Twitch and its appeal for Google and Microsoft

The other day, I heard about the rumoured takeover of Twitch by Google for the handsome amount of $1 billion. I have to be honest; up until that point I had never heard about Twitch. Reason enough to look into Twitch and a possible ratio for Google willing to spend such a large amount of cash on this startup:

  1. What is Twitch? – Twitch is a video streaming platform and a community for gamers. Geekwire describes Twitch as “the ESPN of the video game industry” and says Twitch is a leader in that space. Twitch has over 45 million monthly users and about 1 million members who upload videos each month. In a relatively short space of time (Twitch was launched in June 2011), Twitch has successfully created an online streaming platform for video games.
  2. Who use Twitch? – I’m not an avid video gamer myself, but browsing the Twitch website tells me that are in effect two main user roles, which are closely intertwined: game players and broadcasters. Clearly, you can be both and I’m sure that a lot of Twitch members fulfil both roles. One can play games on Twitch channels like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or World of Tanks or one can create their own pages from which you can broadcast games. A great example of Twitch’s success in engaging its community around a game is TwitchPlaysPokemon which has had over 78,000 people playing a game that turns chat comments into controller inputs, parsing hundreds of thousands of ups, downs, and starts and translating them into in-game movements.
  3. Why is Twitch such an interesting acquisition target? – Twitch is reported to have snubbed Microsoft’s takeover offer but is rumoured to have fallen for Google. This raises the question as to what makes Twitch such an interesting takeover target? I think that the answer can be split into two main factors. Firstly, scale. Twitch has a rapidly growing and very engaged user community who all share a passion for (video) gaming. Secondly, live broadcasting. Going back to the example of TwitchPlaysPokemon, Twitch streams games that get people excited and gets them participating in real-time. This simultaneous element is something that for instance YouTube is lacking. YouTube is great for on-demand video content, but (currently) less so for live event coverage or participation. The combination of both factors (as well as a very rich vein of user generated content and data) makes Twitch an extremely interesting target indeed.

Main learning point: Recently there have been some major takeover deals in the digital industry – think Instagram, WhatsApp and Beats – but the rumoured acquisition of Twitch by Google is interesting for a number of reasons. If I have to highlight one key reason, then synergy is the main aspect that makes this potential takeover sound like a very exciting one. How will Google potentially integrate YouTube and Twitch or at least find a way to combine both platforms? Will the acquisition of Twitch help YouTube in cracking the real-time broadcast element of its offering? Lets wait and see if the deal actually gets done in the first place, but if it does then I will definitely keep an eye out for any future developments involving Google, YouTube and Twitch.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/05/28/why-youtube-buying-twitch-for-1-billion.aspx
  2. http://www.geekwire.com/2014/microsofts-xbox-shot-potential-twitch-buyer-matters/
  3. http://variety.com/2014/digital/news/youtube-to-acquire-videogame-streaming-service-twitch-for-1-billion-sources-1201185204/
  4. http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/27/tc-cribs-tours-twitch-tv-gaming-office-headquarters/
  5. http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/05/29/twitch-now-lets-filter-counter-strike-global-offensive-game-streams-map-skill-level/
  6. http://thenextweb.com/google/2014/05/19/google-reportedly-wants-buy-video-streaming-service-twitch-1b-deal-boost-youtube/
  7. http://variety.com/2014/digital/news/why-google-wants-to-hitch-twitch-and-youtube-1201188093/
  8. http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/20/5734108/why-twitch-could-be-the-best-billion-google-ever-spends
  9. http://guardianlv.com/2014/02/twitch-live-broadcast-to-be-included-in-xbox-one/

Twitch

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

Gamification – Motivation and rewards

In the world of gamification one of the key questions is how to motivate people and how to keep them motivated. I recently did an online course on gamification, in which this topic was explored in quite some detail. The course was instructed by Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton School, Pennsylvania.

In his lectures, Kevin talked about motivation a lot since it’s such a critical part of gamification. “What motivates people?” “Is it the right kind of motivation?” “Is it enough?” Answers to such questions aren’t straightforward, but it’s fair to assume that gamification is most likely to work if one is motivated to do something (see this great talk by Tom Chatfield in Fig. 1 below).

