How Simple Game Mechanics Can Impassion People To Do More Business With You

There’s an interesting discussion about this post on this news site. –Andrew

You and I have both know people who desperately promote their Twitter accounts because they want to see their follower numbers increase. I recorded this interview to help you learn how you can foster that kind of rabid enthusiasm for your product by adding game mechanics.

I used to think adding game mechanics was a simple as “throwing some kind of point system” on a site. After listening to Amy Jo Kim in this program, you’ll see that there’s more going on under the surface. You’ll understand the levels of activity that you need to build in. And you’ll get  a virtual toolbox full of tools that you can use to add game mechanics to your business and build a passionate audience that competes to take more action on your site.

Amy Jo Kim

Amy Jo Kim


Amy Jo Kim is the Co-Founder of Shufflebrain, which builds smart games for social networks. They’ve been working at the intersection of the Web and Games industries for a decade, and helped design top casual games and Web services including Bejewelled 2, Poppit, Collapse, The Sims, Ultima Online, eBay, and Rock Band. Amy Jo is also the author of Community Building on the Web (published 2000), translated into 7 languages, is required reading in universities and game companies around the world.



Full Interview Transcript

The transcript for minute 0 till minute 5 is BELOW this line.

This interview is sponsored by Haystack, that’s where you’re going to find the right web designer for your next project. Check ’em out, Hey I’m Andrew Warner I’m the founder of, home of the ambitious upstart. And I’ve been watching game mechanics. Yeah, home of the ambitious upstart! There we go, and I’ve been watching a lot of internet companies use game mechanics to draw me personally in, to get me more — almost to compete with myself, for how much I use their site. So I invited Amy Joe Kim here, the Cofounder of Shufflebrain to talk to us about game mechanics, how we can incorporate them into our business and also how we can understand how others are using them as well. Amy Joe, give a couple of examples that people could look at to understand how this plays out in the real world.

Interviewee: Sure, that’s a great question. So, game mechanics are the underlying systems that drive games not the graphics not the wonderful sound effects not the big explosions but the underlying systems. And anyone who’s ever used a social network knows what it feels like to start to collect friends, how many friends do you have? Ooh look how many friends he has! Ooh look she’s in the top friends list! Right there that’s a game mechanic. So Facebook, Myspace, they have some basic game mechanics just by the fact by having a number that goes up. Your Twitter followers is a game mechanic and that’s a game that people play. YouTube has leaderboards. YouTube has the most popular, the most searched, the most favorited and you can sort by those and see who’s top and see the an ordered list – There’s a game mechanic. Yelp has a reputation system and all kinds of statictics that people collect about themselves. They have an elite squad which you have to petition to get in, those are game mechanics too. I think Yelp is an interesting example. There’s a programer’s discussion site called Stack Overflow. It’s got badges, level up ideas, all of those game mechanics are familiar from World of Warcraft and other similar games and you see those creep into programmer’s dicussion boards. Those are some examples that if you’re wondering how are game mechanics influencing web software, go check those out, anyone who’s ever selected from a list in YouTube has engaged in game mechanics.

Andrew: Are they intentionally adding game mechanics to their sites or is just that they just happen to work because game mechanics happened to have been present, do you think?

Interviewee: Well, first of all theres’s a lot of overlap between game mechanics and effective, engaging web design, there’s definitely overlap there. I think people are more and more adding game mechanics to their websites because the generation of people building websites grew up with games. It’s in their blood, it’s in their fingers, from the controllers. And I also think that they’re noticing that game mechanics work more broadly and intentionally saying I want to have a leaderboard because I want to drive competition on my site and I want the most passionate members to have something to keep them busy other than just the average activity there.

Andrew: I see. Okay and I mentioned that you were the cofounder of Shufflebrain. Is it Cofounder?

Interviewee: Yes.

Andrew: It is. Can you tell us what Shuffebrain is?

Interviewee: Shufflebrain is a design consultancy and game development studio. I specificially do medagame design for our both Stardux and big companies and I’ll tell you more about what that means. We’ve have also been developing some original brain games which are based on puzzles by Scott Kim my cofounder, and soon we should have something very intersting to amount around our original games. So stay tuned!

Andrew: Ah yeah you didn’t tell me earlier what it was but I said I like to get you back when you’re ready to announce it.

Interviewee: [Laughs] So the design consultancy part of Shufflebrain is involved in both game design, I’ve worked on games like Rock Band I did the network design for Rock Band, but also game medagame design, my earliest project there was I did many of the gaming systems that drive eBay.

Andrew: The game systems that drive eBay, so eBay is intentional–

Interviewee: eBay is another great example! How silly of me–

Andrew: How is eBay doing it? How did you help eBay do it?

Interviewee: Well, I worked with eBay very early on. And I have three major projects. And this is a great example of game systems. And we weren’t even necessarily calling them game systems. We were trying to solve problems, and it turned out that game mechanics helped us solve those problems.

The transcript for minute 5 till minute 10 is BELOW this line.

Interviewee: [00:00] which is kind of kind of the heart of this whole thing. The first was to strenghten and tighten up the reputation system. When I first started working with eBay, the reputation system was not tied to transactions. Anybody could lead reputation for anybody else at any time. And there were reasons it was that way early on. And one of the big lessons there that I think a lot of web developers are learning is. What works in the system at one point of scale isn’t the same thing that works for a system at another point of scale.

You need to keep evolving these systems. So we tightened up the reputation system when eBay started to scale. Tied it to transactions. And I’d say reputation systems are very much a game mechanic. Games are full of them, especially multi-player games. We also launched the profiles, the rich profiles, the about me pages. And one of the strategic points there was to allow them to be very customizable by members. We define html tags that were specific to database queries.

