(by Aaron Dignan)

Level One: Games as an antidote to boredom

Bordome is all common among people who have become disenchanted with “the system,” whether that system is their company, their school, or even their personal life.

Lack of Volition:  Volition is the will to do something; the motivation and internal drive to see it through. Any kind of proactive or ambitious behavior is evidence of strong volition. People who lack volition feel lost, bored, or disconnected from the task at hand. They can’t see why an activity or behavior is worthwhile. A lack of volition is defined by disinterest, low involvement, and arrested development. An individual lacking volition says, “I’m not going to do that. Why would I? What’s in it for me?”

Lack of Faculty: Faculty is the belief that we have the skills and tools to handle the challenges we’re facing; that we know how to begin and have the confidence to pursue our goals. People who lack faculty in a particular situation may feel that it’s too hard, or that it’s unclear what they need to do to succeed. A lack of faculty is defined by anxiety, submission, and ultimately, despair. An individual lacking faculty says, “I can’t do this. I’m not prepared. I don’t know how.”

Proof is in the Pudding

Fortunately for us, one medium is designed to address these issues systemically: games. Games, in contrast to shallow rewards systems, are made up of activities that we genuinely like. The point is that playing games is satisfying in and of itself. Layering a rewards system over an existing experience doesn’t make us like it any better, it just encourages us to tolerate it. And yet, game-like rewards systems have become quite popular.

And yet, game-like rewards systems have become quite popular. ... But while simply pasting game mechanics—the ingredients that make games work—onto an existing system is great for short-term engagement, it will almost certainly lead to diminishing returns down the road. The core experience of an activity matters, and a veneer of gameplay isn’t going to change that.

Learning Machines

Human beings are learning machines. A game, at its core, is a kind of structured learning environment. In games, we learn two important things: new skills and new information.

That Learning Feeling

It’s hard to tell exactly when we’re learning. We have a sense that it’s happening, but it’s not a conscious process. We encounter something new, turn it over and over in our minds (or hands), and somehow, in the handling, it becomes our own. Mental connections are made, and we now possess something we didn’t before. Along the way, while we’re not aware of these connections being formed, we are aware of how we feel during this process. We feel riveted. We feel as if we’re “getting it.” We feel a sense of deep satisfaction.

Any new skill or nugget of information represents a puzzle to our brains, one we feel compelled to solve.

Who's in Charge Here?

In games, we control the action by making our own decisions. Without our input, most games simply stop. This kind of autonomy is incredibly empowering stuff, and it’s something sorely missing from the average person’s day. Control represents both the freedom to act and interact with the system, as well as our ability to manipulate the world around us.

(Montessori method: children are self-directed learners.)

Autonomy and control also play a role in creating a sense of self. A lack of control in any system creates frustration. Nothing is more bothersome than knowing what to do and not being able (or trusted) to do it.

Good Systems Create Flow

Human beings achieve a state of optimal experience when our skills are continually in balance with the challenges we face. This means that as we progress in any activity, we should be challenged just beyond the level of our abilities. This way, we have to grow ever so slightly to succeed. With each burst of growth, we reach ever higher for the next level.

Flow activities induce a state of mind classified by enjoyment, loss of time perception, and a suspension of self. We find ourselves so engaged, so in the experience, that we lose track of everything around us. Afterward, we feel an intense sense of exhilaration and accomplishment—a deep satisfaction with ourselves.

Great games of all kinds do an excellent job of structuring the grokking process. They provide us with what we crave: a set of escalating challenges, feedback on our progress, and the thrill of victory.

Some people do take low-challenge, low-control situations and turn them into wonderful experiences rich with engagement... by playing the unlikely role of game designer. If they happen to work the checkout counter as a cashier, they make a game of how many people they can get to smile, or how many sales they can complete in an hour. Every day they try to beat their record, and on days when they do, they up the ante. They create a satisfying and escalating challenge instead of waiting for one to be given to them, and this approach literally changes their lives.

Everyday Heroes

A radical simplification of the hero’s journey goes something like this: a “chosen” individual is called to higher purpose, is mentored by a wise elder, embarks on a quest, faces many trials, appears to perish but is reborn, confronts his nemesis, and emerges victorious. One of the reasons that we love games is because they instantly place us on our own hero’s journey, and from the comfort (and safety) of our living room. There’s something tremendously satisfying about playing out an archetypal struggle in which each of us, for the duration of the game at least, is the chosen one. Unlike so many other settings where seemingly meaningless and repetitive tasks frustrate us, in games we are at one with our story.

Level Two: Pervasivenes and Engagement of Games

(Part of the "why" of gamification: History of games; examples of how pervasive games are engaging us; etc.)

Level Three: The Neuroscience of Play (and Fun)

(Feeling good vs feeling motivated)

What Drives Us

To truly understand the brain chemistry involved in gameplay (or cupcakes for that matter), we need to understand the neurological difference between pleasure and desire. From a neuroscientist’s perspective, these are two very different things. The terms liking and wanting describe the processes behind pleasure and desire.

According to Berridge, there are certain hedonic hotspots located in a small part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. When we receive a reward, opioids and other brain chemicals are released to these hotspots and interact with the neurons there to, in Berridge’s words, “generate a ‘liking’ reaction—a sort of pleasure gloss or varnish.” Experiences that are pleasurable trigger this pleasure circuitry, which in turn tells us, “Hey, that really hits the spot.” Liking, then, in Berridge’s terms, is another word for pleasure.

Wanting, on the other hand, is primarily fueled by the neurotransmitter dopamine. Once thought to be the brain’s primary pleasure drug, dopamine is now understood to be much more active in regulating desire and motivation. According to Steven Johnson in Everything Bad Is Good for You, “The dopamine system is a kind of accountant: keeping track of expected rewards, and sending off an alert—in the form of lowered dopamine levels—when those rewards don’t arrive as promised.” When we don’t find what we’re looking for, lowered dopamine levels trigger that wanting sensation—and an invigorated search for the reward we’re craving. Seeking, a concept originated by Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, is synonymous with wanting. Panksepp uses the term to describe an emotional state of “eagerness and directed purpose.” This concept of seeking in the brain was developed by Panksepp over the course of several decades spent researching emotional systems in mammals. Essentially, seeking represents our will to act; it explains our most innate drive—that is, the will to wake up every morning and forage for survival. This instinct is not irreversible. In studies where dopamine neurons are destroyed, starving lab rats presented with food won’t even take two steps to eat it, because their wanting system—their motivational circuitry—is no longer functioning. Provided that the rats’ pleasure and consummatory pathways are still intact though, these same immobilized rodents will eat if food is placed directly in their mouths. Wanting and liking form a kind of symbiotic loop of motivation and satisfaction. Wanting drives us to pursue the object of our desire. Once we get it, our liking circuits, and the consummatory acts that stimulate them, inhibit our need to seek. This state of satisfaction and calm lasts until these inhibitors wear off, and then we start all over again.

Built to Play

If there’s a pattern to the rewards or surprises we encounter, our brain quickly recognizes it. Each time something good happens, neurons in our reward circuitry fire. Over time, though, a special group of prediction neurons start firing at the first sign that a reward is coming. The more these neurons fire together—the more repeatable the pattern—the more their synapses are strengthened. As they say, neurons that fire together wire together.

