing metal ball. Here‘s what happens if you clear the last orange pellet of a level:
Scaffolded challenges That‘s the kind
of feedback I‘d like to get for a successful project. But on to principle #6: The challenges we face, the goals we strive for get a little more difficult with each step. On twitter, we have to translate a little more each level to reach the next one. Why is this important?
anxiety lo w« »f Difficulty
boredom Skill/time Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi flow: the psychology of optimal experience The answer comes from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: We usually feel best when the challenges we face perfectly match our skills. More, and we are stressed, less, and we‘re bored. Since we constantly learn and improve our skills, the challenges must grow with our skills – otherwise, boredom ensues.
Social comparison Game designers test
and balance this difficulty curve of their game until it perfectly matches the learning curve of their audience; often, the difficulty dynamically adjusts to player performance. Now to the seventh and last principle: Games create social comparison to facilitate both social learning and motivating competition. Twitter does this subtly by displaying who‘s in the game and at what level.
Quick recap • Clear status,
goals, actions, decisions, goal-action relations • Excessive feedback • Scaffolded challenges matched to the users‘ growing skills • Chunking • Social comparison So if we just follow these principles when designing our applications, they will be just as much fun as games – correct?
Problems... 3 Well, yes and
no. These are certainly generally valid and valuable principles for the design of any interaction. But I see three broad problems with the direct transfer of game design to software or websites.
bl em ro 1 P
# game design Difficulty usability Ability/Time The first problem is a conflict of cultures and goals: Usability and UX come from the world of tasks and productivity. Our primary goal has always been to make applications as easy as possible, to keep the learning curve as flat as possible – boring, but simple. If you‘d ask a usability engineer to optimize a video game, this is what probably would come out:
Ticket Drag point through maze
to receive ticket Imagine the engaging suspense of this game with the added time pressure when you see that your train will arrive in just a minute … And to ensure that this doesn‘t get boring once you figured out the labyrinth ...
game work Emotion Conflict of
Tasks Intensity interest Efficiency Duration Speed Behind these different cultures of thinking and design is a manifest conflict of interest: The whole point of games is to create intense emotions, and to prolong their experience as much as possible. By contrast, productivity software is all about getting your work done as efficiently and quickly as possible. How you feel is at best a secondary consideration.
game work Only Emotion Tasks
sometimes Intensity Efficiency Duration Speed Only sometimes, ensuring intrinsic user motivation is so essential that emotion becomes conducive to or even a prerequisite for task completion – say, in creative work or unremunerated user work. Another case are end-user products where the quality of experience is part of the selling proposition or market differentiator. In those cases, we have to ensure usability and fun/emotion.
bl em ro 2 P
# Game Designers are mightier Problem number two: Game designers are far more powerful than designers of software or websites. What do I mean with that?
Let‘s assume for a minute
that Microsoft Word would be Super Mario Bros. = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Super_Mario_Bros_box.jpg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Microsoft_Word_Icon.svg
Image: Joshua J. Sloan http://bit.ly/2R4KHx,
purestylin http://bit.ly/3gkXMb If this screen would be a typical screen of a user typing a document on Microsoft Word, which elements of this screen would an interaction designer be able to design?
What we design (the tool)
Answer: The interaction designer would only be able to design Mario: the tool the user uses to affect his/her world.
What the user/manager designs (goals)
What we design (the tool) The goals the user has to achieve with said tool are not set by the designer, but by the user her/himself (or a third party – like his/her supervising manager): Write a report of X pages about Y until Z.
What the user/manager also designs
(objects and environments) Likewise, the objects that the user works on with his/her tools and the broader environment of his/her task is set by the user or a supervising manager: the texts to be referred to, the colleagues who can be asked, etc.
game design (HR) Management! Difficulty
Skill/Time Yet the difficulty curve emerges from the relation of skills, tools, objects, environment and goals: How difficult something is depends on what I try to achieve with which tools in which environment. In games, this complex whole is designed by the game designer. In work life, it is »designed« by our supervisors and HR people (a.k.a. »job rotation«, »job enrichment«, etc.).
How might we ... let
users easily integrate their environments and goals into our systems? One middle step might be to ask ourselves who we might help users to integrate their environments and goals into our rule systems – just like a GTD time management application helps users to organise their life by offering a structure and workflow that they then populate with their own tasks.
