In my previous introduction to this subject, I concluded if there's one game design concept to start using, it is to think of what "winning" means to your audience, and how they would move toward it from where they are now. Show your audience how they can move through the game, and reward them with immediate feedback that feels good.
So what makes a play space or game experience fun? Think about these six characteristics. Choice, variety, predictability, uncertainty, consequence, and satisfaction. I'll give you a minute to think about where you might have experienced each of those in games you've played.
And what about in online shopping or in self-directed learning?
Here's how I use each of these in games, plus some ideas how you can employ the same concepts for your own uses. Try to keep in mind, it's not just finding a nice amount of each characteristic, but balancing them against each other in a system. The result should be an environment that is a fun to use, for whatever it is intended to do: shopping, learning, obliterating alien invaders with a chainsword, whatever.
You should give your audience a range of possible actions. One detail of this is that too few possible actions is generally perceived as boring. Too many results in confusion.
Usage: If you are designing something with infinite choices, narrow them to the most used. If you don't have meaningful choices, see how you can create some choice by studying your audience's needs. One size usually doesn't fit everybody.
The choices for your audience shouldn't be repeated, or they will perceive that there's nothing interesting left to try. It doesn't mean to create a completely random experience that's different every time; balance against predictability. But think about giving a return visitor some variations on your standard material.
Usage: If you're building a website, it might mean putting some interesting material on a sidebar that's different each time you revisit that page. Search results could be consistent but also include a section with personalization that changes as you refine a profile of your customer's likes and dislikes. A local theater in my area did a performance of Hamlet in which all players learned all parts, and assigned them at random before each show. Extreme Variety!
Usage: find out how your audience expects certain things to work, and only do it differently if necessary. On your website, if others in a similar business have a search box with a magnifying glass button, you probably should too, even if you think binoculars are cooler. If customers put products in a shopping cart, putting a number on the cart up in the corner is a nice, predictable, causal result, but an appropriate movement from the shopping area to the cart icon could create that continuity between a current action and a future result.
The end result shouldn't be completely predetermined. The human mind thrives on exploring possibilities. If everything is so clear and obvious that there's nothing left to explore, you will quickly recognize that conclusion, and lose interest in seeing the outcome.
I think this is the best tool for making the crossover from traditional design to gamification. It frees you from having to deliver all your information at once. Pace it out to leave something to be discovered later.
Usage: think of the experience you're creating like a novel or a film. You can hint at things in the beginning, promise them in the third chapter, and deliver in the exciting conclusion. If you're actually writing a novel, there you have it! If you're building a training experience, you can hint at the content that will be in the final quiz, follow up by including that content in your quiz, and reward the audience by scoring them for correct answers on that material.
So that's the first four, choice, variety, predictability, and uncertainty. Just two more.
Actions lead to specific outcomes or results. You should design for those outcomes, and communicate them to your audience in a clear way. Your choices should lead you from one space in the experience to another, and offer fresh chances to make additional moves through it.
Usage: be confident in making changes to the state of your website or learning environment as your audience moves through it. Present more specific and refined sets of choices based on initial choices. And for predictability, you can always offer a way back to the initial state to start over.
And sometimes it's not what you say, it's how you say it. A couple years ago a coworker came to my desk, showed me a sumptuous ice cream sundae, and said, "You want to win this ice cream?" I said, "Sure." He said, "Here, you win." It was a much better communication of the positive consequences of my choices, and yes, I felt like a winner.
There are winning conditions, and they are attainable. Just like in a game, your audience should be clear there's a win awaiting them, and you'll help them find a way there. As Schell says in The Art of Game Design, "There is one rule at the foundation of all the others: the object of the game." How motivated would you be to play through a complex board game if you had no clue what the objective was? Walk away!
Usage: a shopper has a goal of getting what they need with some valuable savings. You can show your audience what your sale is right now, repeat that information in your product pricing, and carry the same consistent description of savings through checkout. What is winning like for your audience though? Don't just assume they will realize what a win looks like. Call attention to it and celebrate with them when it happens.
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