This hunt for patterns explains much about the gamer mindset, our Internet addiction, and flow. There is some evidence to suggest that our internal sense of time is also controlled by dopamine, which would explain why flow activities (including playing games) can create the illusion of time flying or standing still. The human brain is an unbelievably complex system that, for all our probing, still retains many mysteries. Even one small area, like the basal ganglia (which plays host to most of the phenomena we discussed here), operates through a tangled web of excitatory, inhibitory, and disinhibitory pathways across half a dozen functional parts. This stuff is anything but simple.

Play is a State of Mind

Interestingly, we can come to an activity emotionally ready to play, but an activity also has the ability to prompt a play state in us. For example, try playing dodgeball with your co-workers and remaining even-tempered and unexcited. As students of human behavior, the notion that an activity or stimulus can trigger our natural play response is important, and we’ll come back to it later.

Playing with Patterns

Play gives us a chance to hone what we do best (and what we most enjoy): noticing, deciphering, and mastering patterns.

Play is Learning

When we play against obstacles, we make an assumption about what might work, and then test our hypothesis. In this way, all play is an active hunt for a pattern—a hands-on way to train our brains. The uncertainty, resistance, and difficulty we face in different kinds of play create a unique kind of tension. And it’s this force that pushes back against our desires and forces us to figure out a way to succeed.

Tension permeates the experience of “probing,” a concept that has been discussed by professor James Paul Gee (an expert on games and learning) and Steven Johnson. Probing is simply the act of exploring an environment or phenomenon we don’t understand in an orderly way. Gee’s account of the probing process, in which he describes players hypothesizing about and testing their virtual environments, sounds incredibly similar to the process we employ in scientific research. Could it be that play is simply an emotionally charged expression of the scientific method? If so, then probing is our most natural learning mechanism. Play isn’t a way to make learning fun ... play is learning.

Play is Misunderstood

At some point in our past, we drew a line between work and play as if they were somehow exclusive concepts. Work is productive, play is frivolous. This may have been an important message when scolding factory workers during the Industrial Revolution, but it’s an inaccurate and counterproductive message today amidst the Digital Revolution. Play is an abundant energy source that powers all human potential. To tap into it, we need to define it, understand it, and respect it—all difficult activities in a culture that has relegated it to playgrounds and idle hands.

Defining Play

"Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside “ordinary” life as being “not serious” but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means."

“Play is the free space of movement within a more rigid structure.”

Putting the Fun in Play

Not surprisingly, play is fun. And fun is powerful. We all want to have it. If you think back to the best moments of your life, they will almost uniformly be defined by fun. ... We should consider fun as a means rather than an end. If that’s the case, then we should be able to have fun in a wide range of circumstances. We most certainly can. In fact, we need to. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, says it all, “People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun in what they are doing.”

Fun is Nature's Reward

Evolutionary psychology tells us that having fun increases our chances of survival. In attempting to explain the joy of being chased in sports like football or tag, Boston College Professor Peter Gray recalls the work of Karl Groos, a naturalist, who wrote The Play of Animals in 1898. Groos posited that young mammals who engage in games of chase derive great joy from the activity because repeated games of chase will prepare them for fleeing from predators. ... fun is nature’s reward for practicing survival skills.

Fun Can Be Hard

Hard fun suggests the distinction between fun as pleasure (a roller coaster ride), and fun as enjoyment (building a beautiful sand castle), in which the latter is clearly the hard fun. Hard fun has the potential to be infinitely more rewarding, and is the by-product of a well-designed game.

Level Four

Brain is particularly sensitive to novelty. In terms of novelty, games are incredibly rich territory. Good games give you countless features to unlock or discover, including new weapons, levels, etc. Beyond that, games unfold a narrative in which you are the protangonist--where your willingness to explore leads to more and more adventure. The ultimate surprise in gaming comes from achieving an "epic win": "An outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it."

Getting to Know Games

From "Rules to Play": "A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome."

A Game Demands Participation

Many forms of entertainment can be passively observed; games require participation to keep going.

A Game Can Be Played Again

Games are renewable. Each successive game will likely be more interesting than the last, due to ever-increasing skills and a heightened perception of the experience.

A Game is Understood Through Play

The only way to truly understand the game is to play it for yourself.

The Magic Circle

When we play games we enter an "alternative universe"; willing suspension of disbelief. This psychological space is known as the magic circle: a state of mind that you allow yourself to enter when you begin a game.

Why Do We Love Games?

Games can happen anywhere.

Games give us purpose.

We solve problems in games.

Games give us control.

Games show us progress.

We take risks in games.

Games let us face our fears.

Games give us the glory.

Games shift time.

Games bring us together.

What happens in games doesn't stay there.

Games represent what could be.

Level Five

Games are getting serious; getting developed in industries everywhere.

Data is everywhere, and leads to a lot of gamification.

Level Six

Rewards are a crutch. Turning play into work can create demotivation, called the overjustification effect. However, it's important to note that the kind of reward really does matter. While we usually conceive of rewards and prizes as things--objects with monetary or social value--many other outcomes can be viewed as rewards. Earning the right to make a decision can be a reward. Access to a new experience or opportunity counts too. Any outcome that is desirable to a person can be used as a reward to encourage specific behavior.

Level Seven

Grokking the systems that define our lives is the great task of all behavioral games. Good behavioral games, then, should reveal something fundamental about the underlying activities they're built around. Achieving this requires examining the structure of our own activities and experiences in more depth than ever before.

Level Eight

A behavioral game is made up of ten building blocks.

Activity: The activity in a behavioral game is the real-world endeavor that the game is built upon. Identifying an activity is as simple as finding an area of focus--something we want players to do more, better, or differently. Some good examples of activities include studying, exercising, cooking, painting, brainstorming, relaxing, and so on. Activities are verbs; they are the things we do.

Player profile: ... is a trait-baed description of the players in a behavioral game. Since we're attempting to influence specific players, the player profile offers us the information we need in the form of two key variables: drivers and symptoms. Drivers are psychological traits that help us understand which dynamics will motivate our players. [there are] four dyads against which players can be evaluated. Each one represents a continuum between two drivers that can increase or decrease volition and faculty. For the player profile we need to determine (by observation or inquiry) which end of the spectrum motivates our players most.

     * Achievement of goals vs. Enjoyment of experience
     * Structure and guidance vs Freedom to explore
     * Control of others vs. Acceptance of others
     * Self-interest in actions vs Social interest in actions

Achievement vs. enjoyment gets at the heart of how players evaluate an experience; is it the outcome or the process that matters?

Structure vs freedom tells us something about their learning style; do they want t master skills through instruction, or to figure things out for themselves?

Control vs. acceptance indicates how they define power; do they get it from dominion over others or from their connection to community?

Self-interest vs social-interest gives us clues about their idea of success; is it about their own progression, or overall progress?

Every player has a tendency toward one end of each dyad, and that tendency can inform the kind of dynamics we create in our behavior games. For instance, a player who prefers achievement and structure will probably respond quite wel to a competition with strict rules.

The other half of a player profile, the symptoms, are the topics of volition and faculty. A complete player profile will indicate whether one or both of these is a possible issue and how they are manifesting themselves. For example, a player low in faculty may appreciate a behavioral game with clear instructions and levels.

