This is the first of a few posts I’m writing about gamification.
We’ve all played them but because of the wide variety of games it can be challenging to nail down just what makes a game a game. I think that there are three basic characteristics:
- A goal: Every game has a win condition, the combination of events and accomplishments that players need to achieve to end the game. In every good game, the goal is clear and the rest of the game is constructed to create a system in which the tools necessary to reach the goal are available. Ultimately, what’s most important about the goal, is that players actually care enough to want to accomplish it.
- Obstacles: Easy games aren’t much fun to play. Though the tools necessary to reach the goal should be part of the game, so should difficulties and challenges. Otherwise, without those obstacles, winning wouldn’t mean much.
- Collaboration or competition: Games come in two basic flavors: those in which winning is determined by defeating another player and those in which winning is beating the game itself. The former can create competition among players. The second encourages a player to compete against themselves until they beat the game.
True gamification requires that all three characteristics be present. For example, if we think of Foursquare as a game (whether or not it’s a good one is up for debate) we can see that the goal is to acquire badges that earn the user reputation and a sense of accomplishment. Obstacles in Foursquare are the simple logistics of traveling to a location and taking the trouble of checking in using the application. Finally, some users may choose to compete with other users by taking away mayorship of a popular spot while others may challenge themselves to collect the badges that they see as fun or interesting.