Have you ever played Dance Central, Rock Band, or Guitar Hero? Remember that feeling you got from learning the system and improving your skills? All Harmonix games have well-tuned progression systems that make it fun and rewarding to levelup. But it’s the real-time multi-sensory feedback and coaching in those games takes skill-building to a new level of awesomeness and immersion.
Great feedback is the secret sauce of pleasurable learning engines AKA games. Effective, personalized feedback makes learning more fun and immersive – and helps induce that much-sought-after flow state. Imagine what having a great coach feels like when you’re learning a new skill – THAT’S the feeling feedback can deliver.
We all know that a strong progression system can enhance learning and motivation. Great feedback, however, is more fundamental and pervasive – and often overlooked as a design tactic. Consider Minecraft – a downloadable simulation environment with simple rules and direct visual feedback that encourages you to experiment and explore.
What’s missing in Minecraft? All the built-in progression troupes of gaming: quests, goals, points, levels. Your goal is to learn to manipulate the simulation – and your progress is defined by what you can create, co-create and share with others – which reflects how deeply you learned the simulation. That social feedback meta-loop contributes to making Minecraft such a long-lasting and fulfilling hobby.
Every well-crafted game comes up with a unique mix of feedback and progress to move players along their learning curve. Minecraft is a simulation sandbox with multiple nested feedback loops and minimal progression infrastructure. Now look at Duolingo and Lumosity – learning games that combine ongoing feedback with built-in progress scaffolding. Duolingo, for example, uses in-game feedback to improve player skill – along with leaderboards, levels, and redeemable points to keep players motivated and moving forward.
What magical mix of feedback and progress is driving habit-building social feeds like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? They all employ simple UX counters – and as we know, any time you put a number in front of people they’ll try to make it go up.
But the real pull is embedded in the variable ratio (VR) reward schedule of curated social feeds. At any moment the updates in your feed could be banal, provocative, cute, thought-provoking, terrifying, or vitally important – and you never know which category they’ll fall into. So the feedback AKA reward is variable and hard to predict, with occasional BIG WINS. It’s no wonder we keep reading, pruning, curating our feeds – “just one more update, one more refresh – that next one COULD be really important…”
As you’re crafting your Core Loop, think about what mix of feedback and progress is right for YOUR situation. Don’t just copy a set of mechanics that are working elsewhere – build your scaffolding from the ground up to support your players and move them along the learning path.