Objectives: are goals toward which effort is directed. There are two kinds of objectives in a behavioral game: short-term and long-term. A long-term goal is the ultimate objective, how we determine if and when the game has been won. Without a long-term goal, it would be unclear what we are trying to accomplish. Short-term goals are the things that must be accomplished along the way. In a complex game, they focus our efforts and give us a clear indication of what to do next. Success in short-term goals is both rewarding and motivating, and afterward players look confidently to the next challenge. In many cases where a behavior game is required, short-term and long-term objectives are not presently clear, and need to be made up together. A sound long-term goal should be an end-state desired by everyone involved: the players and the system in which they are playing. Beyond that, long-term goals have the potential to give players narrative context. If the ultimate objective is to put the competition out of business, then everything we do is in service of that rivalry.

Skills: are specialized abilities that we put to use in a behavioral game. By definition, skills are abilities that we can learn, and learning new skills os one of the most satisfying things that players can do. Skills come in many variations, but are easily divided into three categories: physical (skiing, running, using a chef's knife), mental (pattern recognition, memory, spatial logic) and social (presentation, conversations, and meeting new people). Behavioral game design requires that we're conscious of all three, and develop our chosen skills through play. What's more, behavioral game design ensures that the skills we develop in a game are useful and practical within the game itself--that in essence, improving our abilities unlocks features or experiences that we desire.

Resistance: is the force of opposition that creates tension in a behavioral game. One of the most counterintuitive things about games is that players don't like a sure thing. Playing a game we know we're going to win is no fun. To understand why, we have to recall that games are learning engines--not just pastimes--so what we expect from them above all is a chance to learn. Learning, by definition, is about growth. We grow by stretching our body and mind. If a game is guaranteed to go our way, then we don't need to stretch. We can simply watch things unfold. So then, behavioral games require some element of uncertainty to be engaging and to deliver on their promise. That uncertainty comes in many shapes and sizes, and is most aptly described as resistance. Two common forms of resistance are competition and chance. Competition pits players against one another, and chance subjects players to unpredictable circumstances. Every behavioral game has some form of resistance, and many variations of this important building block exist.

Resources: are the spaces and supplies that players use, or have the potential to acquire, in behavioral games. Traditional games often require material goods and spaces: pieces, cards, boards, courts, balls, ammunition, and anythign else required to play. Each of these objects has specific attributes (what it can do and what can be done with it) and states (active/inactive, etc). For our purposes, I've grouped all these necessary elements into the building block of resources. In a behavioral game focused on cooking, for example, resources might include a kitchen, kitchen utensils, a selection of ingredients, and recipe cards.

Actions: are the moves available to players in a behavioral game. This includes what they are allowed to do as well as the when, where, and how of those moves. Importantly, actions are inclusive of decisions and choices. In some games, simply making decisions is enough to propel the game along. In others, more active play is required. Actions are typically additive (do more work) which decisions can be additive or negative (decide to start or stop eating junk food). Actions influence the tone and style of a behavioral game, so we must choose them carefully.

Feedback: is a system response to a player's actions. Feedback comes in many different forms, ranging from data and information (such as a speedometer) to auditory stimulation (such as a room full of laughter). Without feedback, it would be completely unclear what effect (if any) our actions are having in a behavioral game. In this way, feedback is one of the broadest building blocks, representing every mechanism that can react to a player. Because feedback is our main method of evaluating our own performance, it has a strong relationship with our sense of faculty--if we're getting good feedback, we become more confident that we can achieve our objectives. Feedback can impact our sense of volition as well. If we experience a pattern of positive feedback, we often feel more motivated to continue. The feedback loop is a fundamental element in learning and making sense of hte world around us.

Black Box: is a rules engine within a behavioral game. Because behavioral games come in many forms, the black box could be a computer program or a document, or reside in the game designer's head. The important thing is that it contains all the information about the interplay between actions and feedback--a record of all possible if/then scenarios. The written instructions that come with a board game are a good example of this concept. In some behavioral games, the black box could be as simple as a few simple rules, in others, it could require serious technology. The Nike+ system illustrates the interplay between actions, feedback, and the black box nicely. In that system, the runner takes action by running at a certain pace. The system has the ability to provide feedback in the form of auditory encouragement, but the black box determines when it will actually play this audio.

Outcomes: are positive and negative results that occur while in pursuit of the ultimate objective in a behavioral game. Positive outcomes include tangible and intangible rewards such as moving up a level, while negative outcomes might be starting over or losing key resources. Outcomes are an important culmination of the more immediate feedback players have received, and mark a moment of relfection in any behavioral game.

How to put it all together:

Step one: Choose the Activity

Because we're focusing on practical applications of a game layer in our everyday lives, every behavioral game starts with an activity. The behavior you're trying to create is almost certainly related to an activity. Your job is to select that activity and design a game that will make it better. Remember, with behavioral games, it's not just what your players do, but how they do it.

Tips & tricks:

Step two: Create the Player Profile

To create a player profile, you need to get to know your players. You can do this in any number of ways. Sometimes it makes sense to survey them and get their personal perspective. Other times, observation is enough. Interviewing the people they spend time with can also be extremely informative. AT the end of the day, you need to be able to answer two fundamental questions: First, what is holding your player from achieving their potential? Is it the aforementioned lack of faculty or volition? Second, what are the drivers that motivate them (see the dyads, above)?

Tips & tricks:

Step three: Choose the Objectives

Remember the idea of the hero's journey? The objectives of a behavioral game are, in many ways, the basis of that quest. First off, your long-term goal must be compelling. Look at your activity and player profile, and consider the different sorts of ultimate objectives that might work. Remember, this could be the mastery of a skill, a new habit, an achievement, a title, or any other pinnacle of personal growth. Next, consider the short-term goals--the steps along the way. What must your players accomplish in order to reach the ultimate objective? How can you break the journey up into discrete and satisfying challenges that push your players and help them improve?

Tips & tricks:

Step four: Choose the Skill(s)

Skills are the heart of any behavioral game, and they are improved through its play. To define the skills that will be the basis of a behavioral game, consider what abilities are necessary to suceed in the endeavor. The activity and the objectives are a good place to start. Make a skills list, including anything you can think of that is relevant to your game across all three categories of skills (physical, mental and social). Examples of skills include prediction, survival, collecting, curating, pattern recognition, endurance, time management, trading, racing and literally thousands of others. An interesting subset is "twitch" skills, which are very common in games. These include any reflex-driven activity, from skeet shooting to trivia. A simple behavioral game might be based on only one core skill, while the activity itself involves several other skills that are not measured within the game. This is okay. Your design determines what skills are the focus. A more complex behavioral game may include three or more skills. Remember, though, the more skills you include, the more complex your design will have to be to accommodate them.

Tips & tricks:

Step five: Choose the Resistance

Good games are inherently uncertain. As a behavioral game designer, you get to determine what kind of uncertainty your players will have to overcome. Remember, resistance is a balancing act. You're trying to create an experience that keeps players in a state of flow, where their skills and the challenges they face are matched--stretching them just enough to develop those skills and learn something new. Too much resistance, and the game is frustrating and disheartening. Too little, and it's boring. Because resistance is an overarching part of the experience, it often interacts with other building blocks to serve its purpose. For example, a game may use scarcity (a form of resistance) to limit the resources available to players. Because of this, designing the resistance in a behavioral game is one of the most difficult and sophisticated parts of the process. The tension that a behavioral game creates, and the relief that comes from conquering that resistance, is the delicate dance you must orchestrate.

