The Player’s Journey: Designing Over Time


I've been enjoying this lively Branch discussion around points, levels, and leaderboards in social software - and even more this thoughtful response by Tom Tunguz of Redpoint, who added a much-needed "over time" perspective to the discussion.

When I engage with Web developers building digital services, the most common mistake they make is thinking about their social stats and UI as static. A key lesson I've absorbed from years of game design is to Design Your Player's Journey Over Time.  Great games are compelling because the player's experience and expertise changes over time in meaningful ways. Games dole out just the right amount of challenge and learning to keep the player engaged and on the edge of her ability. In short,  games are compelling because they're pleasurable learning engines - they offer up skills to master, and reward you with greater challenges & opportunities. (Raph Koster write eloquently about this in A Theory of Fun for Game Design,  great background reading)

Progress metrics (points, badges, levels, leaderboards, reputation systems) are icing on this learning/mastery cake: very helpful to gauge where you stand, and how far you've come, but meaningless as a stand-alone system without the learning engine to keep you truly engaged.

Design Over Time thinking also can help you grow a successful community. The features that propel a digital community will CHANGE as the community scales from 500 to 5000 to 50,000. The story of Digg's leaderboard (referenced in this Branch) - which worked great when Digg was up-and-coming, then backfired when Digg got big and well-known - is an object lesson in how effective game design must scale along with community growth.

So when you're creating your next social app, website or game, focus first on what your community needs to kickstart social - but pay close to attention to what's working over time, and be prepared to change and evolve your social and gaming UI as your community grows.  Don't be afraid to remove a stuff that's not working! It doesn't mean you've failed - on the contrary, it's a natural part of growing a strong community.

What's your experience? Have you seen these dynamics in action? Want to learn more about this topic? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Did you enjoy this post?

Subscribe to the newsletter to stay updated!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  1. says

    You made some really good points there. I checked on the net to learn more about the issue
    and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.

  2. says

    Simply wish to say your article is as amazing. The clarity in your post is just excellent and i can assume you are an
    expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS
    feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and
    please continue the enjoyable work.

  3. says

    An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.
    There’s no doubt that that you need to publish more about this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but typically folks don’t talk about these subjects.
    To the next! Best wishes!!

  4. says

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this superb blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this website
    with my Facebook group. Chat soon!
    Greetings from Florida! I’m bored at work so I decided to browse your site on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the information you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I
    get home. I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .
    . Anyhow, awesome blog!

  5. says

    I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your
    weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.

  6. says

    fantastic publish, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts
    of this sector do not realize this. You should continue your writing.
    I am sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  7. says

    If you want a Premium Minecraft Account check out this generator.
    With it you can generate a unique Minecraft Premium Account which no one else
    has! You can Download the Free Premium Minecraft Account Generator http://www.

    I’m very happy to discover this site. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and i also have you book marked to look at new information on your site.

  8. says

    Its like you learn my mind! You appear to grasp so much approximately this, like you wrote the
    e-book in it or something. I believe that you just could do with a few p.c.

    to force the message home a bit, however other than that, that
    is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be

  9. says

    Although internet websites we backlink to beneath are considerably not connected to ours, we really feel they’re actually really worth a go via, so have a look.

  10. says

    I just want to mention I am very new to blogging and certainly enjoyed your blog site. Very likely I’m want to bookmark your blog . You absolutely have good well written articles. Kudos for revealing your website page.

  11. says

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted
    to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  12. says

    You made some really good points there. I checked on the net to learn more about the issue
    and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.


Leave a Reply