Game Mechanics: The Foursquare Example

On day 1 of the BIA/Kelsey Marketplaces 2010 conference, we heard from Jon Carder, CEO of MojoPages.com, talking about the importance of game mechanics in social systems. It’s a topic I’m especially interested in and I mentioned the importance of “reward systems” in my perfect local media company of 2014 post.

Carder mentioned the following:

  • Game mechanics is the new black
  • He defined them as “a series of rules and functions that tap into our primal response patterns to drive usage, sales, and /or referrals”.
  • He mentioned Foursquare and Groupon as good examples of new apps/sites using game elements.

He suggested a good game system needs four must-have elements (action, goal, scoreboard and reward) and three nice-to-have (competition, clock and social). Here’s how it applies to Foursquare:

  • Action: the check-in is the action
  • Goal: get the most check-ins
  • Scoreboard: you can see total check-ins and unlocked badges
  • Reward: unlock badges
  • Competition: people compete to become Mayor of a place
  • Social: you can broadcast your activities on Facebook and Twitter, telling your friends about your badges/mayorship
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A New Year's Business Resolution: Ship Early, Ship Often and Fail Quickly to Succeed Fast

Must-read article in the January edition of Wired Magazine: “Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem”. The theme of the monthly magazine is “failure” and there’s a lot to learn from this article chronicling the development efforts around the Duke Nukem 3D sequel, Duke Nukem Forever whose development at 3D Realms started in 1997 and was recently shut down without any game being released.

Why did it happen? Excerpts from Wired:

[George] Broussard [co-owner of 3D Realms and the man who headed the Duke Nukem Forever project for its entire 12-year run] simply couldn’t tolerate the idea of Duke Nukem Forever coming out with anything other than the latest and greatest technology and awe-inspiring gameplay. He didn’t just want it to be good. It had to surpass every other game that had ever existed, the same way the original Duke Nukem 3D had. But because the technology kept getting better, Broussard was on a treadmill. He’d see a new game with a flashy graphics technique and demand the effect be incorporated into Duke Nukem Forever. (…)

It’s a dilemma all artists confront, of course. When do you stop creating and send your work out to face the public? Plenty of Hollywood directors have delayed for months, dithering in the editing room. But in videogames, the problem is particularly acute, because the longer you delay, the more genuinely antiquated your product begins to look — and the more likely it is that you’ll need to rip things down and start again. All game designers know this, so they pick a point to stop improving — to “lock the game down” — and then spend a frantic year polishing. But Broussard never seemed willing to do that. (…)

Broussard was also cursed with money. Normally, game developers don’t have much cash. Like rock bands seeking a label to help pay for the cost of recording an album, game developers usually find a publisher to give them an advance in exchange for a big slice of the profits. But Broussard and Miller didn’t need to do this. 3D Realms was flush with cash; on top of the massive Duke Nukem 3D sales, they had other products that were selling briskly, including several add-on packs for Duke Nukem 3D that they’d outsourced to another developer. (…)

Other game developers envied the freedom that Broussard and Miller had, at least at first. Developers and their publishers, indeed, are often at war. It’s like many suits-versus-creatives relationships: Developers want to make their product superb, and the publishers just want it on the shelves as soon as possible. If the game starts getting delayed, it’s the publisher that cracks the whip. Broussard and Miller were free to thumb their noses at this entire system.

What it means: even though the article is from the videogame industry, the lesson learned is good for Web development as well. All developers and product managers are eventually guilty of waiting too long to ship a new product or feature. Add on top of this conservatism when you work for a big brand and you create a recipe for innovation disaster. Perfection in Web development doesn’t exist and you get more value and feedback when you submit your product to real consumers. I always like to point people to some early examples of successful startups to prove my point. See Digg in 2004, Facebook (still called TheFacebook!) in 2005 or Twitter in 2006. I’m convinced these guys were not 100% satisfied when they launched the first iteration of their product. It had bugs, they certainly had to abandon some functionalities in version one and they had some user interface compatibility problems with Internet Explorer 6 (!). But they shipped and improved quickly afterwards. As a new year’s business resolution, we should embrace the following mantra: ship early, ship often and fail quickly to succeed fast! Happy 2010 everyone!

A New Year's Business Resolution: Ship Early, Ship Often and Fail Quickly to Succeed Fast

Must-read article in the January edition of Wired Magazine: “Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem”. The theme of the monthly magazine is “failure” and there’s a lot to learn from this article chronicling the development efforts around the Duke Nukem 3D sequel, Duke Nukem Forever whose development at 3D Realms started in 1997 and was recently shut down without any game being released.