Tips & tricks:

Step six: Choose the Resources

Every game requires certain supplies in order to be played, and other optional resources can make things even more interesting. The options for action available to players increase in proportion to the resources available to them. Playing soccer with three balls would radically alter the choices available to the players. To choose the resources for your behavioral game, think about the basic supplies required for the activity you've chosen. Are they all necessary to build the skills you selected? Are there any you can take away? Build a basic supplies list. Next, think about what could help your players along in their quest. What would introduce new dynamics into the game? What would appeal to their player profile?

Tips & tricks:

Step seven: Define the Skill Cycle(s)

For players to learn or improve a skill in a behavioral game, that skill needs to be put into practice. Skill cycles are the way we accomplish this--an articulation of what it means to actually play the game. A skill cycle is much like a "round" in a normal game, and it's made up of all the central building blocks in the Game Frame: actions, black box, feedback, skills, resources, and resistance.

A skill cycle is one "period" during which actions are taken and feedback is delivered. Depending on the nature of the activity, this period could last one minute or one month. Ideally, a skill cycle should adopt the interval that best demonstrates the skill put to good use. In specifying a skill cycle, you are essentially explaining the "rules of play" to your players, which is why this step is most heavily related to the black box. The skill cycle is the general outline of how the game is played, what options for action are available to them, and what feedback they'll receive. The feedback that is provided must be tailored to the challenge at hand. A chef preparing a meal likely doesn't need feedback on average knife speed, but could definitely use a temperature readout on the stove. In a behavioral game where a desired action is arriving to work on time, the designer will have to account for how to respond to someone being late. In order to make sure a behavioral game achieves its purpose, defining a skill cycle for every chosen skill in the game is recommended.

Tips & tricks:

Step eight: Choose the Outcomes

Every game has outcomes that occur en route to victory. The ultimate objective may take weeks, months, or even years to achieve, but along the way, players need to see and feel incremental successes and failures. Outcomes allow this. In terms of design, outcomes are related to short-term goals. If a short-term goal is accomplished or an opportunity missed, an outcome can drive the learning home. In many cases, outcomes take the form of rewards (tangible or intangible), but outcomes can actually be positive or negative. Our players may experience setbacks in their quest; sometimes they'll have to press reset and start over. If all the outcomes in a behavioral game are positive, uncertainty goes down (and takes learning with it).

Tips & tricks:

Step nine: Play-test and Polish

With the pieces of your behavioral game now in place, it's time to put it through the paces. What's working about it? What isn't? What are the risks if it backfires? What's going to keep it interesting in ten weeks' time? What have you not considered? Remember, your goal here is an elegant and engaging structured learning experience. When done right, radically simple or embedded behavioral games may be so natural and fluid that your players don't even know they're playing. They may simply assume that "this is the way things work", or be sucked in by a particularly engaging skill cycle, and never question why. The military, which benefits from many game mechanics, is a perfect example of this.

Tips & tricks:

Level Nine: Building Blocks

The building blocks of behavioral games come in many shapes and sizes. One game’s form of resistance is chance, while another’s is competition. In assembling these profiles I was surprised to find that certain building blocks, namely resistance, feedback, and resources, benefit from more variety of form than all the others combined. Some, such as activity, player profile, skills, and the black box, have been omitted entirely, as they are typically too bespoke to be useful as thought-starters.


(In Other Words: Benchmark, Bull’s-eye, Quota)

A target is a fixed goal, something specific we can aim for. Targets are typically spatial, as in a bull’s-eye or basketball hoop, but can also be quantifiable, as in a revenue goal or speed record. As a form of the objectives building block, targets can be either short-term or long-term in nature. In general, they tend to be more concrete than other goals. Skill cycles are often structured around short-term goals designed to be achieved within that time frame. We should focus on those targets that can fit into our skill cycles most readily.

A lack of targets leads to aimless activity and confusion about degrees of success. When games don’t offer us a clear idea of what precise performance looks like, we play with less purpose.

Why Targets Work: Targets seem to activate a primal desire within us—to hunt and pursue something we desire. The presence of anything that stands out is enough to trigger that impulse. Concentration and commitment to an objective are quite beneficial traits for a hunter/gatherer. Until recently, humans had to find (and in some cases subdue) the food we ate. That required a specialized focus that is not unique to us. Many species (including house cats) prowl, stalk, scavenge, and hunt. In the modern world, that pursuit can be focused on more abstract prey. A sales target isn’t a buffalo, but it does put food on the table.

Instructions for Designing with Targets Designing a behavioral game with targets is no different from working with any other objective. But with targets, you should be thinking about how that objective is presented. Is it visual? Is it quantifiable? Does it stand out? In fundraising, organizations don’t just mention their sponsorship goal, they put a thermometer on the wall and watch it fill up. People going out to meet someone special don’t wear nondescript clothing, they try to stand out and become a target. Think about the objectives in your game, then try to make them more specific, more in your face, and more taunting. Your players will fixate on them.


(In Other Words: Rivalry, Opponent, Adversary)

Competition is a manifestation of the natural rivalry created when people and organizations clash over common desires. Competition is a dynamic that often produces a distinct feeling of motivation and aggression. The vast majority of the sports world is built on it. Competition also shows up in the workplace, where employees struggle to climb the corporate ladder, often at the expense of their peers. While many emotions are uniformly characterized as positive or negative, competitiveness is unique in that it can be viewed as constructive or destructive depending on the attitude and sportsmanship behind it. A lack of competition can lead to confusion about what it means to win, and a loss of intensity in the activity itself. The presence of competition is often necessary to create and maintain a benchmark of success or quality.

Why Competition Works: Having evolved in an environment that promotes survival of the fittest, we have a unique sensitivity to competition; any chance to prove ourselves as skilled and worthy should be taken. In the early days of our existence, human beings without the will to win didn’t last long. Today, our competitive instinct is like any other natural impulse: given the right trigger, we start it up. Rivalry is such a strong cultural force that it can transcend generations in sports and, unfortunately, war.

Instructions for Designing with Competition: Ensure that your competition is structured fairly, and that the rules of engagement are clear and understood by everyone. Lack of clarity in highly competitive environments can lead to unpredictable behavior and a lack of trust in the system. Remember that competition manifests differently in different people. While some players are obvious in their will to win, others may satisfy that desire with more subtle means. Consider what kind of competition makes the most sense for your game and players.


(In Other Words: Randomness, Fortune, Luck)

Chance is one of the oldest and most powerful forms of resistance. Since the early days of our species, humans have looked up to the heavens and wondered why things unfold the way they do. Why does fortune favor some and not others? So many of our cultural traditions, from rain dances to lucky numbers, exist as our attempt to influence fate. Chance can be implemented simply by introducing randomness and probability into a system. A lack of chance can lead to predictability and boredom. The mere possibility of a random occurrence raises our alertness. Once we know that chance isn’t playing a role, we settle into the routine that best serves our purposes.

Why Chance Works: Our learning circuitry doesn’t discriminate between experiences, so we view systems governed by randomness with the same scrutiny we apply to any novelty. After the surprise of winning money on a spin at the roulette table, our brain’s pleasure centers light up, desperately seeking to explain why that happened, and how we can make it happen again. So, we lay out more money. We obsess over the game. We study it for patterns. We see ten black numbers in a row and think it’s got to be red this time. Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat started corresponding about the theory of probability in 1654. Over 350 years have passed, and you can still find people crowded around games of chance trying to figure out “a system.” Although everyone is somewhat captivated by chance, there is variance in what kind of risks we’re willing to take. Recent studies with rats suggest that deficiencies in neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can lead humans to be more susceptible to gambling addiction.

