Which principles do underpin game design?

Gamification is more than just creating some mechanisms around rewards and motivation.  In his online lectures on gamification, Kevin Werbach – an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton School – explained about some of the design rules which underpin gamification and game design:

  1. The Player Journey – Like with most journeys, games tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Kevin explained that the journey starts with “onboarding”; finding a way to get the player in the game. The next step is “scaffolding”, which involves helping the game player to play the game. Finally, “pathways to mastery” are all about the player perfecting his/her grasp of the game. A good example is the game “Plants vs Zombies” which offers its players feedback, limited options and makes it impossible for players to fail. These aspects of the player journey are there to make it as easy as possible for players to get into the game without having to refer to a manual.
  2. Balance in the game – In his lectures, Kevin stressed the importance of ensuring that the game is constantly in balance, not making the game too hard nor too easy. A simple example is “Monopoly”. This well known board game is all about about keeping a virtual economy in balance.
  3. Create an experience – Kevin stressed that gamification and game design are more than just throwing a few game components together. Instead, it’s about a creating an experience. He mentioned Turntable.fm as an example of a game where it wasn’t just about listening to music, but an interactive experience which was designed to recreate a ‘club feel’.
  4. Tapping the emotions of the player – Question: What makes games engaging? Answer: fun. This is one of the reasons why gamification often tends to be utilised in a work context, making work or behaviour change fun. It was interesting to hear about Marc LeBlanc’s “8 kinds of fun” (see Fig. 1 below) and Nicole Lazzaro’s “Four Keys to More Emotion without Story” (see Fig. 2 below). As Kevin talked through a large number of things which can be perceived as fun, he emphasised that these different forms of fun don’t have have to be mutually exclusive. For example, games can be designed to combine forms of ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ fun.

Main learning point: It’s so easy to underplay the value of games and the design thinking that goes into them. It can be just as easy to dismiss games as meaningless fun, but I guess the main thing that I learned from Kevin Werbach’s online lectures on gamification principles is that all aspects of the player journey should have some form of meaning to the player. Whether it’s about tapping into player emotions or creating an interactive experience, all these principles need to be taken into account when thinking about a game and its outcomes.

Fig. 1 – Marc LeBlanc’s “8 kinds of fun” (taken from: http://8kindsoffun.com/)

  1. Sensation
  2. Fantasy
  3. Narrative
  4. Challenge
  5. Fellowship
  6. Discovery
  7. Expression
  8. Submission

Fig. 2 – Nicole Lazzaro’s “Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story” (taken from: http://xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf)

Hard Fun (‘Emotions from Meaningful Challenges, Strategies and Puzzles):

  • Playing to see how good I really am
  • Playing to beat the game
  • Having multiple objectives
  • Requiring strategy rather than luck

Easy Fun (‘Grab Attention with Ambiguity, Incompleteness, and Detail’):

  • Exploring new worlds with intriguing people
  • Excitement and adventure
  • Wanting to figure it out
  • Seeing what happens in the story, even if I have to use a walk through
  • Feeling like me and my character are one
  • Liking the sound of cards shuffling
  • Growing dragons

Altered States (‘Generate Emotion with Perception, Thought, Behaviour, and Other People’):

  • Clearing my mind by clearing a level
  • Feeling better about myself
  • Avoiding boredom
  • Being better at something that matters

The People Factor (‘Create Opportunities for Player Competition, Cooperation, Performance, and Spectacle’):

  • It’s the people that are addictive not the game
  • I want an excuse to invite my friends over
  • I don’t like playing games, but it’s a fun way to spend time with my friends
  • I don’t play, but it’s fun to watch

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.vanderbilt.edu/econ/faculty/Vrooman/vrooman-rio-sports-special.pdf
  2. http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-study/4-experience-phases-gamification-3-scaffolding-phase/
  3. http://gamification21.wordpress.com/learning-content-2/7-tapping-the-emotions-fun/
  4. http://xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf
  5. http://www.thefuntheory.com/
  6. http://www.redkeybluekey.com/2011/09/8-principles-of-good-game-design.html

2 responses to “Which principles do underpin game design?”

  1. Thanks for posting this, this helped me out! I’m working on website to help people learn music through training games, and your post gave me a nice framework to start thinking about it.

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