So that you could write your own code and really make your about me page come alive and be very personalized. And pull data directly from the database. And that was the second major project I worked on. And the third one was the tiered reward system for sellers. It’s called the top sellers program. And the fact that it’s tiered. And that there’s different levels you could aspire to. And you earn, you know, privileges at the different levels is very much a game mechanic. And that had a lot of internal debate about how tiered it should be and how it should be structured and whether it should seem game-like or more like a general purpose system. And those are all the same discussions I still have today with my clients, you know. How to frame it. But those are some examples of game mechanics powering eBay’s auction market place.

Andrew: [06:47] And Will Lin, who is watching us live, is saying that one of the hottest examples he thinks of game mechanics right now would probably be Four Square. Which is a game that will if you’re. I think if you’re. If you’ve been to a place more than anyone else, you become the mayor. And I’ve never become the mayor. But I keep trying to. It’s like [inaudible]

Interviewee: [07:04] There you go. That’s game mechanic, yeah. Four Square uses very simple familiar game mechanics, earning points and earning badges. And a one-person leader board which is mayor to. I think Four Square is a great example of how to use game mechanics like that very effectively. I think that it’s tempting as a game designer to say, oh, points, badges, leader boards, you’re done. And that’s not always the right solution for everything. For instance, you might try adding that to search. And it might not necessarily work. I had some interesting conversations around that lately. The Four Square.

Andrew: [07:43] Can you tell us about that?

Interviewee: [07:44] Use of the. Let me just finish.

Andrew: [07:46] OK.

Interviewee: [07:47] Four Square’s use of those particular game mechanics I think is brilliant. I think that’s just a great example. Thanks for bringing that up.

Andrew: [07:53] Yeah. Thanks, Will. So, can you tell us about that? Can you make? Can you add game mechanics to search? How would you do it?

Interviewee: [08:01] I think you can. I think that it starts by really looking at who the people are that are coming to search. And what their mindset is and what their goal is. And then using game mechanics to support that. I think if you give people badges for searching a certain number of times, which is one idea that’s come up several times when I’ve been talking with clients. That could reinforce it. And it could also make people very aware that you’re tracking them. Which, for example, isn’t something you really want to make people aware of when they’re searching. So, I think you could. I don’t have a pad answer. I think it really depends on the, the particular brand and focus of the given search engine. Which is always the case with whatever you’re doing with game mechanics. And using them effectively, there’s no pad answer. But you have. I think of game mechanics as a big tool belt of different things that you could do that would drive behavior, using rewards and feedback.

Andrew: [09:02] OK. And we’re gonna talk.

Interviewee: [09:03] So what we’ve talked about some more, so far are just a few tools on the tool belt. But there’s many others.

Andrew: [09:08] OK. And we’re gonna get into more of the tools on the belt. But first I want to ask for just a definition. You used the word metagame earlier. Can you explain what that is?

Interviewee: [09:21] Sure. A metagame is a feedback and reward system that you layer on top of an existing activity. That’s my working definition for how I use it. It’s interesting in gaming. Metagame has a different meaning. It means using out-of-game information or resources to influence in-game decision making. Like, cheating at poker, or, or that sort of thing. But in the web services, the pragmatic definition is most people want to drive engagement. They want to drive repeat business. Again, we’re talking about web services. Something that evolves over time, and exists over time, and …

The transcript for minute 10 till minute 15 is BELOW this line.

Interviewee: A Metagame uses feedback like the kind of feedback you might see in games, statistics, a that kind of stuff. Plus rewards, which are badges and leaderboards and points and prizes and all different kinds of things that are carrots that you dangle in front of people to get them to continue to perform behaviors. Again, I want to emphasize, effective Metagame design supports the reason people are there already. It doesn’t distract them from it. It supports it.

Andrew: When we did a pre-interview last night, you told me that a lot of people want to almost tack on a gaming experience onto their existing business. Is that possible?

Interviewee: It’s possible. It’s absolutely possible. Hire somebody to do it.

Andrew: How?

Interviewee: Whether its going to get the—is it going to get you the results you’re looking for? Probably not. Any time you put a game system into place, people will respond to it. Guaranteed.

Andrew: Really?

Interviewee: They’ll respond. But they may not respond quite the way you want. Here’s a really simple example that I think a lot of us have been familiar with: Digg used to have leaderboards for the top diggers and then they took them down. Orkut used to have leaderboards for the top trenders. And then they took them down. That’s a game system backfiring. It’s driving a certain behavior, but its not driving the behavior that was intended. Probably when Digg was very small, that leaderboard was very effective in getting people to continue to digg. Once it got bigger, it became easy poaching for competitors. It became full of angst, people accused them of favoritism and little cabals of people digging each other’s articles and things like that, and it caused so much trouble they took it down. So, tacking on a leaderboard will drive behavior, but it may not be the thing that you’re looking for.

Andrew: I see. So if I just have a leaderboard for the most reviews on my cooking website, people might just start reviewing everything without considering how appro… without even trying any of the recipes that I’m listing.

Interviewee: Right. And an interesting example to follow along on what you are saying Andrew is that if you did that, a better system that isn’t so prone to that kind of gaming would be to reinforce the reviews that got a lot of reactions and that were voted “thumbs up” by other people. It’s still game-able, but then you’re driving social points. This is jumping ahead a little, but one of the most common confusions that people run into, and one thing I’d love for all the viewers out there to understand is the difference between system points and social points—game points and social points. Game points, or system points, are what you would earn in a single-player game. They are you and the system. They are you posting content or writing reviews or doing actions that are controlled only by you and the system tracks that. A game like “Bejeweled,” that’s you, you know, making “Match 3’s.” Those are regular game points.

