We are planning to add lots of new features to HabitMix in 2011, so it makes sense to start a development blog and do some thinking out loud.
Recently Ryan, the web developer behind makeapact, game industry visual effects editor James Sharpe and I recorded a discussion about games, game mechanics and how to make web applications more sticky.
HabitMix Dev Podcast 1-Game-Mechanics mp3
(For information of game mechanics check out the great Gamification Blog)
Ok well thanks guys for agreeing to have a chat. So basically I thought
we could talk about game mechanics. I’ll just start recording, ah yes it is
recording which is good.
So I just wanted to have a chat about game mechanics, obviously I am developing a
website and I want to make it more fun, more addictive, more game like. But maybe start
off by saying we’ve got Ryan who’s a web developer software developer extraordinaire and
we’ve got James who does visual graphics, visual animation for a game company.
Is that a fair description James ?
Uh yeah, I guess I am most accurately described as a visual effects artist.
Excellent, a visual effects artist. And we’ve got me, web developer, software developer.
Ok so let’s start off like what are game mechanics ? I’m thinking “so much effort and time
and interest is put into games, so people who don’t seem to put the same amount of effort
or time into other aspects of their life will into games. So there is something sort of
magic going on with games.
And the world seems to be waking up to the fact that the same
mechanisms that are used in games to make them fun, to make them addictive can be leveragedin other systems that aren’t games.
I’ll just read a couple of examples I read that were interesting.
For example the Nissan Lear electric cars have a feature where they will give you feedback
on how you are driving, in terms of changing gears, how fast you’re going and how it effects
the fuel efficiency and then you are able to go online and compare your fuel efficiency to
other drivers fuel efficiency and almost have a competition or actually have a competition
as to who is the most fuel efficient driver.
So that is one example of a non game approach sort of going into a non-game area.
So that all makes sense with what I’m saying ?
Yeah yeah sure.
I think it’s even more than that like I heard this TED talk by that woman who talks about
games and she talks about how many billions of hours are thrown into games, there is
basically a base of potential customers where that is the way they are the most comfortable thinking.
So you have to almost cater to them as a target market you know ?
Well I think the interesting think about game mechanics is just um, I think it’s almost a
science of human motivation.
It’s an adapting meme that adapts to what motivates us, to become more effective in narrowing in on those patterns of feedback that cause us to engage in an activity.
Yes, so both those points make sense to me, so with what Ryan was saying, as young children grow up playing games, more so than they were in the past.
I mean games have always been around but if we have generations of 20 year olds, 30 year olds, 40 year olds who are very familiar with games it may not be the case that non-game places or systems will adopt game techniques, they will kind of have to.
Like they won’t do it as a nice little “nice to have”, they will have to because the population
will be so used to playing games.
And with James’ point I think that’s a good definition of a game or a game mechanic, it’s about the science of human motivation, how do we get people to do things.
So what are the main kind of patterns that we see with game mechanics and with games, what are some of the techniques used to motivate people.
Well I think from my experience that it’s about honing in on some primal or very basic feedback mechanisms. Our brains are set up to receive imagery and sound, and really manipulating those parts of the brain.
I think for me one of the perfect games, while not necessarily being a video game, is pinball,
because I think that really refines down to a basic level what makes a game system compelling and addictive.
It has a number of different components, one of those is a think I call cascading consequences.
You can also see this in the game Angry Birds on IPad. Where a small action will have a chain reaction of consequential actions.
So we feel we get an exponential return on our investment of action or our decisions. And this is used a lot in pinball really well. You hit the pinball around and when you do really well you bounce around a whole bunch of things and hit another bunch of things and you get a chain reaction and might have something come up on the screen saying you’ve entered some new mod.
You get layer upon layer of these cascading consequences.
I think that that feeling of, that you can attain these exponential rewards for small actions is something that is very powerful.
Ok, that rings a big bell with me. One of the reasons is that I know from playing cricket, one of the most enjoyable aspects I find in cricket is a ball being bowled and you can then sit back and watch the outcome unfold, it’s almost like a remote control mechanism or almost like a mental control mechanism. Someone does something and the consequences of what they did unfold over time, even if it’s a short amount of time.
And if the person can predict what is going to happen and watch it happen after they have stopped taking action there is something very satisfying about that.
So I guess with the pinball analogy I’m thinking: To take the action and watch the consequences of your action, and watch the ball bounce around certain sections, go down a hole, do something.
There is something satisfying about sort of prediction. Is it a prediction thing that’s going on there ?
Well I don’t think it’s prediction. I think in some ways the randomness is a big part of what makes it enticing, I think what is really compelling is having a strong feeling that the outcome is going to be positive but not knowing how positive it’s going to be.
And so I think that is the hook, that curiosity makes you want to see how well this is going to pan out.
It’s kind of like the excitement of Christmas you know. What makes Christmas compelling is not that you know what you are going to get it’s that you know you are going to get something it’s just a matter of how good that something is. And I think that’s a very powerful component of it.
That’s awesome so what you said there, once again, makes a lot of sense to me.
