Gamification, Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics – The Trouble with Language

Game Mechanics Gamification Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics 8211 The Trouble with Language

One of the key issues facing gamification as it moves defiantly into its mid-teens is a lack of consistency and interoperability of the language used to describe it. The first and most obvious example of this is the lack of anything resembling an agreement on a definition of gamification. Wikipedia seems to change pretty regularly, and almost every gamification expert out there has their own version. Very few like the Wikipedia version either; “The use of game elements in non-game contexts” being the most popular. Don’t get me wrong; I love Sebastian Deterding, and the definition fits the original meaning of gamification, but things moved on a little, or at least I hope they did. Read More ...

Teams and Competitive play.

Last week there was no post from me. The reason was that I was working on rebuilding my games review site ( Take a look, you may like it!!

Anyway, it got me thinking, as I looked over the games we have reviewed over the years. What do people like playing? Obviously the answer is – All sorts! However, it made me consider the nature of competition in games and especially gamificaiton.

The general rule of thumb is competition between people is bad mojo for gamification. It leads to bad feeling, lack of engagement, people at the bottom of leaderboards feeling less important than those at the top etc.  However, we keep using it – even though we know all of this! Often this is because we know that it will cater to at least some of the people (for instance I am using Captain Up leaderboards etc for gamifying this site).  I know it won’t appeal to everyone, but with luck it will amuse some.

Looking at games it struck me that the most popular game types for multipayer games revolve around teams.  I took a quick and very un-scientific look at the Call of Duty: Black Ops II leaderboards to see how many player there were in each game type.

  • Free for All:762,142
  • Team Death Match: 1,352,471
  • Search & Destroy:  814,524
  • Domination: 1,081,915
  • Hardpoint:  921,629
  • Capture the Flag:  709,244
  • Demolition: 834,491
  • Kill Confirmed 1,095,840
  • Headquaters: 761,761

Just for those that don’t know, Free for All is a mode where everyone is trying to shoot everyone else.  All of the rest of the games are team based. Even more interestingly is that other than Team Death Match and Kill Confirmed, all of the team based modes have distinct objectives. Capture this, defend that, destroy the other. They all require you to play your part as a team, otherwise it becomes really very hard to win.

If you look at the stats for Steam ( one of the most consistently played games is Team Fortress 2. Now, this is partly because it is free, but also because it is a great team based game. Everyone has a role to play and without team work it is really hard to win.

In my mind, competition is not a terrible thing. I think pitting all of your staff against each other is a terrible thing for anything other than a short period of time. So, if you have an online course that no one is doing, it may help to get them to play against each other for points. That said, you should just make the course better.  But, you get what I mean – competition is ok for very short periods of time if it is going to be free for all.

However, put people in teams and have the teams play against each other and you may have a better chance of people engaging. But why?

For me and this is just my opinion after over a decade of multiplayer gaming, team based play is more fun. Look at sports and look how many of the most popular ones are team based. If you are part of a team you feel that you not only have people to support you, but that they need you to support them. You don’t want to let them down and you expect that they will feel the same.

Take another look at my RAMP framework and apply it to a team.

  • Relatedness: Well, you are part of a team – you certainly need social connections and interactions!
  • Autonomy: You have your role to play in a team, for the most part they should trust you to do your role in the best way you can.
  • Mastery: This is the same for anything really, you will increase your skills as the challenges change – just in a team there are people who can help you and you can help them.
  • Purpose: As part of a team you feel that you are part of something bigger than you. You feel that your actions affect not just you, but everyone. You are an important cog in a machine that is working towards greatness.
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    A Question of Motivation

    A very quick blog this week, whilst I work on a few deeper ones (possibly)

    An argument that is pretty constant in Gamification, is that of Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivation / rewards. Things like badges, points and even money vs altruism, autonomy, status and more. The general consensus, based on the works of people like Deci and talks by people like Daniel Pink, is that extrinsic motivation is in no way better than intrinsic motivation. The research shows that being almost bribed to do stuff will actually decrease your effectiveness.

    That said, almost everyone agrees that extrinsic rewards are very handy for on boarding – for quick fixes and pushes.

    Anyway, here is my question / puzzle.

    Your boss invites you in to his office with two offers.

    1. You can have promotion, earning you extra social status – but of course extra responsibility and workload. However, rather than getting a pay rise, you can choose a charity for the extra money to go to.
    2. You can stay the same grade you are now, but you can have the pay rise that would be equivalent to a promotion. Again, the workload would increase.

    The first choice gives you lots of mice intrinsic options. Choice, Status, Altruism, Charity, Autonomy, Relatedness etc. The second choice is purely extrinsic – you get more money.

    Intrinsic vs Extrinsic – What would you choose?


    For me, my motivation to work is to provide for my family. As such, I would personally go for the money! In gamification, there are a lot of people concentrating on making systems more interesting and engaging, but so few seem (on the surface at least) to be looking at what motivates each individual. Not every person reacts in the same way to every situation – no matter how well researched the psychology is.


    When is gamification not gamification?

    A few different conversations this last week have triggered a little built of thinking. This usually leads to me brain dumping a blog – and this is no exception. Don’t expect to find any answers here!

    The first questions was – should you tell people that they are using a gamified system?

    Straight off the bat, I replied, no. However, when asked why, I was a little stuck. My brain knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I struggled to vocalise it initially. There are a number of issues that trouble me about telling people they are using a gamified system. The first is people’s perceptions of gamification. Very often their best view is that it is some kind of benign manipulation. At worst, they feel it is a deliberate, cynical and underhanded form of manipulation.

    However, telling them that the system they are using has a few fun elements (what ever they may be), is not quite as bad. It doesn’t conjure up this manipulative image.