Social points are points that you amass as people react to things you’ve done. A reputation system is based on social points-other people’s reactions to what you have done. In your example, a better recipe system would be “I like the recipes a lot of people think are great, not just you for posting a lot.” So that’s one of the most fundamental sort of “best practices” of applying game design, is, try and design systems that reinforce the behavior that you want to see. And assume that people are going to do exactly what you tell them to do with the system.

Andrew: OK. And I see that a lot of people are typing in questions about how this can be used in specific cases. I’m going to bring up specific cases towards the end of this program. For now, I thought we’d move on to layers of experience. Can you tell us what the different layers of experience are?

Interviewee: In a Metagame design?

Andrew: Yes.

Interviewee: Great . So to recap, a Metagame is a feedback and reward system that you are layering on top of an existing activity. So, lets take a recipe review site as an example. So lets say the existing activities, the exiting activity is sharing recipes and all the activity that goes around sharing recipes. So, that’s the baseline activity. And there’s some…the first level is turning activities into points. So, every Metagame at some level, whether the points are visible or not, has points at the basis. And then once you’ve got points, there’s a lot you can do with them. So the first level is taking your core activities, deciding which…

The transcript for minute 15 till minute 20 is BELOW this line.

Interviewee: deciding which of them you’re gonna give points for, and assigning points to those activities. And having a tracking system that lets you do it.

There’s various buckets you’ll wanna turn the points into. For instance, game points versus social points. And that’s layer one. The activities and points. Layer two, so think of it as a layer cake. Layer one. Layer two on top of that is your feedback or rewards system. And if you wanna do badges, if you wanna have missions, if you wanna have leader boards, if you wanna do spotlights, if you wanna have statistics, you wanna have a dashboard with statistics.

Look at Yelp. Yelp is basically a little dashboard with statistics that people amass. All different kinds of things. That’s one style of meta-game. That rewards layer is layer number two. The third layer, which has become much more into people’s consciousness these days with social networks is the viral outreach layer. Now that you’ve got your actions mapped into points, and you’ve got rewards on top of those that are designed to drive the behavior you’re trying to evoke from your players….

By the way, I use “”players”” instead of “”users.”” Just to get us in the frame of mind. Then, you say, “”OK. What are the ‘brag-able’ moments that I want people to send out to the rest of the web? Not just my website or my game, but the rest of the web.”” If you’re gonna use Facebook Connect, if you have your own system for broadcasting, if it’s gonna be email, if it’s gonna be notifications, whatever…. Your reward systems should be designed thinking about: what are the brag-able moments? The moments when someone really wants to communicate something that happened.

And then that’s the layer of design that I call “”viral outreach.”” And then, what do I wanna do with those brag-able moments? It depends on what you’re doing. But thinking about that at the beginning can really help you design the rewards around that strategy if what you’re trying to do is grow your service. Which is a very common goal.

Andrew: [Laughs] All right. So, if I understand this right….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] So, that’s one of the hidden gems of any reward system. Is it creates brag-able moments for viral outreach.

Andrew: All right. I’m gonna ask for a specific example or moment, but first I wanna make sure that I understand this. The first thing we wanna do, the first level is understanding the actions that we want our users to take.

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Right.

Andrew: The second level is giving them feedback and rewards for taking that action. So that they know that we’ve noticed it. And that we’re spotlighting them and giving them rewards so that they compete to do more….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Right.

Andrew: [Overlapping] ….to do more of those actions.

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Right. And deciding, you know, deciding the timing over time of the feedback or rewards. You may not give them feedback for every single action. But there’s gonna be some collection of actions that you give them the feedback for. Right.

Andrew: [Overlapping] And then we wanna help them brag about it so that they can bring in their friends that decide to see it.

Interviewee: Yes.

Andrew: Gotcha. Gotcha.

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Great summary.

Andrew: Do you have an example of a site that does this well? Or an example of a site that does all three clearly?

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Well, what you should do is go play Farmville.

Andrew: Farmville. Got it.

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Or any other popular social games of Facebook. And you will see the most vivid example in action. So, what you will see is: a clear statement of what you need to do. And clear rewards. And brag-able moments. So, that’s the very best example. But last night, here’s another example. I ran into a site last night that does something kinda close.

Which is Huffington Post. If you look at some of the articles on the Huffington Post, one in particular…. If you follow me on Twitter, I’m AmyJoKim on Twitter, by the way, it’s in my last two tweets. So I saw an article. And I read it. And it was interesting, and short, and punchy. And it had reactions to the article. And it said, “”Is this interesting, inspiring, stupid,”” etcetera, etcetera. So I thought the article was helpful. So I clicked “”helpful.””

And up popped a pop-up that said, “”Would you like to share this article with your one-sentence review on Facebook?”” And in fact, I did. Because I thought it was a good enough article. And I had bothered to click the word “”helpful.”” If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten that brag-able moment. So it wasn’t exactly a reward, but it was a very game-like system. And it was a great example of that viral outreach, being connected to an action on the site in a way that made sense to me as a player.

In fact at that moment, I did want to let my friends on Facebook know about it. And so I did.

Andrew: All right. You mentioned question and answer sites earlier. So, a question and answer site, the action that they want is for people to ask questions. And to answer questions. So, that’s level one. That’s the action. Level two would be the feedback and reward. And there we might decide to have a leader board. There we might decide how to award

The transcript for minute 20 till minute 25 is BELOW this line.

Andrew: Award points, maybe fewer points for somebody who asks a question, more points for somebody who answers a question, and even more points for someone who answers a tough question.

Interviewee: Well what you. Let me insert something. What you actually want is someone to answer the question correctly.

Andrew: Ah, yes.