Is it true that the heart of this is, it sounds to me like the heart of this may be prediction because with Christmas, as you were saying with Christmas, you know something good is going to happen, you don’t know to what extent it’s going to be good and you’re not sure what it’s form will be but does that mean that whet we’re doing in our minds is running a whole bunch of scenarios and we get satisfaction from running a whole bunch of scenarios and then verifying them against reality.
Because being that enjoy that, enjoy making predictions and testing their predictions learn more about the world and are more successful.
So evolutionarily we are programmed to be prediction machines and so I’m thinking maybe prediction is at the heart of most game mechanics.
Yes is sounds like it’s not exactly surprise. Like you don’t really want to be that surprised.
It’s more like what you were talking about you just want to see your, what you imagined more or less fulfilled, or some variation of it.
It’s like skipping a stone you know, for some reason you can’t help but to do it, and you pretty well know how it’s going to go.
And it’s still fun every time.
Yeah but sure, I think skipping a stone is a really good example. You know you’re going to get one skip at least.
Because you know you’re going to get that one skip, I think that’s part of what keeps you doing it. But the other part that keeps you doing it is that you get that ten skip, you know maybe this time I’ll get the ten skips.
I think that that kind of uncertainty of reward but wanting to try and work out how to make that reward more certain is what makes it compelling.
I think if you’ve got no skips every time you wouldn’t be interested in it, but if you got ten skips every time I think you would be less interested in it also.
I think I remember reading something many years ago that said that an inconsistent reward causes people, causes animals to learn quicker than a consistent reward.
So if you have a number of buttons and you want to train a rat or a mouse of whatever to press the buttons in a certain pattern if you give the animal a reward every time they hit the pattern it might take then a certain amount of time to learn to press the pattern to get the reward.
And you can tell they’ve learned it as they are consistently pressing it, wanting to get the reward.
But if you provide a reward for that pattern only 50% of the time, they actually learn the pattern quicker.
If I’m remembering that correctly, it sounds counter intuitive but it’s exactly what happens at casinos.
It’s the inconsistency that brings people in. Everyone at a casino has a system, has a theory that if they do something then something will happen.
And even if they know that the system isn’t real it’s very psychologically or emotionally seductive.
So obviously I think gambling games or casinos seem to be the masters of game mechanics.
Apparently thins is what’s called in the business of gaming a variable reinforcement schedule.
And apparently it just drives people crazy. It basically makes them… it hooks a lot of people. When you have the same input and a variable response.
Ok, so some of the different things, reading around, that are mentioned as game mechanics are things like having turns, these might be slightly higher level than we are talking.
Things like having turns, having bidding, having auctions, having to capture things, having to eliminate things, having to manage resources, getting points, getting rewards and some sense of social standing.
Now those sound like they are at a higher level than we are talking, we are talking about the actual brain feedback or the mind feedback, and all these things are higher level elements that encompass the elements that we are talking about.
Yes, well there are a lot of base mechanics that you are going through there. I think a lot of those mechanics play of different areas.
I think the idea of turns is interesting, I think what turns provide is an ability to set up a more elaborate cascade.
It’s sort of like building a house of cards or something, or better a set of dominos. And you’re almost kind of saving up for a long term reward. So you have something that hooks you in and allows you to understand how your actions over time are going to lead to this consequence.
And so you won’t see the consequence for a long time but you can see the potential building up. Kind of like watching your money go up in a bank account, something like that.
So you’re placing your dominos and you’re curious to see how that all pans out I guess.
So it’s much more of a, turns are more conducive to a long term reward mechanism.
So a delay isn’t necessary. It seems that lots of addictive things have a delay. Action and then reward and the reward often isn’t immediate.
But there are some games where the reward is immediate after the action I would guess.
So that would be my first question, do you guys agree with that, and the second question would be, James you mentioned Ping Pong, I almost said Ping Pong but it’s not Ping Pong it’s Pinball,
Do you have any other examples of games that have really interesting mechanisms that get people into the game ?
Um, Poker machines have really refined that principle. I think the casual gaming market is full of those sort of games.
Games like Bejeweled and Nagle and Tetris. Tetris is a really great example of a fairly immediate reward game.
Also that sort of exponential reward return, you build something up and eventually you get that one straight piece and it takes out four rows or whatever, and there is that sort of satisfaction from achieving this dramatic change to the landscape.
Sorry to interrupt but I think you hit on something important there, it seems to me that a lot of great games have that dual reward that you mentioned.
Where you have a short term optimization or a short term decision to make that will have a short term effect but a number of short term effects over time then lead to a long term goal. And that dual reward seems to be important.
You can make lots of short term decisions and then pull back and say “look what I’ve built”.
Yeah sure, and I think you’d want that point of reference for a comparison. Like maybe about skipping stones again.
Like maybe the fact that one skip is easy and two skips is hard but ten skips is really substantial. The reason ten skips is substantial is because most of the time you are only getting one or two skips.
And so you need that point of reference, you need to say that most of the time it’s small reward so the big reward has meaning.
I think in the example, when you are talking about turn based stuff like the response to your turn, I mean that’s a small reward in itself.
It’s not just a point at the end it’s exciting to see what’s going to come back.
I guess it’s just like Christmas once again, you’re putting stuff under the Christmas tree and you don’t know what it’s quite going to be when you open it. But you feel it’s going to be something good, how well it ends up panning out becomes intriguing.
