It doesn’t matter which game we talk about, be it football, World of Warcraft or board games, all good games are very similar in terms of game traits and elements. Uncovering these similarities helps us understand what really drives people to act, in other words, what are the things that motivate us.
We’ve adapted four defining game traits from Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World – by Jane McGonical.
1. The GOAL (specific outcome that players will work to achieve).
Goals are what we strive for in a game, and it’s no wonder because achievement – making a goal – grants us positive emotions like self-worthiness and confidence. The goal might also be learning – discovering a way to solve a current or a future problem, or getting better at performing a task, which by default is very satisfying and useful.
2. The RULES (limitations on how players can achieve the goal).
Rules define the boundaries on how you can act and set the scope for the space we are allowed to dwell in. In other words, rules limit our behavior and penalize from, for instance a faulty tackle in football. Rules also give the players a common understanding of how the game should be played. In business rules can be seen, for instance when we are defining and limiting a scope of a project or a while trying to brainstorm for a new product that would fit the markets better. Redefining these rules – the scope – helps us to change the way we see how to achieve the goal. Rules make playing a game – as well as projects and ideation – simple and more effective.
3. The FEEDBACK SYSTEM (tells the players how close they are to achieving the goal).
Without a feedback system a player wouldn’t know where he stands – is he achieving or is he going the wrong way? The feedback systems give us actionable next steps toward achieving the ultimate goal and the feeling of being productively busy. This is at the heart of many games such as World of Warcraft. At work, we tick off items from a Things To Do list or follow the growth of sales projections in a game-like manner. In dialogue with colleagues, we get more complex feedback from others in subjects that can’t be defined in a tick-box.
4. VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION (everyone who is playing accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback).
We’ve all seen the stick and carrot style of leadership die. There’s many researchers like Daniel Pink or Dan Ariely who have studied motivation and they point to intrinsic motivation as the ultimate driver. Of course, there are external motivators too. However, to play a game the players must intrinsically accept the goals, the rules and the feedback to be able to play the game. And, to continue playing a game we must also be motivated to do so. This motivation partly comes from the elements discussed below.
Bernard Suits (philosopher) says “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.
We continue playing when the game experience feels positive. To make a game experience feel positive it should include elements that spark positive emotions.
The 3 elements of a good game, by McGonical are:
1. Feeling of Fiero (pride, happiness, universally expressed by lifting the arms in the air).
Can be, for instance felt when accomplishing a next step toward a goal.
2. Creating opportunities for Naches (a Yiddish word for the bursting pride we feel when someone we’ve taught or mentored succeeds).
When you’ve been mentoring someone and they succeed in, for instance, in a negotiation due to that help, you receive this wonderful feeling of being important. In World of Warcraft this is an evident element, there higher leveled players help lower leveled players in harder quests. Just like mentoring, right?
3. Epic scale of the goal – the magnitude of the issue, which tells of heroic action (like saving the world).
Highlighting the magnitude of the goal or goals in a game builds up the amount of awesomeness we feel when we achieve the goal. This strengthens the positive emotions we receive and intrinsically motivates us. Jim Collins talks about Big Hairy Audacious Goals as an important driver from Good to Great.
A good game is a unique way of structuring experience and provoking positive emotion.