Game Design and Extrinsic Motivation


In 2007, I gave a talk at O’Eilly’s Emerging Technology conference called Putting the Fun in FunctionalIn this talk, I identified five game techniques driving successful social media properties, and outlined how websites could become more gamelike by incorporating progression, missions, rich identity, and real-time feedback.

Since then, the idea of applying game design to non-gaming experiences has exploded in popularity – and taken on many different forms. Some enthusiasts focus on the power of extrinsic metrics, motivators and reward schedules to shape behavior. If you’re coming from loyalty marketing , that’s natural  – because points, levels, status, and rewards are the atomic units of loyalty programs, and define the core experience. Some of them look at games as a set of extrinsic motivators that can be lifted out and plunked down elsewhere.

Turns out, that’s not really how it works. In a good game, progress metrics and rewards are part of the package – NOT the core experience.* Games are built from  systems and rules that engage you in a micro-world AKA “magic circle” that’s shared by everyone playing that particular game. That’s the power and pleasure of a great game – you  take a break from daily life, and spend time together in an alternate, simplified reality. The rewards and status you gain  through playing together help you track  progress and connect/compete /collaborate with others. In a well-designed game, that scaffolding supports the core pleasurable activities at the heart of the experience.

[tweetable]Well-crafted games are an artful blend of intrinsic pleasure and extrinsic scaffolding. [/tweetable]

If metrics and rewards are the main event, you’ve got a shallow and/or manipulative game that won’t hold people’s interest over time.

So how do you design intrinsic motivation into your core experience? Stay tuned – that’ll be the subject of my next post.