You’ve set up the scenario and are eager to see the positive fruits it will have to bare.
So obviously games, as it computer games and sporting games seem to have this down really well and there is a lot of talk about about non-game systems introducing game like elements.
But I’m not sure that I can think of any non-game systems that have really done well with the game approach, that they end up being treated like a game.
Yeah I think that some of the rules of game systems are applied to successful business applications. Feedback andintuitiveness and two things that are big in games and very important in business applications.
I don’t use a lot of business applications in my work, the closest would be Photoshop and things like that.
I think that the IPad is really interesting, Apple is really interesting, I recently got an IPad.
What makes the IPad interesting to me is that it’s not the most powerful device of it’s kind out there but I think it’s one of the most intuitive devices of it’s kind out there.
And I think that when we’re talking about business applications part of it is that how willing people are to use that application is a major contributor to it’s success rather than just how functional it is.
I think you have a lot of people using IPads and IPad applications that may be less functional than their counterparts on PC or full Mac computers but they are more enjoyable to use and people try and find excuses to try and use their IPad.
And I think that’s interesting that they will make excuses to do it on the IPad when it may be faster or easier to do it on a conventional PC or Mac.
That makes sense to me, I agree that with the IPad it is just a pleasure to use in that more often than with other systems when you do something it responds in the way you expect.
The other point you make that it’s just as important that people want to use the thing as whether the thing has good functionality etc etc And I think the impact there is that sometimes maybe it’s a case of saying how do we take the functionality of this system, this website, this whatever and turn it into a game it might be the case of saying lets just add a game on. Even if the game is kind of irrelevant.
I mean it has to be side by side but if it gets people feeling enthusiastic, if it gets people using the thing, it’s kind of, I won’t say a trick. But getting people feeling enthusiastic about using something is as important as how well the thing works.
The other things I will say about the IPad is that having that single button that exist every application immediately gives the user such a feeling of control that they don’t have in other systems.
Wherever they are, whether they get confused, whatever happens they can just press that button and they are back to the desktop, that’s an awesome feature.
I’m just wondering where the line between good design and game mechanics is. What part of feedback would game mechanics and what would you consider to just be good user experience or good graphic interface design.
There is sort of a bubble-wrap school of game design at a basic level. You get a roll of bubble wrap and you can’t help but pop all the little bubbles. And I think a really good user interface plays on that, it really gives you a nice feeling.
Like the IPad, just that nice sound effect when you type on the keyboard is a reward mechanic like you might use in games.
Like in Mario the sound you get when you pick up a coin. I think these kind of nuances are a big part of bring game theory into apps. I mean it’s not necessarily making them a game themselves but it’s taking some of the elements of games and using them to make non-game activities more enjoyable.
Like the sound effects you use and the feedback you get for doing something non-game related.
I don’t know where the line is precisely, I think it is a very blurry line.
With games maybe what the clear line is that games have some sort of competitive activity, you’re trying to beat something or get a higher score or you’re trying to get to the next level, something like that.
You’re trying to achieve a set outcome that is set by the game. Where as in a business or production activity you have not necessarily such a defined goal and your trying to work out in some cases what the goal is.
And it’s much more abstract what you’re trying to achieve, like your writing an essay or something like that, it’s not like you write five hundred words and you get to level two.
You write a couple of hundred words and maybe you’re decide you don’t like it and start again. So I think that’s maybe the line I would draw between games and production applications is a lack of that well defined goal or well defined competitive element.
I guess with business applications there are objectives such as “we want someone to fill this out so it can be passed onto this person” or we have a list of outstanding items we want completed.
So I think there are goals and objectives and sometimes there is even keeping score when you have the amount of unprocessed applications etc etc.
I think from the designer’s point of view is that games have functionality put in them whose only objective is to increase the interaction or the involvement of the user. So if we are adding functionality just because we think the user will enjoy it, because the user will want to do it again and again then we are developing a game.
If the user’s involvement is secondary to some other sort of outcome, such as getting the applications processed then it’s not so much a game.
Maybe you’re getting rewarded for getting better at it. Maybe that’s the key to being a game, there is some kind of positive feedback when you do well and maybe that is the line that separates the two.
Yes I think it’s funny that you say that because it should be that all business applications have that.
All business applications reward people and let them know when they are doing well and let them know when they aren’t doing well but almost none of them do.
Yeah, well I guess it hasn’t been seen as necessary to their functionality. I think maybe the approach has been that you just need to make the application functional. Having these extra components may been seen as superfluous or inefficient.
Maybe there is concern about adding a layer of inefficiency by adding these elements. And I think there is a balance there, you need to make sure the application is very efficient for the function it’s for and if you do want to add game elements in there then they are minimally distracting from that core functionality.
So I think another possible explanation is that in the grand scheme of things computer science or software development or web development those kind of things are very young so it may well be that we are still at the point of struggling to make things work and maybe now we are at a point in time when we can make systems that work and now we are able to say let’s make them work and let’s also make them fun and lets also make them addictive and lets also make them give rewards and maybe in the past we were struggling to get them to do what they were meant to do.
I think that’s true. I think that the low hanging fruit is sort of the bubble wrap effect, making the interactions crisp and enjoyable and showing, not really showing the user what they are building but just showing them what they did.