Interviewee: Not just to answer the question. ‘Cause if you just reward answering the question, you’re gonna get a lot of, “I’m typing.”, “Oh, me too. Here’s my answer.”, you know. So, you actually want a system for Q&A, that, um, is targetted toward good answers verified by the asker.

Andrew: Okay, um, I want to come back to that, to the good questions issue.

Interviewee: Okay.

Andrew: Um, in a moment. But first, you’re creating leaderboards, you’re awarding points for the right actions, and then you’re letting people spread the word about it, by maybe giving them badges that they can put on their websites to say to everybody, “I’m a good.”, to say to their followers, to say to anyone who comes to their website. I’m, I’m smart enough that I’ve been able to answer these questions. I’m an expert in this area. Now, you mentioned, actually, you’re right, I was gonna award points for the wrong action. What happens in a system where you’re awarding everybody points, where they’re all fighting for points and placement. And then you realize that you’ve awarded them points for the wrong action and you have to redo the system that they’re all counting on, that they’ve all been?

Interviewee: Take a look at the evolution of Yahoo Answers for the answer to that question.

Andrew: How do you mean? What happened there?

Interviewee: Well, um, they’ve adjusted their system a lot over the years. They, uh, um, I’m not actually, at the moment, completely familiar with the gnarly details. But, I know that, um, when Yahoo Answers launched thaey got a huge amount of traffic. They had a, a system that reinforced activity and page use, ’cause that was part of the goal of the project. And, uh, something like 65% of what was in there was just garbage. It’s much better now. They’ve learned, they’ve adjusted, etc. Uh, but they were rewarding activity rather than, uh, quality. That’s the overall design goal. And it absolutely showed. And, in fact, they did get a lot of page use.

Andrew: But what do you do when you want to adjust it? I mean as it is you’ve got a community, every community is pretty vocal. This is a major change to what they’ve expected.

Interviewee: Yep.

Andrew: You’re taking away points that they’ve earn or you’re helping others out-earn them. How do you do it without irking people?

Interviewee: That is such a great question and everybody faces it. You know, there’s no, it’s very hard if not impossible to figure this stuff out ahead of time. So, everybody should feel better. If you’re, like, stumbling along, you need to adjust your system. Guess what? That’s how Zynga makes successful games. That it’s, um, absolutely how great software gets developed these days. So how do you do that? Well, there’s several things that you do. One of which is, you can make your system somewhat opaque so you can do more adjusting under the sheets. Don’t show them exactly how many points they’re earning, necessarily. Unless you’ve already figured it out and you’re really sure about that, don’t show it to them. Um, another thing you can do, which is really, really smart, is when you launch your system, launch it as beta, say, absolutely this is going to be an evolving over time. We want to say it upfront, remind eveybody periodically. We’re evolving this over time, we’re learning, etc. And the MMOs do this too, even though it’s much harder. And, um, so ways to mitigate it are, you know, make it opaque, um, warn people, be very upfront about, be transparent about the fact that it’s an evolving system. Um, and the other thing is, know that people get pissed off and that they’ll, uh, adjust. Um, anytime, this is the law, like the law of community. Anytime you’ve got an existing community and you make a big change, especially in an reward system or a point system, the oldtimers will hate it. It doesn’t matter if the change makes the game better. It doesn’t matter. They’ll hate it. [laughs]

Andrew: [laughs]

Interviewee: And, that’s just, and some of them will leave. And that’s natural part of community evolution. It happens in the real world too. You join a church or a temple and a new pastor comes in and everything changes and the oldtimers hate it. It’s how it goes. And some people stick around the the community continues to grow if it’s a healthy community.

Andrew: Okay.

Interviewee: And there’s a lot of more technical details about how you build systems to do that. But, the bottom line is, you do your best upfront, you get a, you get feedback if you can upfront from your early adopters and from, you know, a panel of users, something like that. And then you’re prepared to change it and you let people know and, uh, the ones who really like the game or community will probably stick around as it gets better.

Andrew: Okay. I’ve got a note here to ask you about the five fundamental game mechanics. Is there?

Interviewee: Sure.

Andrew: Is there a list of five you teach?

Interviewee: Um, sure. So, um, any of you who are interested in this, uh, if you go to SlideShare and search for Amy Jo Kim. You will get several presentations. If you go to YouTube and search for Amy Jo Kim you’ll see, um, some talks that I’ve given on game mechanics. And I refer you there.

The transcript for minute 25 till minute 30 is BELOW this line.

Interviewee: And I refer you to there for a lot of really great details. These five game mechanics are not all the fundamental game mechanics. They are five game mechanics that are particular useful for social software and web services. They’re useful, they’re low hanging fruit, they’re predictable. There’s a lot more sophisticated things you can do, but these five are a great place to start. Okay, so that’s my framing.

The first is earning points which we already talked about. The most fundamental thing that makes something seem like a game is points. People look at their Twitter followers and they see points. People look at their number of friends and they see points. Anything that looks like points, smell like points, cracks like points, you know, is going to be points. Once you’ve got points you can do leader boards, if you choose. That’s why there’s ____ cuz of points. Once you’ve got points, you can also do levels.

Let me demystify levels. Levels are just arbitrary points along the continuum of the points that you’re earning. They really are. And levels are shorthand for gosh I have a lot of points. You just take a continuum, you put certain points along it, usually using a mathematical model to come up with that if you’re doing gigs on it. And you’ve got levels. And you get all of that if you want it, if it’s relevant for you once you’ve got the underline mechanical point. So that’s number one. The most basic.

