eTech - Amy Jo Kim

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eTech notes from Putting the Fun in Functional. Applying Games Mechanics To Functional Software.
Amy Jo Kim, Creative Director of Shuffle Brain. Her slides.


How can we use game mechanics to create compelling services and applications, even if those are not games.

How can games shape behaviour? By leveraging our basic, primal response patterns. Schedules of reinforcement (giving rewards within a certain schedule)

How to make interactive experience more addictive? By finding inspiration in 5 game mechanics.

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1. Collecting: amassing and showing your stuff. Example:
World of Warcraft inventory => MySpace friends: you collect friends.
Having an impressive collection gives you bragging rights. Example:
Collective cards => Tagworld fans (similar dynamics in social networks)
Completing a set gives you some extra power.
Baseball cards => Habbo Hotel coinds. The mundaine activity becomes fun.
Gotta catch ‘em all. Pokémon Checklist.

2. Earning points: related but more sophisticated, its’ a very simple way to keep the interest alive.
E.g. Fastr (mashup game based on flickr)
Bejeweled => ponts on eBay.
What can you do with your points? What can these points do for you?
Redeemable points: earn while you shop. For example S&H GreenStamps or you can also earn when you make purchases on
The concept is especially important for girls who feel they are not allowed to stay there and play, that they are expected to do something “meaningful? and “valuable?. Redeemable points drive loyalty (for example, Southwest Airlines points.)

Can earning point become a social experience?
On fastr, you can see everyone else’s points. Social points are given by other players.
Example: ratings in Acrophonia: you get an acronym and people vote for the one they like the best => rating on You Tube can be regarded as social points as well.
Social points express the value of the “game?.
Example the rating profiles in MySpace or rating profiles in Hotties (for mobile phones)
On eBay also social points received for online transactions: other people might give you positive or negative points.
Similarly, you can get social points on Amazon if you write book reviews that are regarded as useful by other Amazon users.

Different ways the social points can be expressed.
On flickr the social points are given for the “interestingness? of a picture, the points are calculated via aggregate behaviour (how many people viewed, commented ot tagged that picture.)
Once you have points you can get LeaderBoards. The sytem taps into our innate competitive drive, it expresses the value of a game.
e.g xBox Live Halo => textAmerica, how many images someone has updated and much they were commented and rated.

LeaderBoards drive players’ behaviour.
You Tube video rating. MySpace attractiveness ratings.

Some system once had LeaderBoards but have removed them. Why is that?
Orkut, Amazon had one for most popular reviewers. The problem is that LeaderBoards encourage people to game the system. They can be very interesting but you have to be sure that they really reinforce what you want/need to be reinforced.

Once you have points, you can also have levels. Levels are shorthands for accumulated points.
e.g. levelling up in Bejeweled. => eBay star system. Very motivating.
Levels punctuate the game experience. E.g. “I’ll quit the game but first I want to get to the next level?, it keeps people playing. Like the karate belt.
Level unlock over time new powers, accesses or priviledges.
Levelling up in World of Warcraft allows you to take on new monsters, go to new places, etc. eBay power seller. The trick is very simple but levels keep people motivated and interested.

3. Feedback
but you have to use it creatively.
e.g. bejewelled shows points very clearly, screen explodes, etc. there are numerous aspects to give a constant feedback => feedbacks in MySapce mobile, you can get notification on your mobile phone about the feedback you have received, even when you’re not in front of your computer.

Feedbacks accelerate mastery.
e.g. Karaoke Revolution: How good is your singing? The game teaches you how to sing. If you do it well, your character starts to glow, if you don’t you get booed off the stage.

Brain Training lets you assess how old is your brain. The game, originally from Japan, proposes little exercises for your brain to make it stay young. You get feedback all the time, the more you play the younger your brain gets.

Feedbacks make an experience more fun and compelling. Google Map feels more fun to use because it provides its users with constant feedback. Feedback makes mundane tasks look more fun.

Cooking Mama (Nintendo DS) teaches you how to coock basic Japanese meals.

BIMactives: feedbacks on your physical activity. Tracks your moves on the mobile phone and tracks your training. The feedbacks help you complete your goals: how can you reach your goals, burn more calories, there’s a map of where you’ve been, etc. Training suddenly looks like playing a game.

4. Exchanges are structured social interactions. They are the basic, primal form of social interaction. Social exchange can be very explicit or implicit (i.e. emergent)
For example eBay feedback has evolved into a tit-for-tat social game: give me a feedback, I’ll give you one.
Trading is an explicit social exchange. Example: trading in World of Warcraft; trading in Mogi-Mogi (a GPS-based game in Tokyo to collect virtual objects.)
“Gifting? is an implicit social exchange, you’re not forced to do it but the system makes you do it.
Examples: NetMarble (Korea); HabboHotel (you can buy object with your points and give gifts); Helios that targets the MySpace generation, ability to give ringtones, wallpapers, etc.

If you want to create interesting social dynamics you have to allow users to exchange gifts. It’s a very powerful social exchange.
MySpace has both implicit and explicit social exchanges: “add friends? is explicit but comments are implicit.

5. Customization.

Customization increases investment in the experience. E.g metroGirl that lets you choose you r favourite character/personality; you can customise your eBay interface (like categories you’re interested in).
Customisation also creates barrier to exit.
My customized Google page is more personal interesting and fun.
e.g the Amazon home page, customizing you makes you feel more at home. Same goes for the flickr homepage.

Character customization is especially powerful, for example the customization of female characters in World Of Warcraft. Also female profile on MySpace, you can put the music you like, change the colour, etc.
Brain Training tracks your progression over the time. The system remembers when you haven’t logged in for 3 days and it tells you that you should train your brain more often, to keep it sharp and young.

Let’s talk about a successful social network throught the lens of game mechanics.
MySpace is a collection of friends; it allows you to earn points, it provides you with very rich feedbacks on a number of levels; there are different kinds of exchanges and lots of customization.

MySpace is like a teenager bedroom, it’s cluttered, colourful, it horrifies parents but that’s meant to be like that.

Looking ahead:
- expect to see more applications that feel like gaming;
- and to see more games that teach real-world skills.
Amyjo at

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This all sounds very familiar.

I am currently working on a new open source project management web-app, that rewards your progress on your own projects with eXperience Points, levels, treasure and even real world prizes.

My goal, is a system that provides incentives for making progress on your work... You can even use it in a group (let's say, an open source development team), to foster some healthy competition among your developers.

You can see more detail on

I'm so glad you enjoyed my talk - I'm a big fan of your blog, I often get inspired from your posts. Hope my work inspired you too :-)

Interesting post Amy!

I've long noticed that games can be unusually addictive...watching my WoW friends disappear into their online life, and that week I nearly didn't sleep when I got the WoW one-week pass...

And I've wondered what in the world made those darn things so addictive? And if the best of them could do it so successfully, with common elements across the board, could we use those elements and implement them into other useful systems, like teaching and training?

Your post has answered some of those questions for me, so thanks! :)

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