From Gamification to Gameful Design
Dan Dixon, senior lecturer in Creative Technologies at UWE gave an interactive workshop to help participants consider how they could use gamification as a lens to do user design.
Dixon began by taking us back into the dim, dark past when FourSquare launched, which became the industry blueprint for gamification. Little has changed from this original model, with most games using badges, points and quests to layer gamification on top of underlying service. He discussed the accepted industry definition of gamification, noting that fun and play do not feature. The aim seems to involve meeting business and marketing needs.
Dixon argued that games are made of more than just points and quests. They offer the element of surprise, spaces for creativity, and make you feel purposeful. These aspects of games are not currently being used by the more marketing-led gamification design.
Dixon went on to define what he termed “gameful design” as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. He emphasised that this is not necessarily about creating fully-fledged games, but rather taking elements from game design. He used this as a launch point to introduce the MDA model that formed the basis of the practical exercises in the workshop.
The MDA model is a formal, abstract design tool which can be used for game analysis and design using Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics. Dixon explained that mechanics describes the underlying data, algorithms and processes; dynamics describes the emergent behaviours of the systems based on these mechanics; and aesthetics refers to emotional and semiotic responses in the player. This model can be approached from the top down or from the bottom up, starting with either mechanics or aesthetics. The MDA framework tends to formalise the key concepts of consumption in gaming, including fun, systems and rules.
Dixon walked through a number of examples, dissecting games such as Monopoly according to the three levels of the MDA model. He then asked participants to work together on an analysis exercise, in which each group chose a game they were familiar with and analysed the way the game made them feel, the dynamics in the game that caused these feelings and the underlying mechanics of the game.
As time was short, we only heard feedback from one group, who had analysed the board game Cluedo. They began with the mechanics of the game, such as the physical pieces and elements of the game (the character pieces, the map of the house etc), the random element of the game using the dice, and some of the more subtle mechanics involved in the game, such as the principle of using a process of elimination and opportunities to sabotage other characters. They moved on to highlight the dynamics that these mechanics cause within the game play, which can make players wonder whether other players are are double bluffing. Finally, they gave an overview of how these things make you feel as a player, including feeling suspicious of other players, clever when you get it right, and having an identity within the house whilst playing the game because you are one of the physical character pieces.
Following this exercise, Dixon moved on to discuss the use of core experience loops to help figure out where the use of gameful design as a strategy is appropriate.
He described how core learnable loops allow you to learn through games in a tight, iterative loop through goals, actions, feedback. Goals are understandable, explicit and nested, leading to actions, which are real, clear although constrained challenges, which in turn result in consumable, immediate feedback. Dixon firmly believes that feedback from games should be juicy – it needs to be exciting! He observed that a key difference between marketing gamification and gameful design is that rather than satisfying users through tasks, game designers always think about epic-ifying everything.
The final design challenge focussed on epic-ification. Dixon gave participants a design scenario working for an online dating service. The goal of the exercise was to come up with way to improve the contact between members of this dating service, focussing purely on the user-to-user messaging, using the MDA model. Participants considered how do they wanted users to feel, the systems/interactions that would be necessary to generate that feeling and the basic interaction elements that would underly those interactions.
The workshop exercises helped the workshop participants to work through the MDA model and how they might apply it in their work. Dixon concluded by summing up how workshop participants could use gameful design as a lens, how to use the MDA model to do analysis, and how they can use gameful design to “epic-ify” things!