Two examples for this approach
are the time management application RescueTime, which essentially tracks the amount of time you spend with different applications (and on different websites) and allows you to set goals (e.g. »no more than two hours of YouTube per day«), or Chore Wars, which allows you to make household chores a part of an Online Roleplaying Game.
bl em ro 3 P
# http://www.flickr.com/photos/musebrarian/443103590/sizes/o The third and last problem I like to call the »Tom Sawyer problem«: In the famous novel by Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer has to paint a fence white and is derided by some passing friends who go fishing. By insisting that he‘d rather paint the fence than go fishing, Tom is able to persuade his friends that painting is actually fun – and has them pay for the privilege of painting the fence for him.
»Tom ... had discovered a
great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.« Mark Twain the adventures of tom sawyer (1876) There are two things happening in this story. One is the psychological mechanism known as the »hard-to-get« phenomenon: If something is hard to get (e.g. expensive, almost sold out, etc.), we usually conclude that it must be very valuable.
»If he had been a
great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.« Mark Twain the adventures of tom sawyer (1876) The second (and in our context, more relevant) thing is a core psychological and social difference between work and play: We usually experience as work what we have to do by some external force, whereas to experience something as play, we must feel that we have chosen to do it voluntarily. (kthx @stephenanderson for pointing me to Twain‘s story.)
»First and foremost, then, all
play is a voluntary activity. … It is done at leisure, during ›free time‹. Every child knows perfectly well that he is ›just pretending‹, or that it was ›just for fun‹.« Johan Huizinga homo ludens (1938) This actually goes back to the earliest definitions of play. According to the doyen of game studies, Johan Huizinga, the two core features of play are: (1) It is done voluntarily, and (2) it is a »make-believe« activity without serious consequences. (There‘s a rich discussion on how games often do have consequences – think Russian Roulette – but we don‘t have the time to dive into the scholarly details here.)
voluntary no serious consequence Now
if you take a second look at all the examples where game mechanics work just fine – ESP Game, Bookoven, twitter translations – you‘ll find that they are all voluntary »leisure« activities that don‘t have any serious consequence for the user. They are indeed »just a game«.
Work Play This explains why
one and the same activity – analysing spreadsheets – is experienced as work (and people demand payment for it) in one case, and in another case (like the Online Roleplaying Game »Eve Online«), it is experienced as fun (and people pay for it). In the game, analysing spreadsheets is done voluntarily and has few serious consequences (the same is true for Trading Cards vs. school).
»Just pretending« So how we
experience a situation very much depends on how we and the people around us frame it. Think of the movie »Life is beautiful«, where a Jewish son and father are held in a concentration camp. The father is able to present this situation of utmost consequence and involuntariness as a game of hide-and-seek to his son – hence the son experiences the situation very differently.
Games With A Purpose And
this is not just a matter of fiction. Take the ESP Game. Google was so fond of the concept and its success that it bought the idea and rebranded it as the »Gooogle Image Labeler«.
Google Image Labeler What was
presented as a fun game of mind reading is now presented as work for Google. The game mechanics stay the same, but the framing is different – and the user stats tell us that the Image Labeler is much less successful than the ESP Game in engaging users.
Who decides whether this is
play (or playing is allowed) However, whether the interaction with that tool is experienced as fun, engaging play or not depends on the user and his/her social context. Together, they define whether what they currently do is »just a game«, voluntary and without consequence, or a serious matter, no joking around. I can say for myself that meeting XYZ is »just a game«. But if my colleagues don‘t play along, I won‘t succeed.
How might we... induce a
playful attitude? This means that if we want to create the experience of play, the design challenge is not how to include game mechanics, but how to induce a playful stance in the user towards the activity they are engaging in – what game philosopher Bernhard Suits called »the lusory attitude«.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/indy138/2852103473/sizes/o/ Easter Eggs One possible
way to achieve this are easter eggs – small, surprising, delightful details that the user will only discover by chance and that have no functional value at all (like this lawn gnome in Half-Life 2). There is something about such intentional non-functional excess that signals a momentary license be non-serious, non-instrumental.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/titanas/1051688629/sizes/o Easter Eggs The business
card printing service moo.com does a good job in this: Not only is their copywriting and design with little drop characters consistently playful, but there are many lovingly-crafted-yet-nonfunctional details that surprise and delight – like this imprint inside the cardboard box around a set of cards that you only discover when you take the box apart before throwing it away.