The second is the collecting mechanic. The game mechanic of collecting is very main stream. Very familiar to people. You a mass collectors. There’s baseball cards, There’s trading cards. There are Beanie Babies. There, you know, fans you’ve collected from your trip around the world. A lot of people are collectors. And the mechanics of collecting, badges are a good example of that. Badges tap into a collecting mechanic. Badges are interesting when there’s more to earn. You earn one badge, well there’s more. What does it mean to complete a set. If you can frame your badges as sets that you can complete, boom, you just tapped into the collecting mechanics. Okay, so that points, number one; collecting number two.

Number three is feedback. So, feedback is not just games, of course. Feedback is good software design. Feedback is good UI design. But, games are particular good at feedback. And that’s why I consider it a game mechanic. If you’re ever played any games like Rock Band or Karaoke Revolution or Guitar Hero, those games gives you feedback on so many levels about what you’re doing they actually makes you better at your skills. And that’s what feedback fundamental does. it’s feedback keeps you on the road to mastery. It tells you if you’re on the right track. It helps you get better like a great coach. That’s what great feedback does. The better your feedback the more it’s going to feel like a game and an engrossing system. So number three, feedback.

Number four. Taking turns or exchanges is the shorthand I use for that. So this fundamental feeling of taking turns, playing chess is taking turns, having a conversation is taking turns, many games have this back and forth of taking turns. Tip of tats is taking turns. Giving and receiving a gift is taking turns. this taps into this very fundamental human engagement of its my turn, it’s your turn, it’s my turn, it’s your turn.. Which is one of the most basic game mechanics we learn as a kid, wait your turn. And you can tap into that. Humans also like to note that we’re very familiar with what a conversation feels like. And if your system feels like a conversation. Feels like taking turns, you’re going to draw people in. So, gifting is a good example of the game mechanic of taking turns.

What’s important about this mechanic is that it can be implicative or explicit. An explicative game mechanic is Chess. There’s turns. Friending when both people have to opt in and then you’re both friends like on Face Book and My Space is an explicative turn taking exchange. Implicative would be gifting. You give somebody a gift, do they have to give you a gift back? No. Do they feel compelled? Yes. That’s an implicative. A really interesting example of an implicative taking turn exchange is ebay feedback system. So, you might notice that if you’ve ever traded on ebay. Once you complete your purchase, I’m a buyer, I don’t really sell, you get email from the seller saying, “”please leave me good feedback and I’ll leave you feedback in return””. That is an implicative turn taking thing. It’s not built into the system, but it’s become a cultural norm on ebay.

The transcript for minute 30 till minute 35 is BELOW this line.

Interviewee: And if you don’t leave that feedback, boy oh boy, will you hear from your angry seller. At least that’s been my experience. So that’s a great example of leaving some openness in a system where you don’t code the turn-taking in, but it emerges as an emergent property of the way you’ve designed the system.

That’s actually the best case. Because then it’s really tailored to your environment. But turn-taking is number four. And the fifth is customization. It can be customizing your character, like a World of Warcraft. Or blinging-out your profile on MySpace. Those are both great examples of customization.

Any time you have a rich profile you can decorate. If you look at a site as businesslike and simple as Hunch, which has actually you know, got a lot of depth to it…. Go look at people’s profiles. They kinda look like games. There’s badges you’re collecting, they’re very rich.

All that kind of customization was really pioneered by games. And thinking about how to allow people to customize their experience is much more what’s traditionally been in the gamer dynamic. Gamers customize their interfaces, customize their characters, etcetera.

Now, what we’re seeing is that style of customizing both your identity and your environment is creeping into more everyday activities. Particularly as it’s supported with virtual goods business models. Which we can certainly get into later if we have time.

Andrew: OK. I wanna make sure that I understand these. Points I understand: it brings out my own internal competitive instincts. I want more points. I understand collecting. If you give me badges and I’m into your system, into your environment, I’m gonna want more badges. Feedback I understand, because it lets me know I’m doing the right thing on the site, and it lets me know how to get more points, and how to collect more badges.

The taking turns…. I don’t understand how that helps. Why is it that I shouldn’t create a system that allows my players to just keep playing? Why do I have to have them give each other turns back and forth?

Interviewee: Because it creates a social capital.

Andrew: How do you mean?

Interviewee: So, if you have a single-player environment, and all you care about is you, and you against the game, then it’s not…. Then you can say, so by the way, these game mechanics, not every single one of them applies to every system. Right?

So, turn-taking might not be relevant in some systems. Is Mint game-like? Well, Mint has a really fun interface. It’s a little bit game-like. I don’t know that there’s turn-taking in there. It’s not relevant. It’s more of a single-player experience.

If you have a social environment, if you have a social network, if you wanna create something that you’re modeling as something like a multiplayer game, where people can look at each other’s profile…. Then gifting is the simplest example. And dynamics like that. And, you know, leaving compliments in Yelp. There’s a good example. That’s another really good example of something that’s game-like, and has its turn-taking element…. The reasons you want to create systems like that in multiplayer environments, are because they will build your social capital.

They will sprinkle social glue onto your system. They will help people get to know each other. They will make it harder to leave. When you’ve got 50 compliments at Yelp and another cool site that’s got a little bit better, slicker interface launches, you want to have these reasons people stay at Yelp.

And that social capital, that ineffable thing that’s represented that…all of their interactions on the site…. The more you make that concrete and visible and “”brag-able,”” the harder it is to leave. And that’s the key reason. And that’s the very pragmatic business reason why you want to do it. Does that help?

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. And then the last one, customization, I get that. Because once I’ve customized something it’s mine. It’s almost like I’ve made it from scratch. I feel….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Harder to leave. [Laughs]

Andrew: [Overlapping] …an ownership of it. Yeah, it’s harder to leave.

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Exactly. Yeah.