Making the interaction obvious and giving them a sense of power and exaggerated effect when they do something. I mean that seems like a good start.
Absolutely so Ryan what you’re suggesting there is that applications just need to handle the basics.
Which are that when someone does something there should be some visual feedback that they’ve actually done something, that’s it’s complete.
Yes it should be pleasant.
I agree and little things like that don’t get done. When you press a button it should look like it was pressed.
When you do something if there is a little audio sound as we mentioned before that gives you a nice feeling of completion or feedback.
So would you guys like to talk about something more specific ? Like my HabitMix daily checklist application ?
We can talk about that.
Let’s do it.
It’s a good little case study I think because it’s quite enclosed and relatively simple. Basically a daily checklist, it’s a web application someone will have tasks they would like to complete every day, like I’d like to exercise or go to the gym or not smoke cigarettes or I’d like to…whatever their task is.
They set up their list of tasks and then everyday they go in and go ok I did this task correctly, give myself a tick.
Or I didn’t complete this task, give myself a cross. Over time they build up a grid of ticks and crosses and they can sort of see how their progress is. The idea being, in a way the whole thing is a game mechanic.
The idea being that knowing you will have to fill out this checklist will motivate you and being able to look at your progress will motivate you when you’ve got a certain number of ticks in a row there is a psychological thing where you don’t want to break the chain of ticks with a cross.
At the moment it’s quite simple, I’m thinking about ways to make it more enjoyable for people to use.
One idea I’ve been thinking about is, currently all the ticks are the same but I’m thinking if someone get’s a check, go to the gym so they give themselves a tick, if on the next day they give themselves another tick the second tick should be slightly bigger or slightly bolder or slightly more stylish than the first and then if they give themselves a tick for the third day it should be bigger again.
In other words your visual tick feedback gets more impressive the more ticks you get in a row.
And then if you miss a day and have to put a cross you are then back to the smallest tick again.
Does that make sense ?
Yes that’s cool. I think there are a few things that immediately come to mind.
Probably the most important one is having the application be fairly accessible in terms of not requiring a lot of work to interact with it or open it up.
I think these kinds of applications can work really well if you do something like install it in the background and set it up so then it automates when you boot up your computer, it pops up and says Hey It’s been so many days since you booted up the computer or since I could last talk to you, could you let me know did you do this ? did you do this ? And it goes “Awesome, thanks goodbye”.
It’s sort of like a buddy that just pops up when you startup your computer. You just tick some boxes or something like that.
I think that that could be really powerful because I think that’s what would motivate people to really use a program like that but also with regard to the ticks and things I think the idea of unlocking stuff is really powerful.
What might be interesting would be find out what kind of things people are interested in as prizes. Maybe what you could have is unlocking quotes from inspirational people, something like that so you get five ticks in a row and you unlock a quote and a quote pops up. Something pleasant, some kind of pleasant philosophical idea from the Buddhist book of words of wisdom or whatever.
And the use goes “Ah that’s kind of cool” and you close that and people wonder what the next quote will be, what will be the quote when I do another five ticks or something. And then you get more congratulatory inspiration quotes when you get twenty ticks in a row, something like that.
I think that’s a fantastic idea James.
I had thought of the idea that if someone gets a certain number of ticks in a row they get like a little badge or a little trophy or a little something but I think your twist on it where if they get a certain number of ticks in a row they get an inspirational quote or they’re allowed to place an inspirational image on their screen so the next time they log in they get their little inspirational image and if they do a certain number more they can get their second inspirational image or something like that, that does sound interesting to me.
Obviously people need to be told beforehand. “If you get five in a row you will get this reward”.
Not necessarily, it can be a surprise.
Yeah, I mean if it’s just five in a row, if they’re not going to do it five times in a row I think there is a fundamental failure there.
As soon as the reward happens and it’s a surprise they go “ooh”
Ok that’s a great idea and I think if I do it three ticks in a row, rather than five, so that everyone is going to get there relatively quickly, to their first little surprise reward, suddenly they’re thinking “oh I wonder what other rewards are there”.
That’s interesting I hadn’t thought of it in that way.
I think unlocking is brilliant. I really like the way Stack Overflow ties badges or points to privileges.
And that seems to have really worked well. As you gain experience and as you pay your dues you have more powers and that’s kind of a twist on what you’re talking about with HabitMix.
I think the principle in general of unlocking is a great one.
I’ve got to say that the idea on the Stack Overflow question and answer site of people getting badges when they answer a certain number of questions or if they ask a question that is popular etc It’s obviously worked really really well because there are so many people who talk about it and do it but personally I’ve never quite got it, because I don’t feel that motivation to go and do something so that I can get a badge on a website.
I don’t either. Personally none of this game mechanics, I don’t really game, and this stuff is not a big hook for me.
But I use Stack Overflow because I need the answers and a few times I’ve asked questions and then one time nobody gave me a satisfactory answer so I figured it out myself and then I typed up the answer properly and I started to get points.
And then a lot of people started to look at this and give me up-votes.
Then I started to get badges for this and I out of nowhere I started to get points for this question. I have to admit it was like a cool unexpected feeling.
I think it works.