Instructions for Designing with Chance: When designing a behavioral game that needs moments of excitement, consider using chance as a spice, peppered across the experience to keep things interesting. While on a diet, you might pack five brown bag lunches for the week and drop a candy bar in two of them. Consider that chance can also randomize repetitive experiences. Instead of the same staff meeting topics every week, you could have a bowl filled with the options that you draw from at random. In general, it’s a good idea to pair chance with mechanics that focus on the development of skills, since chance never will.

Time Pressure

(In Other Words: Urgency, Countdown, Timer)

Time is fundamental to the human experience—it is the unit by which we measure the constant change of the world around us. But time is also elastic. We’re not always aware of it, and in fact, as we have seen, certain activities can make it seem longer or shorter. Clocks, too, if we use them correctly, can make activities seem longer or shorter, and more or less intense. Time can easily be used as a resource or a form of feedback within a game, but it most often represents a form of resistance. It can be used to determine when the game takes place, and how long it (or a part of it) will last. This in turn has a huge impact on how we approach activities within the game. With limitless time to play, we lean back and explore. With time running out, we jump in and take brash action. Some games allow time to pass even as players are away, creating a sense of urgency to return to the system and tend to one’s affairs. A lack of time pressure in a game creates a casual pace, and asks players to regulate their own momentum. This can result in rich relaxed play, or a sense of aimlessness.

Why Time Pressure Works: As any good procrastinator will tell you, time pressure is the easiest way to create urgency. There is some evidence to suggest that the same neurotransmitters that regulate seeking behavior also regulate our sense of time. Time flies when you’re having fun, and fun is flow. When we focus intently, our perception of time can slow or speed up depending on the situation. When the system we’re playing limits time, it’s possible that we shift into focus mode more readily because of this association between time and seeking. While the science may not be clear-cut, we know that having more or less time affects behavior and perception, immediately and broadly.

Instructions for Designing with Time Pressure: Use time pressure whenever you need to create a sense of urgency or, in cases where time is already limited and you plan to open it up, a sense of exploration. Think about how to display time—as a clock, a countdown, a rating of average time (as in the case of Target), or another method altogether. Consider what you are asking players to do within their allotted time, and how that expectation maps to reality. With longer time frames, such as the eight-hour workday, consider how to break the time up and create multiple waves of engagement around specific activities.


(In Other Words: Limited, Collectible, Rare)

Scarcity is a lack of supply, a familiar concept to anyone who has studied modern economics. When the supply of a desired resource is low, demand goes up. The same is true in behavioral games. Anything quantifiable that players have to manage within a game could be made scarce. In some cases that could mean weapons and ammunition; in others, it might mean water or food supplies. Features and functionality of equipment and software count too. Some resources can be initially unavailable and be unlocked or obtained through exploration and experience. Scarcity in a game demands that players make careful choices about which resources they’ll use, retain, pursue, collect, or ignore.

A lack of scarcity can lead to an experience that is too easy. A sailboat equipped with plentiful features like automatic navigation and sails is not going to demand your full attention. In terms of flow, this virtually ensures boredom.

Why Scarcity Works: Scarcity is often associated with things of real value—food, shelter, mates, and other natural resources that are not available abundantly. As a result, when anything is scarce, our first instinct is to assume it has some kind of value. That’s why we often see irrational behavior in the midst of scarcity. We also attempt to reduce scarcity by collecting. As hunter gatherers, we innately understand the value of building up a collection. Collecting and managing resources has many survival benefits, and we’re naturals at both. Additionally, by forcing us to make choices about limited resources, behavioral games make those decisions meaningful.

Instructions for Designing with Scarcity: Scarcity is good for adding an element of competition in a multiplayer system, or adding an element of strategy and control in a single player system. Think about what your players need to accomplish their goals. Think about how you can take away resources and make them available through gameplay. Consider that scarcity is an invitation to explore, assuming that additional resources are out there. Remember that something as simple taking turns is a kind of scarcity. Each player has one chance to act in each round of play and must make the most of it. Anything that is necessary or helpful that can be limited can be made scarce. Now you must decide if and how players will get access to those resources. In many games, additional resources are offered at the end of a level or round of play, turning scarce items into rewards.


(In Other Words: Mysteries, Patterns, Hints)

Puzzles are problems that promise the existence of a solution. In some ways, they satiate our desire to repeat the kind of perplexing experiences we encounter in real life. From birth, we are puzzled by countless interactions. How do I walk? How do I open the door? And one of the grandest puzzles of all: what is everyone saying and how do I communicate with them? The problem-solving skills that come from all this bewilderment serve us for the rest of our lives. Of course, puzzles come in too many forms to name—patterns, mazes, word games, plot twists—their common element being the existence of a solution, realization, prediction, or understanding. Because puzzles promise a solution while real world challenges offer us no such favor, we relish the chance to attack them.

A lack of puzzles reduces the chance for structured discovery, which can negatively impact volition. Why continue when no new realizations await? Also, the absence of puzzles can reduce engagement. It’s too easy to get distracted when there’s nothing to solve for. In the broadest sense then, a puzzle-free system or experience is a kind of shallow entertainment, and not really a game at all.

Why Puzzles Work: Puzzles are driven by the same cognitive processes we’ve already examined. The exhilaration of grokking a difficult puzzle, cracking a code, or finding an Easter egg lights up the reward circuitry in our brains. The fact that puzzles and other similarly designed experiences have a guaranteed solution drives even deeper engagement, since we needn’t worry about the futility of the activity. There is an answer; we need only to find it.

Instructions for Designing with Puzzles: Most of the activities and skills that make up behavioral games have puzzles built right in. Learning to make a dress, for example, is a kind of puzzle. How you cut a pattern, and connect the pieces of that garment takes some figuring out. When designing a behavioral game, you can begin by improving the existing puzzles inherent in the activity. How can you make them clearer, more engaging, and more fun? Beyond that, you can use puzzles as a way to unlock new and different experiences within your game. Limited information can be a kind of puzzle. When players don’t have all the information they need to make a decision or take action, they have to fill in the pieces. Puzzles are a test bed for creating the flow dynamic between challenge and skills. Attempting to solve a puzzle for which you do not have the skills or tools can lead to rapid demotivation. Always pair a challenge with your players’ abilities to create the perfect amount of tension.


(In Other Words: Surprises, Changes, Curiosities)

Novelty, the presence of anything new, is something our brains crave. As a form of resistance, novelty can have positive or negative effects, depending on the attitude of the players and the nature of what is being introduced. In general, people like to stick to a routine. We get stuck in our ways (and worldview) because we are “cognitive misers” and expending extra energy making sense of needless change is disadvantageous. But that dynamic can be turned on its head when change is something we have to process to achieve our goals. Then, the novelty is fascinating. Our bodies respond well to change too—interval training has shown that we respond more positively to different patterns of exercise than repetitive workouts. Novelty comes in many forms, including changes of scenery, patterns, processes, activities, and resources.

