Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Counterpoints & Cautions: the Use and Abuse of Game Mechanics

My last post covered how game mechanics are being used inside [video and social] games and in real world applications and why the use of game mechanics is good and engaging.

In this post, I look at what's being said about the dark side of gamification.  The following articles warning against the gamification of our world and the need, at a minimum, for more thoughtful application of game mechanics than the shameless application of manipulative and meaningless badges or achievements that we currently see in many places (including Social Games).
  • Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges | ZDNet 
  • GDC: Hecker's Nightmare Scenario - A Future Of Rewarding Players For Dull Tasks | Gamasutra
    • GDC Presentation: Achievements Considered Harmful? | (Video and Notes)
See my summaries and take aways after the jump:

Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges
By Libe Goad | December 6, 2010

…Now that you’ve earned a badge on HuffPo, then 10 badges on Get Glue and a few more on Foursquare — well, what the hell does it all mean anyway?

Then there’s the deeper question — is adding a badge mechanic in and of itself fun? Adding badges and scores are “the process of taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience,” says Margaret Robertson.…

…The way companies gamify sites will have to undergo dramatic change, and companies will have to learn how to add game mechanics to a site in a meaningful way.

[Even Zynga is moving beyond simple game mechanics.]  FarmVille has slowly been beefing up with more traditional, and more involved, game elements, such as giving players missions that help guide the experience and adding characters with storylines.

GDC: Hecker's Nightmare Scenario - A Future Of Rewarding Players For Dull Tasks
By Chris Remo | March 11, 2010

It's possible that an over-reliance on metrics-driven design and extrinsic rewards for in-game actions could lead to a future of "designing shitty games that you have to pay people to play," warns independent developer Chris Hecker.…

…Fundamentally, he explained, his concern is based around a growing body of research suggesting that giving people extrinsic rewards for completing tasks -- for example, rewarding kids for reading by giving them pizza -- decreases the subject's genuine interest in the actual task.

[Chris Hecker Chris focuses on solving hard problems at the intersection of gameplay, aesthetics, and technology.  He was previously a Technology Fellow at Maxis/Electronic Arts.]

More material directly from video of Chris Hecker’s GCD 2010 Talk:  "Achievements Considered Harmful?" and his presentation notes:
By Chris Hecker | August 8, 2010

This is Hecker's plea to psychologists to study directly the possibility that external rewards might degrade the intrinsic motivation to play games.

Research shows that for interesting tasks:
  1. Tangible, expected, contingent rewards reduce free-choice intrinsic motivation, and
  2. Verbal, unexpected, informational feedback, increases free-choice and self-reported intrinsic motivation.
Somebody should start funding research into this. Hecker thinks Microsoft Research would be the perfect people to do this work, since they have both Xbox Live (meaning a great source of data, and a vested interest in figuring out the truth for the longevity of the platform) and a bunch of smart psychologists on staff.

Why are you making games?
If you’re intentionally making dull games with variable ratio extrinsic motivators to separate people from their money, you have my pity.

If you’re making intrinsically interesting games and want to make them even better, be very careful with extrinsic motivators.

Ways of implementing rewards so they do less harm:
  • Don’t make a big fuss about them.
  • Use unexpected rewards.
  • Use absolute, not relative measures.
  • Use endogenous rewards.
  • Make them informational, not controlling.
The data shows even following this advice reduces intrinsic motivation, but it's at least something game designers can do.

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