Yes well I think what the Stack Overflow, I’m not familiar with it, but probably what it lacks is the tamagotchi or nintendogs idea of game design where your application becomes a personality.
Or the brainage or the brain training, the one with Dr Kawashima, on the DS where the program actually becomes desiring of attention, it actually has a personality which wants you to interact with it, so it does things when you don’t interact with it.
It pops up and says “Hey, you haven’t talked to me in a while, what’s up ?”. I think that triggers something in us, that kind of nurturing element of ourselves that we have towards our friends and family and pets and whatever.
It causes us to interact with something more than if it is just this dormant program in the background.
A program that you install with some kind of idea like this checklist that you’re going to use to tick off all these things, it’s very easy for this to fall into the background and eventually just sort of “oh well”.
I think people are inclined not to persist with something unless there is some level of being pestered. Some level of a constant reminder to say “hey this is something you want, you should really try and do it”.
I think that is an awesomely relevant point to HabitMix. If you don’t fill out HabitMix we send an email that says “The is a reminder, we notice you haven’t filled out HabitMix in the last three days and filled out your tasks”.
But that doesn’t give HabitMix a personality. That doesn’t make people feel that they are letting HabitMix down, which means of course they are letting themselves down.
But I see exactly what you’re saying. If you can give something some elements of being a person, or some interactions in a person like way it’s easy for people to feel that it’s like a person they know, they have obligations to.
Yes I can see that being hugely powerful.
That’s one for me to think about for HabitMix.
I suppose instead of just delivering messages you could have a mascot deliver the messages.
Absolutely, the HabitMix teddy bear or the HabitMix Giraffe or whatever, a bit like SurveyMonkey, the HabitMix whatever.
And that’s what messages you, it’s not the HabitMix website it’s “hello from Dr HabitMix, I’d just like to know what’s going on” something like that.
I see that as very interesting.
I just wanted to say, what could work really well, what works with Brain Training is he’s going along and he’s celebrating your success. He’s there with you, he’s your coach who has some investment in you and wants to see you do well.
That’s fantastic I can definitely see that working, when someone checks off a certain number of ticks. Suddenly Dr HabitMix or the HabitMix teddy bear or whoever suddenly shows up and is visually excited, saying “I’m so proud of you” or “well done” or “Dr HabitMix is so happy that you’ve done this”.
That’s a great idea. That’s very applicable. Now Ryan are you interested in talking about the project you’re working on ?
Yeah, sure. I guess my project is similar, it’s called make a pact. It’s also about habit, kicking bad habits, starting good ones or trying out new experiences over a series of days and then getting your friends in on it or getting other strangers in on it.
Could you step us through a normal use case of make a pact ?
Like someone would come along to the website and maybe they see someone that already has a pact that says like don’t drink soft drinks for like ten days and they think “I want to do that” and they join the pact and then it keeps track of each day how they do.
And they can see how the other people in the pact do as well. They can have a discussion about it, how it’s going, and they can share resources and tips and things
So is there a contradiction, a difference between trying to build a community, something that’s community based versus something that’s sort of game based.
Because it seems that there aren’t many games that are game based, have game mechanics and also have a community reward system as well. I know that things like MMOs people do play the game and have a community.
So perhaps I’m wrong on that. My question for you really is do you see make a pact as forming communities of people doing similar things or do you want it to be a website technology to try and help people achieve their aims and use game mechanics to encourage them and that sort of thing or both.
Well definitely the first and I’m not sure about the second but it seems like you definitely have to be careful with game mechanics to not spoil or upset the dynamic by adding something wrong in there, so I am thinking about it.
I would want to start very small with feedback. First of all just feedback with what you’re doing, you’re interactions.
Then maybe feedback over the course of the session maybe. Or over the longer term maybe, maybe just stats.
Something like that and build from there. Things like points freak me out a bit but they seem potentially very powerful.
Yes it seems that the most common game mechanic that people are slapping onto websites these days is the idea of awards.
So you reach level three of you get an award or you get a trophy or something like that. If you’ve got anything going on that you can measure then you can award things for them.
That’s pretty benign.
It’s not just about awards and points it’s also about how those points are presented. I think that what you can do really well is hack into that next, hoarding type thing, the collector psychology, where once you start getting a few of a particular kind of thing you want to get more of it because you can see this thing growing and you establish identity with it or some kind of internal self worth by the fact that you have collected a certain number of these things.
I think that points at the base level are ok but what I think words better is scout badges and things like that.
And what could be interesting is having a badge wall and with make a pact say if you complete a pact you get a badge for it, and that’s on your badge wall and people can look at your badge wall.
And you can look at your badge wall and see all the badges stacking up because of the pacts you’ve held true to or whatever. And you can reminisce about everything you’ve achieved.
Absolutely. I have to admit that I cheated and watched the Google talk by Amy Jo Kim and she kind of lays out the basic tenants of game mechanics.
I think we’ve hit on the five main ones so far in this conversation. The first one is collecting, the second one is points, the third one is feedback, the forth is exchanges which is kind of like the turn based thing we were talking about and the fifth is customization.
I think that collecting is a big one.
Yeah well if you look at the game, if you’re familiar with games, Team Fortress 2, on steam.
They have a very interesting thing that has manifested where they started putting caps into the game, so people could chose what hat their character wears in the game. They was a gimmicky thing early on but it’s become huge.
