Game mechanics in web apps

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:

Profile completeness status bar on LinkedIn

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…

Screenshot of Google Image Labeler

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.

Update: Alper fin­ished the LinkedIn pro­file com­plete­ness game and was dis­ap­point­ed to find there is no pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow, mir­ror­ing the expe­ri­ence many play­ers of real games have when fin­ish­ing a game.