26 Nov 2010 @ 5:55 AM 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Posted By: Intellagirl
Last Edit: 26 Nov 2010 @ 05:55 AM

Categories: games, gamification


Responses to this post » (3 Total)

  1. I’ve been finding the recent buzz around gaming interesting, since a number of people treat it like it was just invented. Sure mobile and online media is creating new permutations, games are a natural extension of the human condition.

    For the sake of a succinct definition, I think you’ve offered up a solid foundation. Nice work.

    P.S. Hope you’re doing well in B-Town. Our B-Town (Boston) adventure is going well.

  2. christian says:

    Some colleagues and i were just talking yesterday about the fact that the activity of “businessing” or “organizationing” operates so much like the activity of gaming. I love the fact that the characteristics above are similar, if not identical, to those at work in an organization. Looking forward to your next few posts.

  3. Melanie says:

    Thanks for writing this post/series! I was hoping we’d get your perspective on this topic, which inspired quite a lot of ire from those I know in the gaming sector – particularly, interestingly, indie and serious games producers (I think because they abhore the conceit of marketers who only see the consumer dimensions of games rather than the art). I am writing a post of my own on this topic based on my recent experience moderating a panel on play for gamercamp – where we talked about gamification – as well as to work out my own thoughts as a gamer/educator. will try and respond more to your posts via that blog post rather than a comment alone.

    So do you think “quality” enters into the above three categories as well? Quality of play, challenge, etc. I realize the problem with such a subjective term but it seems that’s partly what it comes down to. Namely, that one person’s idea of a challenge and a reward in foursquare might be enough to qualify that experience as a game/play for them because they see the merit and enjoyment. Another gamer might try foursquare and not find any correlation to the experiences they define as play or gaming.

    somewhat related, is the question of motivation and characterisation of play activity (exploring, achieving, killing, socializing, etc) here. I’m presently working on a paper expanding on Bartle’s Player Types (via Yee) on play styles/activities – the place of such in the classroom. And the (somewhat risky/transgressive) thesis that some of the more questionable forms of play (combat in particular) might have a place in the classroom.

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