A while ago there was a discussion on the IAI members list about game mechanics on web sites. Andrew Hinton pointed to the Google Image Labeler and LinkedIn’s ‘profile completeness’ status bar and asked: “Can anyone else think of a use of a game mechanic like this to jump-start this kind of activity?” (Where “this kind of activity” is basically defined as something people wouldn’t normally do for its own sake, like say tagging images.)
I was thinking about this for a while the past week and seem to have ended up at the following:
On LinkedIn, having a (more or less complete) profile presumably serves some extrinsic goal. I mean, by doing so you maybe hope you’ll land a new job more easily. By slapping a status bar onto the profile that gives feedback on its completeness, the assumption is that this will stimulate you to fill it out. In other words, LinkedIn seems unsure about the presence of extrinsic motivations and is introducing an intrinsic one: getting a 100% ‘complete’ profile and as such making a game (in a very loose sense of the term) out of its professional network service. A good idea? I’m not sure…
On Google Image Labeler, the starting point for its design was to come up with a way to have people add meta-data to images. Google actually ‘bought’ the game (originally called The ESP Game) from CAPTCHA inventor Luis von Ahn, who before that did reCAPTCHA and after went on to create Peekaboom and Phetch. Anyway, in the case of the Image Labeler (contrary to LinkedIn) there was no real extrinsic goal to begin with so a game had to be created. Simply having fun is the only reason people have when labelling images.
Note that Flickr for instance has found other ways to get people to tag images. What happened there is (I think) a very nice way of aligning extrinsic goals with intrinsic (fun, game-like) ones.
‘Pure’ games by their very nature have only intrinsic goals, they are artificial and non-utilitarian. When you consider introducing game-like mechanics into your web site or application (which presumably serves some external purpose, like sharing photos) think carefully about the extrinsic motivations your users will have and come up with game-like intrinsic ones that reinforce these.
9 thoughts on “Game mechanics in web apps”
Do you read lostgarden.com? That blog has been advocating these concepts for a while, especially with the idea of “mastery driven interaction design”. It’s certainly been a development I’ve noticed over the past few years, but I haven’t been fortunate enough to find a client who understands “mastery” and the risk/reward mechanic common in game design enough to allow pervasive game design to be implemented in a web application.
LinkedIn’s profile completeness is something we have been advocating, however, even though it doesn’t really have much of a “risk” to counterbalance its rewards.
Nintendo Europe’s website has been using activity and participation rewards since its launch in 2002, by the way.
Mh, isn’t it a bit easy to use games in this matter when it comes to make web applications more fun? Most games have loads of different aspects that make them attractive. Fun and visually pleasing are indeed some aspects that can relate (or improve) web applications, but web applications should never become challenging while the challenge is a very obvious, intrinsic part of (video)games.
Completing you profile on linked in should be as easy as possible, the website should aid you on all fronts and make filling in those endless forms a breeze, not a challenge (one that you potentially would want to retry once you’ve completed it). Providing a progress bar obviously works, but I think thats more related to the fact that people just want to have/collect everything ( collect all 1995 baseball cards, own every Pixar DVD or, indeed, collect all hidden packages in GTA ). Or maybe just because incomplete progress bars are annoying ;)
So, please, if you want something to be fun don’t immediately refer to games. And if you must refer to some industry, just use the whole entertainment industry, there are loads and loads of valuable lessons to be learned from toys, tv-shows and movies as well. (ok, not exactly related to the article, but I just needed to get it off my chest ;)
First of all thanks for the thoughtful comments guys. This really helps to sharpen my arguments.
@Rahul: Lost Garden looks like a sweet resource. I agree with you that it might be hard to have a client explicitly sign off on game mechanics in a web app. (You could always just sneak it in…) I think a good angle might be the broader category of user experience, where if they (the client) agree that there is more to the use of the future app than just utilitarian aspects, you might be able to include elements that serve only to induce ‘pleasure’ (to avoid the f‑word.)
@Hessel: Welcome! How do you like your MonsterID? ;-) I think we agree on the point that if we include game elements in a web app, they shouldn’t get in the way of the user simply getting something done. That would just be wrong. But I’ve found that there’s more to interaction design and information architecture than just simply supporting the user’s task in the most functional way possible. There is a whole experiential dimension where thing like pleasure of (I’m sorry) fun come into play. There’s an article on the blog Rahul mentioned that concludes with: “An acknowledgment (sic) of pleasure of doing is missing from modern interaction design.” In other words: when allowing the user to get things done, wouldn’t it be actually useful to offer a pleasurable experience as well? Finally, I think the special kind of fun games (and toys) offer is more interesting for interaction design than those offered by TV or film (basically because the latter aren’t strictly speaking interactive).
Another example of interesting game design in a user interface is the Help Cat in the Wii UI: http://lostgarden.com/2006/12/wii-help-cat-lesson-in-interaction.html http://www.cabel.name/2006/11/tragedii.html
It’s funny to think that by making a user work to get something as basic as a help screen, a certain ideology indicates that this is actually beneficial to the user experience, as opposed to traditional thinking which implies that you want the help button to be as easy as possible to get to. Great read.
Here I posted a blog entry on game mechanics ideas used for improving the usability of a web app:
Interesting stuff, Pietro. Thanks for sharing.
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