A lack of novelty leads to boredom. Change presents a new set of challenges and patterns, which in turn leads to flow and a sense of purpose. We’re not always prepared for it, but we achieve an optimal state of mind when dealing with it.

Why Novelty Works: We’re surprised and perplexed when something doesn’t match with our current worldview or our understanding of a system. That feeling represents an opportunity to learn something new and potentially beneficial about our environment. Therefore, our brains prioritize and reward novelty when we encounter it. It makes perfect sense, then, that routine change deployed within a system creates habitual behavior. Recent analysis of our addiction to email and web surfing has shown that these systems offer us a constant stream of new information and content, something our brains mistake as continually important (it may or may not be). These digital nuggets are triggering our seeking instinct.

Instructions for Designing with Novelty: To use novelty within a behavioral game, think about the day-to-day experience you're developing. What about it is stale? What about it is static but needn't be? Use novelty sparingly to challenge the assumptions of your players, give them new options, tools, and resources, and keep the experience fresh. Remember that today's digital culture has acclimated us to a pace of change that is hard to satisfy. To create a truly engaging experience, you'll be fighting for attention with all of the content the Internet has to offer. Consider letting your players dictate the pace of change by interacting with the system. Can you allow them to indicate when they want more novelty? Finally remember that amidst too much change, players may become uncomfortable and search for something to ground themselves. Experiment with the right amount of change for your players.


(In Other Words: Stages, Areas, Domains)

levels are hierarchical and bounded domains in which we play. They also signify ability and access, because they are graduated and require qualification to move among them. As individuals level up in a system, they get to enjoy a new set of challenges, abilities, and areas to explore. A twelfth grader has access to twelfth grade classes, activities, and privileges, while younger students do not. From a behavioral games perspective, we view levels as discrete challenges designed to move someone from a low degree of skill to a high one. Levels make an experience manageable, and isolate growth opportunities so that players can tackle challenges one at a time. If a new graduate was immediately given the full responsibilities of the CEO, she would surely experience anxiety and a sense of diminished faculty (a phenomenon we do se at some startups). By dividing the acquisition of those skills into several levels, the system of a business becomes more manageable.

A lack of levels can make acquiring skills a chaotic process, and confuse players about the direction they're supposed to be heading. Even a pause in the activity--some division between levels--allows players a chance to assimilate what they've learned.

Why Levels Work: Levels work by focusing our attention on a defined area of exploration. Moving beyond or beating a level requires specific knowledge and skills. The promise of a next level where any number of novelties await us, along with any rewards we might receive for leveling up, is enough to trigger our desire. The feeling of using skills that we already heave, coupled with the development of new ones, is infectious. Levels also help with issues of faculty, by providing a clear roadmap for progress. Don't worry about anything else, just focus on beating level one.

Instructions for Designing with Levels: To use levels effectively, think about the skills that need to be developed over the course of your behavioral game. What do players need to be able to do at the highest level? Now examine how you might break up the challenges that are part of improving these skills. If you can create tiers of meaningful and clear challenge, and control access to these tiers, you'll have a good level system in place. In golf lessons for example, it's not uncommon to start beginners off with just a seven-iron and a putter. Once comfortable wht these basics, players can level up to add clubs to their bag to take on the additional complexity and challenge of selecting and hitting with different clubs. Keep in mind, though, that some experiences require a broader palette of choices to be fun (painting with one color is not very exciting), so make sure that your first level is interesting from the outset.

Social Pressure

(In Other Words: Peer Pressure, Obligation, Conformity)

Social pressure is a form of influence exerted by the people around us. Our desire to belong is one of the strongest human emotions, and so we're often acutely aware of what is expected of us. To be a part of the group means members must meet some basic criteria and accepted norms. These criteria may evolve or change based on the needs of the group or the world at large. Manifestations of these norms vary widely. We also pay strict attention to the movements and patterns of the herd. What the majority of us do must be right. This idea is often referred to as "social proof". For example, it's totally normal to assume that a fully booked restaurant must be delicious.

A lack of social pressure leads to a lack of obligation or belonging. However, the world is full of people, and any hint of social scrutiny will alter behavior, whether it's a function of a game or not.

Why Social Pressure Works: Our survival is more likely if we operate in the company of others who are working to ensure our health and safety. Our brain has evolved to help us interact with and understand other people. You need only to ask a seventh grader why "fitting in" is important to understand how basic this drive is. Playing in the company of others triggers a type of self-awareness that has developed over thousands of years filled with social dynamics. In general, we're very concerned about what other people are doing, and how they're perceiving us. THis is known as the Hawthorne effect, a theory that people adjust their behavior to conform to the expectations or norms of the people around them. For example, a recent GameSpy report showed that the more friends someone has in a game, the less likely they are to cheat.

Instructions for Designing with Social Pressure: You can use social pressure to promote certain behavior norms, encourage achievement, or create aspirational energy within a system Think about the various ways you can bring social pressure to life--from group feedback to public activity. Anything that makes players feel like they are part of something or desire to be part of something is useful. Make sure that there is a clear group identity--some invisible threshold that keeps it together.


(In Other Words: Collaboration, Cooperation, Co-Creation)

Teamwork is the act of more than one player working together toward a common goal. Although typically promoted as a positive and helpful dynamic, teamwork can also act as a form of resistance, because other people represent a force outside our control. The benefits of collaboration are many, but before they can be realized, a team must learn how to work together. This process can be frustrating and challenging (as in a three-legged race) but also produce great results. Friction within teams happens routinely in sports, but also in business and online social platforms. In working together, we are subjective to the input, actions, and desires of other players, which influences our approach to the game. Our input, actions, and desires in turn influence them. Collaborative processes are often iterative and unstructured, allowing recombinant thinking and incongruent feedback to guide us to new heights. Recently, collaborative problem solving has been enabled online such that hundreds or thousands of participants can work together--giving rise to the notions of crowd intelligence.

A lack of collaboration and teamwork can lead to isolation, and a slower learning curve over the long term. Without the help of co-conspirators to guide our growth, we have to rely on the system alone to mold our thoughts and actions.

Why Teamwork Works: When we share common goals, we share success. But when we have to count on the performance of others, this creates tension. Before we can benefit from having a team, we have to build trust and fluid communication. Having a chance to explain our approach (and hear theirs), increases our sense of faculty. Once committed to a plan, knowing that other people are counting on us creates a strong sense of urgency and accountability.

Instructions for Designing with Teamwork: Using teamwork in a behavioral game requires that you have multiple players trying to accomplish the same objective, and that working together is required to succeed. Remember, teamwork is not just support, it's conflict. Consider how you can force players to confront their communication gap and find new ways to achieve their individual and collective objectives.


(In Other Words: Economy, Marketplace, Exchange)

Currency is a medium of exchange. It's a way of standardizing value so that players can trade goods, services, and rights with each other, or the game itself. The concept of currency is quite familiar to us, since our real-world economy is itself built around it. This economy has taught us that currency is representative of value, but not static; it can become more or less valuable in different circumstances. No matter where we are (real or virtual), the basic economic principles of currency still apply. Anything that can be exchanged for something of value will be collected and attended to.

Without a common currency, conducting any kind of business can be difficult. Absent any clear mechanism for earning, buying, or trading what seem to be important resources in the game, many players will suffer a crisis of faculty, and disassociate entirely.