Quick recap Tutorials Social Productivity
Networks »Leisure« software Music etc. To summarise again, game mechanics and inducing a playful attitude to create »fun« experiences usually works best where (1) the designer can craft the goals and environment as well (e.g. tutorials), and (2) the usage context is one of voluntary, consequence-free leisure time, like social networks, music recommendation sites, etc. Game and play are less suitable for hardcore productivity contexts.
Ribbon Hero Microsoft‘s Office tutorial
game »Ribbon Hero« for instance is a good application of game mechanics in productivity contexts. The game sets the goals and the materials to work on. Also, learning a new tool usually happens under less supervision and is a more self- structured activity than other work tasks.
Attent On the other hand,
I assume that the e-mail management application »Attent« by Seriosity, which adds a virtual currency to e-mail, will likely clash with instrumental attitudes and demands in the workplace and hence not produce a similarly engaging experience (though I have no data to prove that and am happy to be disproven).
4 What we can learn
But all is not lost: As I said, there are contexts where game design can help in designing engaging applications, and there are general design principles to be learned from game design. More specifically, I think that UX designers can take three things from game design.
ss on e 1 L
# Collecting Points Social comparison Narrativity Intermittent Customization Real Money Trading Baroque visuals reinforcement Design Patterns (of course) The first thing are design patterns like the principles of well-formed action. I won‘t go into detail here because (1) there are too many of them and (2) other people have covered this area, so have a look at the resources referenced at the end of this presentation.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/8147452@N05/2913356030/sizes/o/ Configure, don‘t add One
caveat though: As with interaction design patterns, »more« does not equal »better«. Take Chess: Chess has a very unique experiential quality of intense focus and ratiocination. If you add the game mechanic of time pressure (i.e. speed chess), the experience does not just become better, it completely changes. Game design is about such configuration of mechanics, not mere addition.
ss on e 2 L
# Rule Design The second lesson to be taken from game design is rule design. If you are on facebook, you will undoubtedly have noticed these recommendations displayed in the sidebar of your dashboard. There‘s a rule (and recommendation engine) deciding when and where which recommendations are displayed in reaction to which user behaviours.
»In designing transactional and content-
rich web sites, rules provide an underlying structure that governs the experience: what is displayed, when it’s displayed, and how it responds to user actions.« Daniel Brown designing rules, ia summit 2009 As Daniel Brown pointed out in his talk at the 2009 IA Summit, more and more elements on websites and web applications become dynamic in this sense. It is no longer one interface to every customer, but the interface dynamically adapts in reaction to user behaviour – and this adaptation is governed by underlying rules.
Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics Marc LeBlanc
mda: a formal approach to game design How do we design these rule systems so that we achieve an intended user experience? This is the core competence of game designers. They offer us models to understand these relations, like Marc LeBlanc‘s MDA model. Put simply: The game rules (mechanics) afford the interaction between user and system (dynamics), which affords the user experience (aesthetics).
mechanic dynamic aesthetic +$ +
Poverty Frustrating -$ - Gap end game Monopoly One example: In Monopoly, you buy streets and houses with money, which earn you more money. Conversely, if you lose money, you have to sell houses and streets and hence earn less money. In the game, this leads to a slowly growing but largely irreversible poverty gap, which makes for a frustrating end game for the losing player. Other games have a more balanced and hence enjoyable end game.
Mafia Wars Another example: On
login, the facebook game Mafia Wars allows players to gift one virtual item to their friends on Mafia Wars, and every item one receives can be reciprocated once. (Letting you gift another person first without any immediate benefit to yourself is a smart use of the persuasive principle of reciprocity, by the way.)
mechanic dynamic aesthetic Free gift
Mutual Bond, on login gifting obligation Mafia Wars Overall, what this game mechanic does is spur a dynamic of mutual gifting among players, which affords a mutual sense of bonding and obligation among players that effectively binds the players to the platform itself.
Testing & Balancing Again, a
caveat: In its first version, this mechanic produced a very »spammy« dynamic and hence not the intended aesthetics, which is why Mafia Wars recently redesigned it. The lesson here: Rule systems need just as much iterative testing and optimising like any other design aspect, and this is what separates good game design from bad or mediocre.
Depth: Foursquare ... Another important
quality of rule design is depth. As game designer Sid Meier said, a good game is »easy to learn, difficult to master«. This is why foursquare often becomes boring quickly: Once you understand the basic mechanic, there‘s nothing new to learn and master. Whatever fun remains is derived from the social metagame of competing with peers for the mayorship of some place.
