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Gaming Mechanics for Your Business: Step by Step

Legions of online businesses are following the trend of integrating game mechanics into their products. Investors used to hear customer acquisition plans that included, “and we’re going to make it social” or “and we’re going to make it viral.” But lately, these pitches have changed to include, “and we’re going to use game mechanics” to address customer acquisition and engagement. However, many proponents of this type of “funware” in product development and marketing miss the larger point: “How” you incorporate game mechanics is just as important as “Why” you should.  A leaderboard alone does not make for a worthwhile or engaging game. Here is a step by step breakdown of how to incorporate gaming mechanics into your business:

1. Start With Your Vision and Work Backwards

Effective games cannot be bolted onto a service after the fact. They must be integrated into the product from the start. To work, they need to be designed with your vision in mind, or they’ll be largely meaningless.

The first thing you need to do is define your end goal. What is it you want to accomplish? What’s the big vision?

2. Make a List of Required User Actions

Now that you have defined the vision, you need to figure out what specific user actions will be required to realize it. What behavior patterns would they need to adopt in order to sustain your business model?

Think in verbs, not nouns. What do you need people to do?

3. Motivate the Most Important Behaviors

Games can be used to drive almost any user behavior. As Marc Metis, President of Digital Chocolate puts it, “Games have the potential to tap into the full range of human emotions and motivate a wide range of behaviors.” That’s the beauty and value proposition of game mechanics. Take the specific behaviors you’ve defined and plan some games that will make people do what you want. No matter what type of game you are designing, a few key principles will help:

  • Mechanisms should be layered. Users should constantly be starting one task as a beginner and enjoying a sense of discovery, be in the middle and deeply engaged by another task, and mastering (i.e. getting bored with) a third. The online multiplayer game World of Warcraft is an excellent example of this. Players are constantly working on short-term quests and heat of the moment battles while long-term upgrades keep them logging back in day after day.

    These layers can exist in both tasks and in time. If you can create a sense of shared past, present, and future, your user experience will be more “sticky,” with customers/players investing time and coming back for more to deepen their history with your product.

  • Pull the consumer toward the most critical behaviors with rewards. Additionally, adjust the rewards so that the most enticing prizes are offered in exchange for the behaviors that are hardest to motivate. Zichermann says, “There’s no question that today’s tweens are going to have to be rewarded to do anything.” Make sure you’re offering rewards for the essentials.
  • Mechanisms should be designed for flexibility and growth

4. Evaluate and Adapt

As with any lean startup process, you’ll only succeed if you’re willing to evaluate and adapt both the game mechanic layer and the behaviors that are critical to motivate. Both will change as you learn about your consumer, and as they learn how to play your game.

“Running a social game is a bit like being a head of a country’s Central Bank, so you are always adjusting,” says Metis. “You really have to pay attention to the finest details of user experience and merchandising.”

Re-rank and reevaluate often. Take honest looks at what users do and why. Remember, make it fun for them, not for you. Zichermann reminds us most entrepreneurs think their users’ primary motivation is to achieve. But, he says, most people — especially on the web — just want to socialize. “They’re not in it to win it, they just want to make friends.”

Make sure you understand your audience, and design your mechanics accordingly.

Ultimately, game mechanics are not about simply having fun. They’re about helping users discover the utility in your product. Like Wile E. Coyote from the old cartoons, you want to get your users to run through the air without noticing the ground’s not there, until they reach the other side. Games can help get them to cross that ugly gap of “Why should I learn about and adopt this product?” And once they’ve crossed, you’ll have them, because they’ll feel the utility of your service and understand why your product is great.

Right now, too many companies are building a bridge to nowhere with their games simply because games are trendy. Design an experience that will delight your users and use game mechanics to show them something useful that will add value and make their lives better.

nicolette -

  • Minecraft Games

    Thanks for giving me the useful information. I think I need it. Thank you

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