You probably know we think a lot about games and game mechanics here.
This is largely Paul’s doing, since he’s done a lot of thinking about what makes games fun and if/how the fun of games can be applied to other typically un-fun activities, namely work.
I’ve been playing foursquare for about six months, and even though it’s not as engaging as it was when I started, I continue to play.
Why? Games are fun, and as an unabashed early adopter, I like shiny things. As a bonus, the game mechanics may translate into product.
The reason is simple: badges.
Foursquare has them, and they’re front and center for everyone to see. The others have variations, but they’re not as obvious, at least not to me.
Badges equate to personal bling, and everyone is down for that. I’ve also found competition around mayorships has kept me playing. Again, because the mayorship becomes a badge.
People are competitive by nature. It’s an evolutionary trait that used to drive our survival, and now finds outlets where it can, including only everywhere.
People who claim not to be competitive often find themselves competing at it, i.e. to be the least competitive person you’ve ever met.
Badges on the interwebs are everywhere in all kinds of incarnations, so foursquare isn’t unique in that regard. What I found intriguing about the game is they have identified a clear goal for themselves, boiled it down to a simple unit of work (i.e. the checkin), and created incentives to make you do their bidding.
Paul refers to this as the “purposeful” part of the game in his commentary about foursquare.
I suddenly have a theory.
Take simplicity + purpose + incentive and you’re on to something.
When you lose a balance among them or take one as implied, you begin to expect too much from people.
Try it yourself. In my head, I visualize it as an equilateral triangle, which makes the effect of changing the length of one side obvious.
Work is mostly simple + purpose + incentive, but if one goes the wrong way, you’ll have to balance by increasing one or both of the others.
Facebook used to be simple, but as it’s become increasingly complex, they have relied on increases in the other areas, i.e. stronger incentive and purpose. You first joined to be connected to people, and that purpose only gets stronger as more people join. Plus, you’ve been posting photos and adding social artifacts for so long that quitting becomes a big disincentive.
Obviously, you can succeed with imbalance among simplicity, purpose and incentive, but if you’re starting or designing something new, this seems like a good litmus test.
Maintaing balance among them becomes the real challenge. Once you have some momentum or are successful enough to afford an imbalance, maybe it’s time to think about starting over with the same objectives, while applying what you’ve learned.
This post took a left-turn onto Cerebral Highway in the middle so apologies if it’s not fully coherent.
What do you think? Find the comments.