And recently from selling specific hats for the tsunami disaster in Japan they raised three hundred thousand dollars from selling hats.
So these are just digital graphics, data that people pay for the right to put on their character but the sort of frenzy around hats has just become huge, collecting these little hats.
I think this is kind of a lesson Sam, for both of our apps, we both have items and it’s tempting to just make them a list or a table, when maybe we should be trying to make them more like objects.
Things that stand alone as trophies or part of a set, rather than just a list.
Absolutely, I think that’s spot on, certainly. With some of the things I’m working on you just want it to work so you create in the first way that comes to mind, which for a collection of things is just a list.
That’s just the easiest way to think about it, but with a little extra work, a little extra thinking it could be so much more compelling to use than just a list.
I think the way you put it there is right, If I’m ever putting a list of something on the webpage I have to think, “is there a better way to do this than just a list of text, a list of items”.
Definitely I think you’re spot on. Two other things that have occurred to me are, one is, some systems the person using it feels that the system is interacting with them where as other systems the person using it has a virtual persona.
Whether that be their character or their icon or their logo, their account or whatever. So I think that’s an interesting distinction, for example say that with HabitMix, like lots of games, you could give everyone an icon, an image.
Like you know some websites you get a little picture of a person and that represents you and as you do well in the system that thing that represents you gets better.
So if you get a certain number of ticks that little persona of you, that little graphic, now looks better or looks bigger or you get to put a little peaked cap on your character, something like that.
That’s different to where there is no representation of me in the system, it’s me interacting with the system. Does that make sense guys, have I explained that ok ?
Just quickly, the second thing that occurs to me is about making things public. Obviously when people get rewards they get an extra magnification effect if they know that other people can see that they’ve got these rewards or they’ve got this status.
But that immediately brings up all these considerations about privacy and about complexity. Because if someone is going to say “Ok when people get these rewards other people will know about it.
People can look at their wall, people can see their trophies or see their points or see their badges.
You then sort of say well, not many people have the luxury of saying “everything’s public” so you then usually have to say now I will have some privacy options. And that immediately adds new complexity where the person has to configure what they want public and what they want private.
So the massive reward of being able to let people share their progress has the complexity of now you have to manage that.
Yeah well I think that people like to compare their achievements with those of others. It can be tricky though because it can go one of two ways because if someone’s achievement is less than the average then it can be a demotivating force.
So it’s something that I’m kind of vary about. Especially when you are trying to entice someone into an application that is not having it’s prime intention of being a game.
So yes I’m not sure how convinced I am that using those kind of achievements, I mean you can do it without the competitive layer, saying you just want to express that you’ve achieved this sort of thing and that it’s important to you.
Not worrying about comparing that to the level of achievement that others have made, I think that would probably work quite well.
I think that Facebook is successful in that regard.
I think mentioning Facebook is a great idea because these days you could make a system where you provide the reward and you let someone else manage the privacy problems.
So you say “here’s your reward if you want you can put it on Facebook”, and we’ll let Facebook implement all the privacy issues and options, you configure all the settings. We’re just providing the reward we aren’t managing who you’re going to show it to.
But the question that did occur to me is that can rewards, trophies, points work in a system where you know no one else is ever going to see them ?
I think so, I think that like with Steam achievements or Xbox or PS achievements. I find there is something interesting about them and I don’t think I’ll really worry about whether people can see, it’s more that I know I’ve done them.
It’s the collecting type thing. It’s like the collector, I don’t think the collector needs to show their collection to anyone else to gain satisfaction from that collection.
So I don’t think it’s a big component, it could play a role for some people but it’s really being able to see. It’s almost like being able to map your achievements. To sit down and relax and look over everything you’ve achieved, everything you’ve collected. It’s a symbolic way of viewing history at a glance.
One of the things I was thinking about with the Xbox, thinking a bit more about the bubble wrap.
What I find really interesting in games is the idea of things being toys. Where there isn’t an actual clear objective or mechanic but the thing is just fun to interact with. There are a few games like that were I’m not actually that interested in the objectives of the game.
I just want to see what I can do with this toy and I think that is really an applicable thing for business applications. Not necessarily how to make them a game but how to make them a toy.
Like looking at the IPad, the IPad in a lot of ways is a toy more than it is a serious business tool. And I think that’s what makes it so successful.
We’ll I think raising the difference between a game and a toy is very interesting I think we should discuss the difference between a game and a toy. I think you’re being a little unfair to the IPad.
I wouldn’t describe it as a serious business tool but to me it’s a surprisingly competent computer in terms of browsing the web, in terms of dealing with forms, in termsof dealing with email.
It is a functional computer to a degree I wasn’t expecting it to be.
With regards to the toys versus games, isn’t it true though that a toy is essentially a design your own game toolkit.
That the first thing we do when we start to play with a toy is to invent a game to go with it.
Yeah I guess it kind of plays on our curiosity where we’re given, I guess that is the power of it. It allows the person interacting with it to create reward mechanics that are aligned to their mindset.
Where as a game may have a structure that only caters to a specific set of mind sets.
Yeah, I think a toy is open ended, you have to bring something to it. Where as a game pulls you along.