    Another thing that came to me was this idea that you can’t tell people to play. If they know that the goal of the new system is to get them to do stuff through the use of game mechanics – will it still have the same impact. If you just let them use the system, say nothing and see how they get on, would the results be the same?

    Personally, I would not mention that it was gamified at all. Gamification is not meant to be there to show off to the players how clever you are, it is to motivate and engage them.

    The next question was – is there a magic number of game mechanics that you need to be using to say something is gamified.

    This came about after a discussion about reCaptcha. if you don’t know, this is one of those devices that websites use to prove you are human, presenting you with two squiggly words to read and enter. What makes reCaptcha a little different is that the data you enter is actually used to help digitise real books. My argument is that this is gamified. It sets a challenge (read the text and enter it correctly) and if you read the info, it tells you that you are doing something that has meaning. The argument was that as this is not exactly fun, is it gamified. The other was that it doesn’t use much in the way of game mechanics.

    When you look at a standard gamification definition “The use of game mechanics in non game tasks”, there is no minimum number of mechanics specified there. It does not say “The use of at least three game mechanics in non game tasks”. So for me, even if there is just one tiny, slightly hidden game mechanics / element in place – then yes, it is gamified.

    This led to another interesting thought – At what point, does a gamified system become a game?

    So you have all your game mechanics, dynamics, elements etc. in place. You have designed a fun and a playful system with a great UI and great intrinsic motivation in action. You have found the sweet spot for flow and people are using it happily and productively At what point does that become a game in its own right?

    One thought was that games have some kind of narrative – that is what separates gamified from game. I was trying to think of a game that has no story of any sort and have failed. Even things like Space Invaders have a story – something is under attack by the bad guys and the good guy (you) must stop them. Pong had a kind of story (ish) “avoid missing ball for high score”. Of course, I may be mixing up story with goal there. Again, one of the main things of gamification is setting goals – so that must count…

    This one really has me stumped. Whilst the definition of a game includes the idea that games are deliberately designed to entertain – what happens if a gamified system becomes enjoyable and even entertaining?

    Retrospective edit alert! It is funny how things change, I now have a pretty good anwer to this. It becomes a game, when it has gameplay! 

    GSummit,Bubbles, Badges and the Future

    I have been catching up on the events of GSummit over the weekend. I was very heartened to hear so many people talking about moving beyond badges and xp systems. They were looking for the next phase of engagement. You just need to look at FourSquare recently ditching its gamified elements to see that we are hitting the first big dip in user interest in this kind of thing.

    However, there were still quite a few talking about promoting engagement with the use of simple badging / xp systems. I must admit, at first I was a little confused. Then I realised that I was totally missing the context that these ideas were being discussed in.

    Badges still have a place.

    When you look at instances where people were talking about badges and the like being of some use, it tended to be related to enterprise. The thing with enterprise gamification is that you have one key thing in the back pocket before you start. An audience. Not only that, you have an audience that has already got one very important motivator. They are doing their job. This may not sound like a motivator, but let me explain.

    Think back to before you heard the word gamification. People still turned up to work every day. They still did their job to the best (usually) of their ability. Why? Because that is what you, do. You get a job, you try to do it well and then you go home. At a set point in time, you are paid for doing this. This payment then allows you to do other things, like pay your mortgage and buy your wife nice things. As it happens, in just that little run through you can see game mechanics in use (though I would not call this gamification!!)

    • Go to work every morning – appointment mechanic. Don’t turn up, don’t get paid
    • Do your job everyday – Behavioural Momentum
    • Do your job well – Pride

    Anyway, I digress. The people who are seeing success with badges and xp are using them to try to make this daily churn a little more interesting, by setting up a little competition and fun. In this case, it does not seem to have that negative an effect, because it is not trying to replace the intrinsic motivation of doing your job each day (if done properly). Another factor is that these are closed groups of people who are all in it together. In addition, there is nothing to be lost by joining or not joining.

    There is sooo much more that people could be doing though. Gamification of a rubbish process makes it more rubbish (ish). What enterprise should be looking at is changing the processes to make them more intrinsically engaging. They should be using gamification to change the behaviour of the company as a whole, but just make it a little bit more fun. It is not all about making everything a game.

    It’s all about making everything a game.

    So that is enterprise. In brand engagement things are a little different. Badges, points and leaderboards are proving to only improve engagement for a short period of time. What is happening (as with FourSquare), there comes a point where the “I really don’t care anymore” factor kicks in, there is a sharp drop off. Where people are succeeding is where they have seen that there is a drop and offer something more. I had a great chat with Steve Bocska from who are currently trying to combat this Badge Fatigue or Loyalty Backlash as they call it.

    I will talk about PugPharm more at some point, but essentially their Picnic platform tries to make it all a bit more playful. Using badges and ladders to get people into the “game”, they then throw more enjoyable challenges and collectables (in the form of iCards) into the mix. Finally they use those collectables to connect you with other people with similar interests in a social network. Their hope is that this will keep people engaged with the brand or anything else for far longer.

    The big players (Badgeville springs to mind) are now trying to give the end user more than just the basics. They have all seen that as the general population is getting wise to the gamification that has been successful up until now, that they need to focus less on trying to influence or manipulate the customer. Now it is about giving them something that they find enjoyable and engaging.

    The Bubble has to burst

    We are at a crossroads, that much is sure. I can see a bubble waiting to burst with lots of people floating in it repeating the word Gamification over and over again. When it does burst, I really hope that those who are left floating in the remaining bits of the bubble are the ones who are repeating – how can we be different, what’s in it for the customer. That’s when we shall start to really see the more mature and focused side of Gamification that so many of us know is there.

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