Gamification examples such as Recyclebank, eBay and SAP all try to find ways to motivate their users. Kevin highlighted two different theoretic approaches to motivation in gamification: behaviourist and cognitive. He also outlined the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I’ve learned the following things about these different approaches:

  1. Behaviourism looks at what people actually do – Behaviourism is highly empirical and it focuses solely on those things that can be tested. In other words, trying to get into a person’s head is off-limits under the behaviourist model. ‘Observation’ and ‘feedback loops’ are two tangible artefacts of the behaviourist approach. A good example of a feedback loop is LinkedIn’s progress bar, which shows users their progress with respect to completion of their LinkedIn profiles (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Reinforcement through rewards – In the behaviourist approach, rewards act as a kind of behavioural feedback. Rewards are all about motivating users to play a game or to keeping playing it. Rewards are based on the notion of “The Dopamine System” which neuroscientist Jaap Panksepp describes as the brain’s “seeking” circuitry and which propels us to explore new avenues for rewards in our environment. In the lecture, Kevin outlined some useful reward structures to consider (see Fig. 3 below).
  3. Pitfalls of the behaviourist approach – The risk with a purely behaviourist approach, as Kevin explained, is that of looking at the person involved as a black box, ignoring the inner thoughts or feelings of that person. We’re, however, dealing with players of flesh and blood and we have to account for players’ feelings and thoughts. For example, the hedonic treadmill is a concrete risk in a sense that once you’ve got people only responding to rewards, you’ll have to keep putting in rewards to keep things interesting.
  4. Cognitive behavioural approach looks at intrinsic motivation – The cognitive approach to gamification takes into account player motivations which are independent from (tangible) rewards. In contrast with the behaviourist approach, the focus is on a person’s inner thoughts and motivations. One can distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards in this respect. Intrinsic rewards are those things that people want to do just for the sake of the thing itself. Extrinsic rewards are all about the reward and not about the thing itself. Gamification expert Gabe Zichermann has created a nice mnemonic to capture the key reward schemes, called “SAPS” (see Fig. 4 below). These SAPS address both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
  5. Factors of intrinsic motivation – Whereas I struggled a bit to fully understand the distinction between behaviourist and cognitive theories, the thinking which underpins “intrinsic motivation” really resonated with me. In 2000, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci wrote an influential article on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in which they outlined a motivational spectrum. This spectrum includes “amotivation” (i.e. no motivation) to “extrinsic motivation” (i.e. external motivators) and “intrinsic motivation” (i.e. doing something just because it’s fun) (see Fig. 5 below). Ryan and Deci have also studied the three common factors of intrinsic motivation: (1) competence (a sense of ability) (2) autonomy (a feeling of control) and (3) relatedness (activities being related to something beyond yourself).

Main learning point: I didn’t find the topic of motivation and rewards in gamification the easiest to understand. The psychological theories which underpin players’ motivations can be quite hard to fully grasp. Also, there’s a motivational spectrum to bear in mind, with most people likely to fluctuate across this spectrum. The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators resonated with me the most. This distinction urges people involved in gamification to think constantly about the appropriate motivators and rewards.

Fig. 1 – Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain (at Ted Global 2010, July 2010)

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of LinkedIn progress bar (taken from: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/26-elements-of-a-gamification-marketing-strategy/)

LinkedIn Progress Bar

Fig. 3 – Some gamification reward structures to consider (from Kevin Werbach’s Gamification Course, January – April ’14)

Questions to consider when creating and offering rewards:

  • Which behaviours can/should be rewarded? Provide people with meaningful choices and reward accordingly
  • Tangible / Intangible rewards – Offering money is an obvious example of tangible rewards. A digital badge is a good example of an intangible reward.
  • Expected / Unexpected rewards – Does the player know that he/she will receive a reward or does the reward come as a surprise?
  • What are the rewards contingent on? Rewards can be automatic (‘task non-contingent’), which means that players will get a reward regardless. In contrast, rewards can be related to actually doing a task: ‘engagement contingent’ (starting the task), ‘completion contingent’ (finishing the task) and ‘performance contingent’ (related to how well a player performs the task).
  • When is the reward offered? There are four basic ways to schedule rewards: (1) continuous rewards – these rewards are somewhat automatic (2) fixed ratio rewards – a player will receive a reward at a set number of times (3) fixed interval rewards – these rewards are based on time (and not on what a player does) and (4) variable rewards – these rewards aren’t based on a fixed schedule.