Another possibility is that are toys micro games, a collection of games that you can pull into whatever you want.
So I guess a teddy bear is a game of “lets pretend this is a bear”. Where roller skates or, I’m trying to think of toys now, toys are a mechanic that you can bring into games that you’ve already got.
Like I like to play make believe and this teddy bear will help me with that game I like to play. Or roller skates enable all these other games to be played.
That is interesting to think about. So I have a system, some sort of information system that people interact it, do I want to try and turn it into a game they can play, do i want to add elements of a game to it or do I want to make it flexible enough that people can play any sort of game they want.
Make it a sort of very flexible thing for them.
Yes I guess this is all about creating something where at a base level we want to interact with it. It doesn’t set out the objectives, whatever you do with it is enjoyable.
The interesting thing about teddy bears and things like that is the idea of fantasy and how fantasy motivates us.
I think that fantasy is all about moving yourself into a particular state of mind. Role playing, I think that is something makes you feel like a particular character or helps you feel like a particular character I think that that is quite compelling and I think that’s part of what a toy is.
It’s a leverage device to put you into a particular state of mind. A prop.
So to interrupt for a moment, I’ll get your feedback on this Ryan. So with make a pact for example if when someone signs up they get a character that’s them in make a pact. When they complete their first pact their character becomes a knight or something.
And when they complete their second pact their character gets a horse or something. When someone joins a pact the band of heroes on that pact or on that quest has now grown . So you might start a pact saying “no soft drinks for the next seven days” and when you start it’s just you.
When you next log in it’s you and a guy on a horse. And when you log in the next day it’s you, a guy on a horse and a king and you can almost think of it as a group on a quest.
Does that have any resonance for you ?
Or like a construction worker and like an Indian chief and a policeman. No it does sound powerful in a way, it’s definitely an angle.
I would say I’m always weary of imposing a particular character on a person. I think that people want to define their own identity as much as possible, if you impose an identity on them they may not respond positively to that.
I don’t think you want to put a character in there unless you have something to actually create that character. but even then the level of customization required to allow people to think that it’s really them is quite difficult.
I think that what is much more effective in terms of creating a fantasy is the things we surround ourselves with. What I think is an interesting idea is instead of a person have an apartment or some kind of building and it’s something separate to you but embodies who you are.
Because of how you decorate or furnish it makes it you. Maybe what you can do is have points that you can spend to buy bits of furniture for the virtual apartment. That is how you role play your identity through this virtual apartment.
You dress this apartment up as your fantasy ego would.
I like it. I’m wondering Sam about HabitMix, what do you think about the notion of leveling up ?
Well I’m, really excited about a lot of the things we’ve talked about, most of which I haven’t thought of before. Like you were saying before about how the suggestion was an option. I see so many options now it’s not funny.
So I definitely feel there has to be some form of leveling up.
Whether that be that the person gets points or the person gets badges or they have an avatar or they get to decorate their page and the more ticks they enter the more customizable their page becomes.
All of those interest me. With regard to what James just said, very insightful stuff. Because it’s true that character customization or avatar customization is a game mechanic in itself and it’s an incredibly powerful one.
I’ve played some online role playing games and the amount of interest, the amount of pride people take in the details of their online profile, what kind of hat they have, what kind of accouterments they have, how tall they are, getting the special item that glows a special color. People really really care about that stuff.
When I go to websites, I think Experts Exchange does this, and other, when you sign up and create an account it gives you a little head shot. A little cartoon, like “you are a male” and it gives you a little male character.
You see that and that’s ok, then you click around and you see that almost everyone else has the same icon. That their little image is the same cartoon character as yours. That feels a little insulting.
You feel like “Oh I’m not that special”, I’m just one of many to them. So I think James’ point that if we are going to give people avatars, give people little visual representations you have to be careful because if people don’t really feel that they own them then you are alienating them. So I thought that was a really insightful point.
But yes I definitely this stuff, I’m not sure of the form but definitely adding some form of leveling up to HabitMix is definitely the way to go.
The other dynamic I am interested in is game dynamics just purely socialization, which is already a powerful force on the web.
So I’m wondering to what extent they can co-exist or how the co-exist. The thing that always come to mind is being like 28 years old and at a dinner party and someone brings out a board game, and even though you’re grown adults you have to play the board game.
I would be the guy brining out the board game.
Ok great, I would be the guy looking for someone to chat with out on the back deck. So it’s almost like games are powerful but I feel that socialization is a higher power. But if they are used together somehow…
I question whether they can be used together, I question that. Because I see systems where people interact and talk and systems where people are playing games with rewards and goals and mechanics, I see them as quite different.
It’s interesting to talk about this, there are some guys who play a game at work who play a game at work that is a hardcore military simulator, it’s realistic, there isn’t a lot of combat.
What’s interesting to me about it is what’s really compelling to the people in the game is there is a lot of down time so you do spend a lot of time talking.
And more than most games there is a lot of conversations going over the comms.
So someone will be driving a truck to a military target and it’s going to take ten minutes or something.
There will be three people sitting in the back of the truck and someone driving it and they will all be chatting to each other while they drive to their destination.
And so really the game is just a vehicle by which these people are engaging socially. It’s just an excuse by to engage in this social activity.