… vs. Foodspotting Contrast this
with Foodspotting, a kind of foursquare-meets-Yelp! where people recommend specific dishes in specific restaurants to each other. Again, there‘s a desired behaviour (spotting foods), there‘s points and badges …
… vs. Foodspotting … but
if you take a look at their »About« page, you‘ll see that the rule system actually introduces two different kinds of points – »noms« and »reputation« – that interact with each other. I haven‘t used Foodspotting enough to qualify how successful this system is, but it‘s definitely a move in the right direction of »deeper« rule systems.
ss on e 3 L
# FarmVille The third and final lesson is that not all games and gamers are alike. Game design offers us a greater precision and clarity in speaking about just what we mean when we say »fun«. FarmVille for instance is the most successful social game so far that definitely delivers fun to tens of millions of users.
Fallout 3 Now look at
Fallout 3, one of the most successful recent roleplaying games, which again most definitely delivers fun to its millions of users. But is it the same kind of fun as with FarmVille? Most certainly not. So the question is: Which different kinds of fun are there? What kind of fun appeals to which demographic? And which kinds of fun might not mix so well?
Hard Fun Easy Fun Fiero
Curiosity emotion < choice < mechanic > choice > emotion People Fun Serious Amusement Fun Relaxation Nicole Lazzaro four fun keys Nicole Lazzaros »4 Fun Keys« are but one (good) answer to such questions (for another take, see Marc LeBlanc‘s 8 kinds of fun). Put more generally, game design gives us models, theories, empirical data and vocabularies to better understand and thus design for the different kinds of fun that exist.
Recap 1. The core fun
in games is learning under optimal conditions. 2.To create it, we must be able to design goals and environments as well. 3. Play depends on voluntary contexts without serious consequence. 4.Game design gives us patterns, models and words for emotion and rule design.
If you read just one
book ... on Game Design, make it Jesse Schell‘s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. Smart, inspiring, comprehensive – even beyond games. Link: http://bit.ly/1GHeP5 Review: http://bit.ly/14Ieri
A close second ... is
Tracy Fullerton‘s Game Design Workshop. Delivers lots of interviews with game designers and in- depth methods for offline game prototyping. Link: amzn.to/dfRsyS
Read more books! Raph Koster
Johan Huizinga A Theory of Fun Homo Ludens for Game Design Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi David W. Shaffer Flow: The psychology of How Computer Games optimal experience Help Children Learn James Paul Gee Byron Reeves & J. L. Reyd What video games have to Total Engagement teach us about learning ...
On Slideshare Amy Jo Kim
Jane McGonigal Putting the Fun in Functional: The User Experience of Applying Game Mechanics ... Reality Dan Saffer Nicole Lazzaro Gaming the Web: Using the The Four Keys to Fun structure of games ... Aki Järvinnen Stephen P. Anderson Game Design for The Art and Science of Social Networks Seductive Interactions
On Slideshare Daniel Brown Holger
Dieterich Designing Rules What can we learn from game design? John Mark Josling Kars Alfrink Playing On! Interface Playful IAs lessons from games Nadya Direkova Amy Jo Kim Game Design for MetaGame Design Web Designers
On Slideshare Philip Fierlinger* Jonathan
Boutelle Designing a Game Changer Game-inspired RIA Design * with kind thanks for the cover »inspiration« Aki Järvinnen Workshop: Game Design for Social Networks Want more? You might follow me on Slideshare to receive updates on slides I favorite. Vily Lehdonvirta Why do people buy virtual goods?
Even more stuff Daniel Cook
Daniel Cook The Princess Rescuing The Chemistry of Application Game Design Marc LeBlanc Jane McGonigal Mechanics, Dynamics, The engagement economy Aesthetics Stephen Anderson John Ferrara When data gets up close Playful design (book in and personal progress)
Even more stuff Jesse Schell
Playful Design Outside the Box Conference series Jesse Schell David Carlton Gamepocalypse blog Critical Compilation
You should follow them on
twitter aquito Whatsthehubbub Aki Järvinnen Kars Alfrink NicoleLazzaro amyjokim Nicole Lazzaro Amy Jo Kim avantgame getmentalnotes Jane McGonigal Stephen P. Anderson