Andrew: All right. Let’s take in some of the feedback that people have typed in as we were talking. Will-M is saying, “”Wow, today’s interview is almost like a mini-lesson in social psychology and cultural anthropology.”” He’s loving it. Thank you. Gotrend is saying that, “”This is awesome. If you piece together elements of these interviews, you could develop a great business app.”” That’s the goal here. And I hope, by the way, that everyone who’s watching us here….

And we’re just scratching the surface of what we’ve talked about. Of what you understand when it comes to game mechanics and getting users more engaged. I hope people go online…and we’re not done with the interview here. But I just want to emphasize. We’re just getting at the beginning of it. You’ve gotta go and watch her in person, or you’ve gotta go on her website and click around. And find some of the longer talks that she’s given. And some of the PowerPoint slides that go deeper into this.

That’s why I wanted to talk to you. Because is saw one of your decks and I said I’ve gotta meet the woman behind this. So,

The transcript for minute 35 till minute 40 is BELOW this line.

Andrew: …Is that where they can go and find more information?

Interviewee: Unfortunately…. Go to

Andrew: OK.

Interviewee: And if you look at the blog, you’ll find the…. All these things linked on the blog. And I’ll be posting some new ones in January as well.

Andrew: Oh, good. So, Go check it out.

Interviewee: Yes.

Andrew: Kirstin Winkler is saying Jason’s seems to be based on, where is that…seems to be based on the same mechanics. Is that right? Have you seen that?

Interviewee: You know what? I’m not that familiar with Mahalo. But I’m gonna make myself a note right now to check it out. I was really hoping I’d get some cool tips from this crowd. So, thank you. I bet you’re right. And that’s actually really interesting. And I guess that kinda proves my point. Which is that these…a lot of people are figuring out the power of these kinds of mechanics.

Andrew: And Jason actually has added to Mahalo both belts, if you answer the right…. if you answer a certain number of questions, you rise up and you go from white belt to black belt. ‘Cause he’s a karate guy. He’s also included points for each search. So, I haven’t logged into his site in a while. But I think when you do a search, you get a point. When you click, you get a point. And it’s just up there, kinda subtly at the top right of the page. Letting you know that you’re interacting with the site.

And I guess he’s trying to get you to be competitive there.

Interviewee: So, I will definitely check it out. I have to say if I’m searching and I see that I’m getting points, my first question that runs through my mind is, “Why are they doing that?” you know?

Andrew: Right.

Interviewee: ‘Cause it’s not why I’m there.

Andrew: Right.

Interviewee: But I don’t know Mahalo well enough to know if it’s really a place you search to go get other places, or if it’s a place that you sorta hang out. But I will definitely check it out. And see what I think of it. And how they’re doing that stuff. It sounds like a great example. Are there more great examples that you’re seeing in your text stream there?

Andrew: We just had a question from G-Estra…G, I gotta learn how to pronounce your name, man. Let’s talk offline, so I know how to pronounce your name. He’s a very big part of these interviews and I can never pronounce his last name properly. But he’s asking a great question. Which is, “Can this be added into any business? Into any online site?”

Interviewee: Yes…with discretion.

Andrew: How do you mean?

Interviewee: I mean, if you throw all these, all of these mechanics at any site, that’s not good design. I would say almost any site could probably be improved. The low-hanging fruit there is better feedback. So, often, I will work with a client…. For instance, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that you’ve got a web community or website that’s a support group. Are you gonna want leader boards? Nah, maybe not.

You know? You’re not gonna wanna set up a competitive atmosphere. You don’t want points? Oh, maybe under the surface, but maybe not right at the surface. But might you want better feedback? Or a system to send, uh, “I’m thinking of you” notes back and forth? Like an exchange? Probably. That sort of thing would reinforce why people are there.

So, yes with discretion. Yes, with good design.

Andrew: By “I’m thinking of you notes,” you mean from the site itself to its users?

Interviewee: Pardon?

Andrew: By “thinking of you notes,” you mean from the site, to users?

Interviewee: No, I meant, to the users.

Andrew: Users to each other?

Interviewee: Yeah, like let’s say that somebody posts, “Oh, I’m going back into the hospital for more chemo (sigh).” And then somebody else can, like, post something. Or they could just send a virtual gift. Or send a special, you know, note that says, “Sending you support.” That’s a one-click thing. Those would be the kind of things that would make sense on a support group site.

Andrew: All right. Amy Jo, I’ve never seen this before. I’m getting so many people tweeting about you right now that I can’t keep up with it. Just as I start to read one, five more come in all at once.

Interviewee: I’m really glad. I have to just say, I’m so glad people are excited about this. And I’m really glad that there’s some more in-depth tutorials that I can point them to online, too. Because once you’ve got your arms around this stuff and you’ve outfitted your tool belt with the right game mechanics, and you’ve got your designers’ hat on, and you’re really thinking about supporting the activities, it’s really exciting to develop this stuff and then track the responses.

With all the great tracking software we’ve got now.

And tweak it, and make it better. And, you know, I think it adds more fun to the world. And that’s a good thing. More fun is good!

Andrew: Yeah. We as entrepreneurs are in…are part of the biggest game mechanics system ever. You know? We wanna know how much money are we making with our sites, or how many more users are coming onto our sites, and we just keep getting competitive, and competitive with each other. Monocount was asking a great question earlier, too in the chat. He was asking, “Can this…”

The transcript for minute 40 till minute 45 is BELOW this line.

Andrew: He was asking, “”Can this be added to ecommerce sites, and how?”


Andrew: How are they doing it? Because.

Interviewee: [Overlapping] It’s got all kinds of stuff. It’s got, you know, user reviews, it’s got feedback on the user reviews. It’s got leader boards. Top 50 reviews, it’s got badges associated with the leader boards. It’s got all kinds of stuff.

