Does Your Audience Really Want Another Merit Badge?

In elementary school, gold stars were everything! It was a competition with our classmates. It made something boring and monotonous more interesting and engaging. As each star got harder and harder to achieve, the value of those cheap Avery labels grew and grew. Little did we realize we were under the spell of game mechanics.

Game mechanics are a set of tools and systems designed to make an experience more engaging, sticky, and viral, incentivizing certain behaviors.

Demand for game mechanics has grown since the introduction of Foursquare. People became mayors of their favorite haunts, got free cheese fries, and even a spiffy virtual badge to show off to their friends on Facebook and Twitter. Local shops got repeat business for their trouble.

Now everyone wants in.

Unfortunately, not everyone that knows how to make a good website knows how to make a good game. Web designers are used to creating simple interactive experiences that get users from point A to point B as quick and easy as possible. Game development is about extended engagement through emotional connection, intensity, difficulty, goals, and a narrative. Before game mechanics can be effectively used, web designers are going to have to brush up a bit on their game development skills. They can't slap a badge on something and call it a day.

Despite the advent of push button game mechanics, some designers and companies are venturing into better integrated game development. Mint.com promotes financial health through game play; DevHub which has had success by "gamifying" the process of building websites; and EpicWin uses game play to make chores fun.

As game mechanics continue to improve, we will see less badges and leader boards added to sites without proper integration. Users will be further engaged through increasing difficulty, storytelling, and emotional connection. Web designers will embrace their inner gamer, expanding their skills, and finally earn those coveted gold stars for their achievement in game mechanics.

Written by Ken Hammond on December 27, 2010

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Written by
Ken Hammond