A good example is Samsung Nation’s Quest Badge, which is intangible, expected and completion contingent:

Samsung Nation quest badge

Fig. 4 – Gabe Zichermann’s SAPS (adapted from: http://www.gamification.co/2010/10/18/cash-is-for-saps/)

  • Status – Example: being on top of the leaderboard
  • Access – Example: access to new content (as a reward)
  • Power – Example: the ability to moderate a game (once you’ve earned a certain amount of points)
  • Stuff – Example: receiving a tangible reward

Fig. 5 – The Motivational Spectrum (taken from: http://valerielyl.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/the-motivational-spectrum/)

Motivational Spectrum

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://lifehacker.com/the-psychology-of-gamification-can-apps-keep-you-motiv-1521754385
  2. http://www.gamification.co/2011/10/27/intrinsic-and-extrinsic-motivation-in-gamification/
  3. http://www.slideshare.net/Maritz_Motivation/top-5-gamification-examples
  4. http://www.gamification.co/2013/09/19/ebay-approach-to-gamification/
  5. http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-examples/top-10-enterprise-gamification-cases-employees-productive/
  6. http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/f/behaviorism.htm
  7. http://blog.bufferapp.com/brain-playing-games-why-our-brains-are-so-attracted-to-playing-games-the-science-of-gamification
  8. http://cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/4925/which-human-instincts-do-gamification-systems-appeal-to
  9. http://www.slideshare.net/baldwind1976/gamification-njla-2013-final
  10. http://www.gamification.co/2010/10/18/cash-is-for-saps/
  11. http://mmrg.pbworks.com/f/Ryan,+Deci+00.pdf
  12. http://stevenhuynh.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/extrinsic-motivation-towards-intrinsic-motivation/
  13. http://www.simonwhatley.co.uk/game-dynamics-gamification

Gamification – What is it?

I recently started doing an online course on “Gamification” which was lectured by Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton School, Pennsylvania. In his first couple of lectures, Kevin concentrated on the meaning of gamification and its value.

Let’s start with a good definition of what gamification is: “The use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” Good examples are Nike+, which aims to make the experience of running more game like, and the Pain Squad app which makes it easier for young cancer patients to complete daily reports on their pain levels (see Fig. 1 below).

Kevin highlighted the following things with respect to the meaning and value of gamification, :

  1. It isn’t just about game components – Gamification is more than just putting together some game elements (e.g. badges or leaderboards). It’s important to think like a game designer (without having to become one) and to treat gamification as a way of thinking, as an experience.
  2. Game thinking also applies to non-game contexts – With gamification the spectrum is broader than just the goal of being successful in a game. Kevin mentioned a number of gamification examples with objectives outside of the actual game; think areas such business, social impact and education. I’ve listed some sample categories in Fig. 2 below.
  3. Gamification isn’t about just making everything a game – Kevin was quick to point out that gamification isn;t just about turning everything into a game, as you’re still in the real world. Nor is gamification about a collection of ‘PBLs’ (i.e. points, badges and leaderboards).
  4. Gamification is a way of thinking – Gamification brings concepts together from a range of disciplines. Concepts from fields such as psychology, marketing, economics and management all feed into gamification. It’s therefore much more than just playing a game or combining some game (like) components. I found the boundaries that Bernard Suits puts around games and gamification in his book “The Grasshopper to be very helpful (see Fig. 3 below).

Main learning point: I’ve learned that gamification is more than just sticking some game components together. Neither is gamification a case of just treating everything like a game. I’m looking to learn more about how one can apply gamification as a way of thinking to help resolve real-world problems and opportunities.

Fig. 1 – Promotion video of SickKids’ ‘Pain Squad’ app by Cundari Group

Fig. 2 – Sample categories where gamification can add value by Kevin Werbach

External (to the organisation)

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer engagement

Internal

  • Human Resource
  • Productivity enhancement
  • Crowdsourcing

Behaviour change

  • Health and wellness
  • Sustainability
  • Personal finance

Fig. 3 – How is the concept of a ‘game’ bounded? (taken from Bernard Suits in “The Grasshopper”)

  1. Having a pre-lusory goal – A game needs to have an objective
  2. Having constitutive goals – A set of rules and limitations that make up a game
  3. Encouraging a lusory attitude – The game player voluntarily follows the rules of a game

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification
  2. http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-examples/top-10-gamification-examples-human-race/
  3. http://www.gamification.co/
  4. http://gamification-research.org/2012/04/defining-gamification/
  5. http://nigelwarburton.typepad.com/virtualphilosopher/2007/11/book-review-ber.html