I think that Amazon does a great job. Take a look at Mechanical Turk too. See what they’re doing. That’s a really interesting site. But I think Amazon is full of game mechanics in that sense. And it’s got a very well-developed reputation system.

Now, the interesting thing about Amazon, let me highlight this for a minute. I think this is potentially useful to all the folks out there. People can have reputation, and so can content. So when you’re thinking about your reputation system or your ratings system, how you wanna create that, you can attach reputation to people like in eBay. But you can also attach reputation to content. Like ratings in Amazon.

And they’re both useful. In fact, here’s just a little nugget of tidbit. One of the best hooks for those brag-able moments I was talking about before that are great for viral outreach, is when your content bubbles up as interesting because a lot of people are interacting with it. Brag-able moment. ‘Cause everybody wants to be pointed at great content.

Andrew: I see. Yes.

Interviewee: Sometimes it’s easier to have brag-able moments that work about content than necessarily about people.

Andrew: [Overlapping] Can you give people points for buying?

Interviewee: [Overlapping] So, just something to think about. Excuse me?

Andrew: Can you say that you’re gonna give points based on purchases? And encourage people to rack up more points as they buy? Or is that too obvious.

Interviewee: That usually, what usually works best there is redeemable points. So another kind of point…. We talked about game points, we talked about social points. There’s something else, which is redeemable points, AKA a loyalty program. And if you’re gonna rack up points when you buy, what’s gonna feel the most familiar to your players and feel comfortable, and get the least [Laughs] customer support calls is gonna be redeemable points.

Andrew: I see. You know, as you were going through the five fundamental game mechanics, I was thinking that I once, years ago, got into Toastmasters. I wanted to learn how to speak better. it’s not working a hundred percent, but it helped a lot.

Interviewee: [Laughs]

Andrew: And so I got in there, and I found myself getting so sucked in that I was going a few times a week to these sessions. And now is see why. Because they had points. Every time you’d complete a speech, you get another point. They had badges that you were collecting. So….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Really?

Andrew: [Overlapping] You had titles at the end of your name. And in fact, when they announce you, they wouldn’t just say, “”This is Andrew Warner…This is Andrew Warner, Confident Speaker.”” Or, “”Andrew Warner, Super-Duper Speaker.”” Whatever it was that you, whatever title that….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] You leveled up!

Andrew: Yes, you leveled up!

Interviewee: They had levels!

Andrew: And then there’s feedback. I mean, there’s explicit feedback, where people are telling you how good your speeches are. And giving you feedback on how to improve, but there’s also feedback within the points system. And then there’s taking turns. I would speak, and then I would sit down, and someone else would speak. And I’d have to give them feedback. And I’d have to support them. And of course there’s customization. The whole thing is designed around my interests. What kind of speeches do I want to give?

So if it could be applied offline in such a….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] Oh, I love that!

Andrew: [Overlapping] …root American system, it could work anywhere.

Interviewee: Oh, totally. Well, that’s awesome, Andrew. Thank you for sharing that story. Yeah, so meta-game systems are everywhere around us. Karate belts are a meta-game layered on top of a martial art. Boy Scout badges are a meta-game layered on top of learning about the outdoors with your dad. An employee incentive system is a meta-game layered on top of doing well at your job.

Your coffee loyalty card at, you know, your coffee place is a meta-game layered on top of going for a morning coffee. They’re everywhere. And that’s awesome about Toastmasters.

Andrew: [Overlapping] I didn’t think of it as that awesome….

Interviewee: [Overlapping] So, I wanna say one more thing. Which is that, you started to get a little bit addicted to Toastmasters, didn’t you?

Andrew: Yeah.

Interviewee: Yeah. So, [Laughs] one of the things about game mechanics is they tap into very, very primal things that we humans have built in to us. In behavioral psychology, they call that “”response patterns and reinforcement schedules.”” And part of why game mechanics work is they tap into that. And games can….

You know, the dark side of game mechanics is that they can…really…hook into our brain’s internal reward system in a way that can distract us from other [Laughs] things we need to do. And it’s a good thing. For…getting addicted to Toastmasters, if that didn’t interrupt the rest of your life, it’s great.

Frankly, I’m addicted to exercise. I admit it. It’s really great. At one time, I was addicted to Ultimate Online, and my husband had to sit me down and have a talk with me. And then we wiped it off the computer. I’ll be honest. I’m not immune. I can’t have WOW on my computer or I would not get anything done. Literally.

So that’s, you know, this often comes up. And I wanted to sort of head it off at the pass. Game…

The transcript for minute 45 till minute 50 is BELOW this line.

Interviewee: Game mechanics can be used to drive behavior. For some people that behavior can become addictive in nature and the difference between a really compelling great game that is a lot of fun and something that wrecks someone’s life is really about that persons ability to control their own behavior. It’s part of the contiuum. It’s also why some people go to Vegas once a year and have fun and other people have a problem. Same issue.

Andrew: That’s really powerful.

Interviewee: Game designers can’t solve that issue.

Andrew: you know what? I didn’t interview about cults and what we can learn as entrepreneurs from cults and a lot of these mechanisms were in place there. The leveling up was something that constantly came up.

Interviewee: Find out about the secrets at the next level.

Andrew: Yes. Yeah and then everyone gives you more respect if you have another level, if you’ve got another title attached to the your name. You mentioned a tool belt; a set of tools earlier. Can we go through some of them now? I know we don’t have much time until the end of the interview.