Why Currency Works: Currency works out of necessity. In a culture of specialize trades--where one person raises cattle and another grows grain--a system of exchange becomes a requirement. One person may not need the assets of another, but everyone's assets need a market value for fair trade. A currency simplifies our desire to possess and experience many things; all things can be bought with money.

Instructions for Designing with Currency: Currency works best when you have levels or resources that players want to access. To use a currency, determine whether it will be physical or virtual, what the exchange rate will be, and how it will be used. Like any form of reinforcement, currency can be positive or negative (players can buy things they like, or pay to avoid things they don't). Keep in mind that showing the rate of exchange for a unit of currency can sometimes hurt you--when credit cards started blatantly showing the cash value of their loyalty points, those points lost some of their luster. Our rational side can always calculate their true value, but our inner player is happy to toil away without destroying this illusion. What's most important in deploying currency is ensuring that it is used in service of a larger goal or purpos, and not just to create a secondary economy.


(In Other Words: Regeneration, Iteration, Boost)

Renewal is a process of replenishment. One of the most wondrous and powerful things about games is that you can start over. You can try and fail, and try again. You can die and be reborn. You can risk it all, and still have fun. Games have all kinds of devices for allowing us to regenerate and renew. They have discoverable resources known as "power-ups", which replenish our hit points, life force, mana, or whatever the measure of our vitality might be. Action games sometimes feature auto-regenerative health, where simply surviving for a certain amount of time allows you to grow stronger. And innumerable games offer us some way to earn extra lives or chances to succeed. Games give us room to fail, and even if they limit us with some scarcity (three lives per game for instance), this room allows us to stretch and grow unencumbered.

A lack of renewal can make things too serious--even read. Most situations where we're not allowed mistakes have serious consequences. Unfortunately, if you fail in college, you're out. If you fail at work, you're fired. No do-overs. Which is unfortunate, because do-overs are exactly what we need to develop complex skills.

Why Renewal Works: Renewal is a basic principle of life. Healing, sleeping, and seasons are based on the notion that life can rebuild. What's interesting about the idea of renewal in games is that additional lives and chances to play are just about continuing the game experience. This is why they're not really rewards; they're resources that give us permission to continue. And yet, we strive for them. Sadly, in real world environments, you seldom see this kind of behavior. No one is trying to earn an extra work day, likely because they don't want to be there.

Instructions for Designing with Renewal: Consider the resources that are required in your system. Think about the ways that players can fail, or hit a dead end. Then create a way for your players to begin again. Remember that renewal does not have to be infinite. Even a second chance can help. Your system is balanced when the renewal encourages players without providing them undue advantage.

Forced Decisions

(In Other Words: Choice, Preference, Judgment)

Forced decisions are choices that have to be made to continue an activity. Games do a great job at creating these moments. Unlike so many experiences in life where it's unclear what our options are, games communicate choices and options constantly. Perhaps a path or route must be chosen. Or we have to decide whether to stay and fight, or escape and battle another day. In these cases, we can quickly determine the available options, deliberate, and make our choice. If we don't, the action stops, or worse, we lose. In many board games and social games too, the concept of taking turns is a mechanic for forcing decisions. It's your turn, and it's time to make something happen.

A lack of decisions and choices can leave players feeling powerless. If they can't make choices, the activity may not be a game at all. Books and movies differ strongly from games in this regard: nothing you decide is going to change how the movie ends. A cliffhanger ending, where the story is finished in the imagination of the audience, is a popular excption to this rule.

Why Forced Decisions Work: Forced decisions have two benefits that align well with our psychological needs and tendencies. First, having a choice can increase feelings of control and intrinsic motivation, enhancing our sense of self. The person making the decision has power, even if the choice itself is an imposition. Second, studies show that simply offering a choice between two positive altneratives can increase the response rate to one of them. Meaning, if you ask your kids if they want fruit with dinner, the answer will be no more often than if you ask them to choose between apples and orages.

Instructions for Designing with Forced Decisions: All games have decisions and choices: the question is when a forced decision will make a better behavioral game. Begin by outlining the major decisions that occur within your skill cycle, and think about how and when those decisions come about. Are key decisions being delayed or avoided? Are there new choices or tradeoffs you could be presenting to your players? Attempt to accelerate your game by forcing choices and note how this effects the dynamics of the experience so you can refine it later.


(In Other Words: Information, Results, Indicators)

Data is information in visible form. From raw numeric information to rich visualization, data reveal the hidden math behind our world. In any system, information related to our actions helps us make decisions and adjust our behavior.

A lack of data can lead to confusion about the state of things in a system, and can affect a person's play style. The less data we have, the more anxious we become; our sense of control erodes as we question our ability to succeed.

Why Data Works: As we learned in our examination of the brain at play, our natural learning mechanism is very similar to that of the scientific method--we hypothesize, test, and interpret results to augment our theories. This process is how we make sense of the world around us. Without data and information we lack the ability to formulate new hypotheses, take new action, or refine our skills. Each bit of feedback is a novel and important experience to our brains, especially if the actions we're taking are deemed integral to achieving our goals.

Instructions for Designing with Data: Data should be employed in any instance where players are taking action and awaiting a system response. In designing a behavioral game, data and visual feedback are great places to start your creative process. Based on the desired behaviors that you're trying to encourage, think about what sorts of feedback would be most helpful or encouraging. What kind of information has never been available before? Now supply that information, in as close to real time as possible. THink about how to display that information in a simple and intuitive way. Remember though, that data can also backfire, as it may cause players to game the system, or reveal too much about how the system works. Consider how your game can share key information but not reveal all its secrets.


(In Other Words: Steps, Meters, Percentages)

Progress is a specialized form of feedback in which a system plots a player's progress along a defined path or process. Anyone who has installed software on a home computer should be quite familiar with progress bars. Progress bars that show percentages for completion are a popular form, but any indication that a player is moving toward a goal counts.

One common complaint among Generation Y workis is that their progress in the workplace is so unclear. After putting in a solid year of long hours, are they 50 percent cloer to promotion? 90 percent? For these natural gamers, not knowing where they stand is the worst kind of limbo.

Why Progress Works: Progress is a powerful indication that we're growing and developing. From an evolutionary perspective, it's advantageous to be addicted to progress--we never rest on our laurels. However, in many settings, progress is hard to detect, which often leads to demotivation. By making a goal apparent and showing us that we're moving, progress indicators add gas to our internal fire.

Additionally, showing that we've completed some percentage of a process can lead to loss aversion when people consider leaving that endeavor. "Well, I've already gone this far, why stop now?"

Instructions for Designing with Progress: Using a progress indicator makes sense whenever you have a process or series of stages that you want your players to pursue. This is also ideal in situations where you don't want your players to leave mid-process. Be sure that the progress is shown in a highly visual and highly visible manner. Progress can be communicated in terms of percentages, days remaining, or almost any unit of measurement, as long as an end goal is in sight. Consider confronting players with their current progress at regular intervals.


(In Other Words: Scores, Ratings, Grades)

Points are a unit of measurement for performance--a specialized kind of data awarded within a game. Points give players a clear indication of what is valued by the system, and the relative importance of individual behaviors. In a point system, as the action unfolds, or at the conclusion of a session of action, points are awarded. Based on this, players will evaluate their performance and the performance of others. Points, at least from a game design perspective, are not exchangeable for anything of value inside or outside the game. In most sporting events, however, points are the sole means of determining the winner. There are points awarded by a system, and points awarded by other players (often referred to as "reputation"). Point totals are often referred to as scores, and can even be elevated to legend (e.g., world record for all-time home runs).