I think without that the game would be quite the same. So I think there really is something really powerful there with the social component. I don’t know what the secret is to engage in that social component.
I’ve never really been motivated to engage socially online much, I like talking face to face. I’m not much of an email or messenger type person. I like talking over voice and stuff like that, that’s fine.
I’m not sure, because I’m not motivated like that, how you get people to interact socially on the online format.
That game sounds interesting, do you remember the name ?
It’s Armor, Armor 2
Interesting, because I think socially with males we do like an excuse to socialize so that we can pretend that we don’t just want to hand out, that’s why obviously pubs and bars have pool tables.
That’s why men go out to drink, “let’s go and have a drink” when really they’re saying let’s go and have a chat.
There’s playing poker, that’s the classic one.
So it sounds a little bit like that, an excuse for guys to hang around and talk.
Yes, for sure, very much so.
Now I have a question for James, is there anything in particular that you want to talk about Ryan ?
Ok a quick question for you James. A while ago we had a conversation where you talked about the games industry and the way that games are developed and how it’s not quite focused enough on a ground up look at game mechanics, it’s sort of top down, does that ring any bells with you ?
Um, I think so, I’m trying to remember the specific conversation.
I think we were talking about these new games, what’s the new block building game that’s been a huge success, an indie game.
I think we were talking about minecraft and I think …
Ah yes now I remember. Like you have a game where they try and make a particular experience, they try and map out the experience that they want the game to be before they make it.
At a level which I don’t think is that productive, I think that the best games come from a more evolved process. One of my feelings about complex systems is that I don’t think people can design complex systems.
I think that complex systems have to evolve through a system of evolution. In games there is too much sort of pressure to design the system without that process of iteration. They say “here is what we are going to build” before they have tried it out, I think it depends what you are trying to build.
If you’re building a house or you’re building a ship or something like that, where you know pretty much what you are trying to build, you’re making the next iteration. So you know pretty much how long it’s going to take, and you know pretty much what the steps are to design that thing, that’s house that bar that boat.
But when it comes to a creative Endeavour where you’re creating something entirely new then I think that upfront design process doesn’t work so well.
When you’re really trying to invent something unique you really need to approach it from a different direction, from the ground up rather than having this kind of overarching framework.
You start with some basic ideas and a basic direction that you want to head in and then you allow an iterative process, a process of natural selection to guide you towards that goal.
I think that has a very close similarity to the MVP or lean startup approach to building software systems, would you agree with that Ryan ?
Yeah, I think especially with game mechanics it has to be a bottom up approach. Unless you’re very good, unless you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, starting with small things and building up large mechanics is the way forward.
It seems like some games, especially triple A games, I think that’s the phrase, are often big concepts with lots of mechanics in them.
Like “let’s make a James Bond game, ok, what game mechanics shall we have, let’s have some sniping, let’s have some running around, or let’s have a first person shooter game, ok are we going to have grenades, are we going to have rockets, are they going to be able to fly.
Ok we’ve got a big concept let’s slop in some mechanics to make it fun.”
And then there are other games like Tetris and maybe like minecraft where the game mechanic came first. Oh it’s fun to do this, it’s fun to move block around and build something. It’s fun to slot patterns into collections of shapes.
And then the game came up out of the mechanic. It would seem that if you can come up with an innovative new engaging mechanic that people get addicted to, that’s the killer way to go.
The best possible way to go is to start off with some addictive amazing mechanic and to slap a story on top rather than start off with a story and then find a way to put some interesting stuff in there.
Yes I mean it makes you think about Angry Birds. I doubt it was the first game to use that kind of physics model but it turns out that everyone want’s to knock stuff over with a catapult.
And they did put a cute theme on it and that made it even better, and the art was well done. The whole thing worked really well but it seems that that sort of catapult style of mechanic, people just can’t get enough of it.
Yeah absolutely I think the mechanic there is great.
I think there is a little bit of survivor bias there in terms of the artwork and scenarios because I think if someone had told me beforehand that they were going to make a game about shooting birds at blocks and exploding the birds, I would have thought that would put people off, that’s a little bit confronting or a little bit not nice.
If they did it with normal bombs it would be better, so obviously I’m wrong on that.
It’s slapstick, Slapstick is incredibly potent reward mechanism. I think that’s part of why Angry Birds does well, because it has that slapstick component.
There is an art to making something slapstick funny rather than just brutal and tragic. You’ve got to understand some basic principles of humor to pull that off. I can see why it’s successful, precisely because it has that sort of element.
I can immediately think of a game off the top of my head that would do the same sort of thing. You would have a guy running on a treadmill and you stop the treadmill causing him to fly into a bunch of boxes.
That could do quite well. It’s that kind of slapstick humor that is attractive and reduces tension.
There is something cathartic about seeing someone make a fool of themselves. That’s why you have these funniest home videos, they’re so popular.
There is something in our psychologies, no matter how much the more intellectual of us would like to deny that, no matter how intelligent you are you can’t help but get that feeling of stress release when you see something reticules like that.
Ok, well we’ve been going for a bit over an hour now guys, so shall we call it an evening ?
OK, well thanks for having the discussion, I thought there was heaps in there that was valuable to me personally, lot’s of ideas I can think about for HabitMix.