Interviewee: Sure. Well the first five we already went through. Points and all the things around points; leaderboards. I think of those, when I visualize it I thnk of them as each a separate point like leaderboards, do we want leaderboards? Spotlights, do we wants spotlights. Points, social points, redeemable points. They’re all there on the tool. You pull out the one that you need. Missions. Missions we didn’t talk about too much. Missions are just like your to do list in a sense. Tell people what to do. Make it easy for them to do it. Tell them what they will earn if they do it. That’s what a missions system is essentially. So I add that to the tool belt. Quests are another kind of mission. Boss monsters. That’is another – i told you it was more sophisticated so I would add that boss monsters and monsters in general, let’is call them quizes on an educational site. How do you know you – why can’t you have a game-like environment for studying and completing knowledge in a certain area with a boss quiz at the end that you have to defeat in order to level up and learn the next level of your education? that’s another example.

Andrew: OK guys I promise you from now on I’m going to find a better chat system from here because people are sending so many different messages here, I think we’ve outgrown it. I know that a large part of it is this particular interview is drawing a lot of excitement here with the live audience but another part of it is I think maybe we’ve just exhausted this chat system. We need a better chat system for you.

Interviewee: there’s one thing I can say, tomorrow I will be giving a free half hour class on the basics of virtual goods.

Andrew: Is this on Edufire?

Interviewee: On Edufire?

Andrew: They’ve got it here. They actually have linked up to you on Edufire here. Apparently it’s going to be tomorrow, 12/9 Wednesday and we’ve got a link here. If you’re watching us live you can click it.

Interviewee: OK. Yeah I was, I’m thrilled about the excitement about the stuff and I would empower all of you as much as I can with great tools so you can hit it out of the park with what you’re doing. So if you’re interested in the Virtual Goods, Virtual Economies it’s like a primer open to everyone, very basic. You should enjoy that. Hopefully Andrew we can continue the discussion at another time and delve deeper and maybe allocate more time to the Q&A part.

Andrew: Yeah. I’d love it. Let me thank the person who just sent that out because he’s been a big help here on Mixergy Live. Marius Ceosinelle [sp]. Marius Ceosinelle thank you and thank you also for sporting that Mixergy Live logo on your Twitter name, on your Twitter avatar. Man you’re a big help here. Yeah, click over to that Edufire class and check it out. All right, thank you. Thank you for doing this interview with me and thank you all for watching us. I’m sorry we did’t get to all your live questions but I’m hoping you can connect to Mary Jo directly and if you have any more questions…

Interviewee: Amy Jo.

Andrew: Did I just say Mary Jo, sorry.

Interviewee: It’s OK.

Andrew: Amy Jo Kim.

Interviewee: It happens all the time.

Andrew: So I’m hoping you can connect with Amy Jo Kim directly and if you’ve got any more questions, put them in the comment section on Mixergy and we’ll do our best to answer them. Thank you for coming here. Thank you for doing this interview and thank you all for watching. I’ll see you in the comments.

Full program includes

– Learn the levels of activity. Once you understand that, you’ll start to see the success of sites like Twitter with a new understanding.

– Get a toolbelt that you can use to add game mechanics to your business.

– Because of questions from live audience members like Marius Ciocanel and Mosses Akizian, you’ll see how these techniques would apply to real-world companies.

Edited Except: 5 Fundamental game mechanics

These  five game mechanics are not all the fundamental game mechanics.  They are five game mechanics that are particular useful for social software and web services.  They’re useful, they’re low hanging fruit, they’re applicable. There’s a lot more sophisticated things you can do, but these five are a great place to start.


The most fundamental thing that makes something seem like a game is points.  People look at their Twitter followers and they see points.  People look at the number of their friends and they see points.  Anything that looks like points, smells like points, quacks like points is going to be points. Once you’ve got points you can do leader boards, if you choose.  That’s why there’s “mayor” of Foursquare, because of points.  Once you’ve got points, you can also do levels.


The game mechanic of collecting is very main stream.  Very familiar to people.  You amass collectors.  There’s baseball cards. There’s trading cards.  There are Beanie Babies. There fans you’ve collected from your trip around the world.  A lot of people are collectors. Badges are a good example of that. Badges tap into a collecting mechanic. Badges are interesting when there’s more to earn.  You earn one badge, well there’s more.  What does it mean to complete a set? If you can frame your badges as sets that you can complete, boom, you just tapped into the collecting mechanics.


Feedback is not just games, of course. Feedback is good software design.  Feedback is good user interaction design.  But, games are particular good at feedback.  And that’s why I consider it a game mechanic.  If you’re ever played any games like Rock Band or Karaoke Revolution or Guitar Hero, those games gives you feedback on so many levels about what you’re doing they actually makes you better at your skill.  And that’s what feedback fundamental does.  It keeps you on the road to mastery.  It tells you if you’re on the right track.  It helps you get better like a great coach.  That’s what great feedback does.  The better your feedback the more it’s going to feel like a game and an engrossing system.


Taking turns — or exchanges is the shorthand I use for that. Playing chess is taking turns. Having a conversation is taking turns. Many games have this back and forth of taking turns. Tit for tat is taking turns.  Giving and receiving a gift is taking turns.  This taps into this very fundamental human engagement of, “its my turn, it’s your turn, it’s my turn, it’s your turn…” which is one of the most basic game mechanics we learn as kids, wait your turn.  And you can tap into that.  Humans are very familiar with what a conversation feels like, and if your system feels like a conversation. Feels like taking turns, you’re going to draw people in.


It can be customizing your character, like a World of Warcraft. Or blinging-out your profile on MySpace. Those are both great examples of customization. Any time you have a rich profile you can decorate….All that kind of customization was really pioneered by games. And thinking about how to allow people to customize their experience is much more what’s traditionally been in the gamer dynamic. Gamers customize their interfaces, customize their characters, etc. Now, what we’re seeing is that style of customizing both your identity and your environment is creeping into more everyday activities.


Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.