A lack of points can make individual actions seem less valuagle, or disguise the actions that matter most. Points in any form tend to amplify or enable other elements like currency, levels, and competition.

Why Points Work: Points have a magical effect on the brain. We see them as a reward, even when they're worthless, because they are a form of validation. Points represent an abstraction of value, and so we often act irrationally when points are in the mix. In one study, researchers found that people attempted to win an undesirable ice cream flavor, simply because it was associated with a higher score than the flavor they preferred. Keep in mind that since raw points don't translate into tangible rewards (although they can easily be turned into a currency), much of the success of a points system comes from the social status that points imply.

Instructions for Designing with Points: Points are great in any game that offers a variety of actions. When building a point system, determine what the possible actions are, and then how much each is worth. Think about how quickly you'll be able to award points to players, and whether an automated point system is necessary. Alternatively, consider that points often lead to competition and point-seeking behavior, so deploy them carefully and reevaluate often.


(In Other Words: Stimulation, Motion, Touch)

Good games make use of all of our senses, and being physical creatures, many of the most satisfying experiences we have involve sensation. Be it the rust of a roller coaster or the feelings of hitting a golf ball, these activities are fun by virtue of the feelings they bring out in us. Physical intensity can trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, which in turn create a pleasurable state of arousal. As a result, a sense of movement, vertigo, or any novel stimulus can quickly engage us. In terms of behavioral game design, we can assume that playing off any of our senses could represent powerful feedback. In some cases, sensation itself can be mimicked. Just seeing something associated with a physical sensation can trigger mirror neurons, suspension of disbelief, and all the feelings that you'd expect from the real thing. That's why simulators are so much fun.

Systems that lack sensation can feel flat and one-dimensional. Players may engage, but they'll never feel the sense of heightened emotion that comes from a richer sensory experience.

Why Sensation Works: We like to feel good, and sensations that make us feel that way are highly sought after. From the satisfaction of popping a bubble to the exhilaration of sky diving, our sensory interactions with the world around us arouse our brains--releasing adrenaline and other neurotransmitters--and engage us in the moment.

Instructions for Designing with Sensation: Sensation works well when players need to reinvigorated or refocused on the task at hand. To use sensation in a behavioral game, consider the environment and the kind of sensation that would be most surprising, satisfying, or exhilarating. Consider sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Remember that people interpret sensation differently, and have different thresholds for comfort, so choose something that will work across the board.


(In Other Words: Achievements, Badges, Awards)

Recognition is an acknowledgemnt that conveys our approval. Whether it be a blue ribbon, a badge, a plaque on the wall, or a pink Mary Kay Cadillac, public recognition is a powerful thing. While recognition can certainly come from the system iteself, it is the sharing of that achievement that gives it significance. We need to share our victories and be recognized by our peers. That's why gamers are constantly showing off their recent successes. In response, games have evolved to include instant replays and visible signs of past accomplishments. Xbox achievements grew into a social phenomenon on the back of this dynamic as well.

A lack of recognition can result in reduced motivation and a sense of isolation. As a social and tribal organism, we must translate our accomplishments back to the group and determine what they might mean for our status within it.

Why Recognition Works: When other people in our social circle pay attention to us, our brains release dopamine and endorphins, signaling a reward. In nature, having the admiration and attention of others is a sure sign that we've done something significant and raised our standing with the tribe. An achievement alone is significant, but when coupled with some kind of token or symbol, and given in a public way, that achievement provides a deep satisfaction of our innate desire for status.

Instructions for Designing with Recognition: Although the token of recognition may be a badge or trophy, the public display or presentation of that award is extremely important, as we've covered. Think about the kinds of behavior and accomplishments you want to reward--they should be ones that you want to see repeated. Remember, recognition should stimulate further development, not stunt it by communicating a sense of completion. In this way, a Boy Scout merit badge is better than an Eagle Scout certificate. Consider that while players love to be recognized, they also like to offer praise to others. By building in mechanisms for reciprocation, you set everyone up to grow.


(In Other Words: Rank, Class, Reputation)

Status is the manifestation of power and respect in a social group. It represents the kind of basic hierarchy that helps us create social order. Nearly everywhere you look, you'll see social status in action. The military calls it rank. Business calls it position or title. Students are defined by grade: eighth graders, ninth graders, and so on. Status comes in so many variations that it can be hard to recognize. But rest assured, whenever there is a hierarchy of experience, power, opportunity, or responsibility, you can be sure status is present. As you'd suspect, status and levels go hand in hand, but are distinct from each other. Levels refer to new challenges and areas within a system. Status refers to facult, power, and reputation within a system, and among other players. Higher-status players get to do more, see more, and have more. In this way status and levels are symbiotic: the status or rank that players have achieved indicates the level they're currently exploring.

A lack of status among players can lead to confusion about roles and authority. It can also inhibit the spread of knowledge, as the players who know how to progress are harder to identify.

Why Status Works: Status is part of our wiring as tribal animals. In the wild it's important to know where we stand. Status works because it offers us a kind of shorthand for cataloging the people and experiences around us. Once we know their level of status, we know a lot about what they can do for us, and how we should interact with them.

Instructions for Designing with Status: Use status when you're working on an activity in which power is an incentive. What is status is good for in your game? What rights or opportunities does it afford? Consider that upper limits on status make it about protecting the status quo rather than continued development. While a black belt in karate can look forward to becoming a grand master, a head nurse or public school teacher has effectively peaked, and may lose momentum and focus on protecting their turf as a result.

Level Ten

(Call to action.)

Appendix: Putting it into Practice

Cab Chaos

A local cab company has decided that it's time to stand out from the competition. One of the most common complaints from customers is that cab drivers are erratic and aggressive, making the ride experience anxious and unpleasant. This driving behavior is due to incentives already in place. The drivers get to start their meters with a minimum fare of a couple of dollars preloaded, making a higher number of passengers more desirable than one long fare. Additionally, passengers want to get to their destination as quickly and safely as possible, a tension drivers resolve by focusing on speed.

Design a behavioral game to increase the safety and quality of the ride, without compromising overall fares.

Use the Force

A national technology company that sells products and services to other businesses is having trouble with its sales force. The head of sales has decided that two skills are key to success across the entire team: preparation and follow-through. He believes that if his salespeople prepare for sales meetings ahead of time, and follow up regularly afterward, results will improve dramatically.

Design a behavioral game to encourage and improve preparation and follow-through across teh salesforce.

What's Cooking

You've decided that it's time to step up your skills as an amateur chef. You fancy yourself a decent cook but want to be more inventive--able to make something delicious with whatever is on hand. However, you often come home tired from a day of work, and so you tend to order in or cook the usual quick recipes.

Design a behavioral game that will help you take your cuisine to the next level and encourage innovation.

The Short Stay

A retail bookstore is getting plenty of foot traffic, but visitors are leaving the bookstore after only a few minutes, and often with no purchases. Store managers are convinced that if they can get people to spend more time browsing in the store, they'll see sales improve.

Design a behavioral game that will encourage customers to browse the store more fully.

Tags: reading   books  

Last modified 27 November 2020