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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

5/28/2007

Structuring a Game

A few months ago I read the most interesting article that is still available on the internet on how to structure software apps by "Putting the Fun in Functional".

It was one of the most insightful presentation I ever saw, and it only came to me via a friend of mine.

The presenter, Amy Jo Kim, talks about what makes video games, or any worthwhile experience, a sticky one -- in the sense that the experience is one that people want to return to time and time again. She dissected the experience to distill the principles underlying the design of good online websites.


Here are the five principles:

  1. Collecting
    People like games that allow them to collect stuff, and show off their collections. Think of the attraction of baseball cards, stamps, coins, paintings, antique furniture, marathons. They particularly like the idea of completing sets, like doing a marathon in each of the 50 states, or all the stamps in a set. A complete set gains more bragging rights than individual pieces.

  2. Points
    People like an opportunity to gain points. They like the idea of being able to increase a score, and love it when they can redeem points for other gifts, and also to use points to compare with other people who are also collecting.

    Frequent flyer programs are classic point-based games.When points are assigned, it becomes possible to assign levels, such as different levels of frequent flyers.

  3. Feedback
    People like to receive feedback, and to find out whether they are on track or not. If system or a person can givem ongoing coaching on how close to they are to some target, the more they are likely to engage in it.

  4. Exchanges
    Sticky systems allow the members of the community to interface with each other either to create open conversation, share information, trade content, give gifts or acknowledge success.

  5. Customization
    When a user can customize their experience to suit their own tastes, they are quite likely to return to use it again and again. At times, the system does the customization for them (like telling them the time they last logged in, or by recommending books to read a la Amazon.)

I am trying to include as many of these ways of thinking into the design of the 2Time Management system.

Basically, the idea is a simple one. I believe that I can design a superstructure around 2Time that will allow a user to:

  1. Collect belts as they move from one level to another, along with a certificate and some other tangible award.

  2. Gain points as they add different skills, and move up from one belt level to another

  3. Gain feedback from a coach as they move up from one belt level to another. Also, as part of an online community, they will be able to gain feedback and ideas from others who are also a looking to improve their time management skills

  4. Exchange tips and celebrate accomplishments as users move from one belt level to another.

  5. This is one part I don't know how to do. The entire 2Time Mgt system is based on the idea that each person's needs are different, and that they must continuously be customizing their time management system. Perhaps that is all that is needed - a way to be recognized for having a unique system and a way to change it on an ongoing basis in a structured way.

    Maybe this customization can continue in their relationship with a coach and a community who understands their idiosyncrasies, and can look at a chart of their progress to date and help them to move from one level to another.

    One way that they can help to customize the course itself is by contributing to the design, by adding in their own experience, perhaps through a wiki, and certainly through the 2Time blog. Perhaps in exchange for a certain quality of input and involvement in improving the system, a user can gain points that helps them to advance to the highest level.

For those who might be interested in deep game mechanics, here is an excerpt from the lostgarden blog.

Game mechanics are rule based systems / simulations that facilitate and encourage a user to explore and learn the properties of their possibility space through the use of feedback mechanisms.

It is a simple definition, but it offers a good amount of insight into why games work and how we can make them better.


Feedback loops
Central to the model is the concept of feedback loops that encourage learning. Here is a diagram that should explain the concept in a more visual format:

(click to expand the diagram)
  • Player performs an action.
  • The action causes an effect within the simulated game world. The simulation contains public and private tokens and the causal rules that affect the states of the tokens. The player rarely knows all the rules and is highly unlikely to be able to instantly describe the complete possibility space described by the rules. The unknown portion of the simulation is a “black box” that the player must attempt to decipher.
  • The player receives feedback.
  • With new tools and information in hand, the player performs another action. Using what we’ve learned, we pursue additional pleasure.

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