Why did it happen? Excerpts from Wired:

[George] Broussard [co-owner of 3D Realms and the man who headed the Duke Nukem Forever project for its entire 12-year run] simply couldn’t tolerate the idea of Duke Nukem Forever coming out with anything other than the latest and greatest technology and awe-inspiring gameplay. He didn’t just want it to be good. It had to surpass every other game that had ever existed, the same way the original Duke Nukem 3D had. But because the technology kept getting better, Broussard was on a treadmill. He’d see a new game with a flashy graphics technique and demand the effect be incorporated into Duke Nukem Forever. (…)

It’s a dilemma all artists confront, of course. When do you stop creating and send your work out to face the public? Plenty of Hollywood directors have delayed for months, dithering in the editing room. But in videogames, the problem is particularly acute, because the longer you delay, the more genuinely antiquated your product begins to look — and the more likely it is that you’ll need to rip things down and start again. All game designers know this, so they pick a point to stop improving — to “lock the game down” — and then spend a frantic year polishing. But Broussard never seemed willing to do that. (…)

Broussard was also cursed with money. Normally, game developers don’t have much cash. Like rock bands seeking a label to help pay for the cost of recording an album, game developers usually find a publisher to give them an advance in exchange for a big slice of the profits. But Broussard and Miller didn’t need to do this. 3D Realms was flush with cash; on top of the massive Duke Nukem 3D sales, they had other products that were selling briskly, including several add-on packs for Duke Nukem 3D that they’d outsourced to another developer. (…)

Other game developers envied the freedom that Broussard and Miller had, at least at first. Developers and their publishers, indeed, are often at war. It’s like many suits-versus-creatives relationships: Developers want to make their product superb, and the publishers just want it on the shelves as soon as possible. If the game starts getting delayed, it’s the publisher that cracks the whip. Broussard and Miller were free to thumb their noses at this entire system.

What it means: even though the article is from the videogame industry, the lesson learned is good for Web development as well. All developers and product managers are eventually guilty of waiting too long to ship a new product or feature. Add on top of this conservatism when you work for a big brand and you create a recipe for innovation disaster. Perfection in Web development doesn’t exist and you get more value and feedback when you submit your product to real consumers. I always like to point people to some early examples of successful startups to prove my point. See Digg in 2004, Facebook (still called TheFacebook!) in 2005 or Twitter in 2006. I’m convinced these guys were not 100% satisfied when they launched the first iteration of their product. It had bugs, they certainly had to abandon some functionalities in version one and they had some user interface compatibility problems with Internet Explorer 6 (!). But they shipped and improved quickly afterwards. As a new year’s business resolution, we should embrace the following mantra: ship early, ship often and fail quickly to succeed fast! Happy 2010 everyone!

Guest Post: The Impact of Interactivity On Children's Books

This guest post is written by Annie Bacon, a freelance game designer (www.anniebacon.com) living in Montreal. She’s also the author of the youth novel series Terra Incognita and akidstory.com personalized books.

It all started with this link to a blog post with a YouTube video in which someone puts an iPhone into an actual physical book to make it interactive. My first feeling upon looking at the video is a simple and complete “wow”, isn’t that remarkable! Considering that I’m both a youth novel writer and game designer, it looked like the best of both worlds merging book and videogame together. But then, I started to wonder why is the physical book frame needed? The interesting part is how the touch screen of the iPhone allows for the story to come alive; the rest is just a pretty shell… or is it?

After years of laissé-faire (70s and 80s), parents have started putting their foot down on the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV. “Obesity” and “passivity” were the two words most currently used to demonize the entire medium. By association, videogames and computer games are also considered “time wasters” even though they actively engage the child with their interactivity. “Less TV” has quickly become “Less time in front of a screen”, even in my own home, I must admit!

Interactive stories have been on the market as CD-ROMs and websites for years, and yet none of them ever got the reaction that the aforementioned YouTube video got. Why? Because they were not cleverly disguised as the sacred object that is a book! Books are wholesome! They make kids smarter! They prevent school drop-out! Not actual reading, just the books itself!

Books vs. Screen

This brings me to the electronic book. I follow a lot of writers and editors on both Twitter and Facebook, and the “what do you think of the Kindle” conversations are multiplying. A lot of purists are strongly against them, as if the smell of the paper was more important to the experience than the story contained within. Again, it’s the screen that causes a problem. If e-readers were made of paper with magical ink instead of plastic and pixels, they might be more widely accepted, and yet, the experience would be exactly the same. Some wonder if they’re here to stay. Of course they are! But they’ll also transform. They’ll add colors to accommodate illustrations, then sound, then interactivity, and suddenly the line between books and web-like content will blur.

What it means: It’s the habit of this blog to have a thought-provoking analysis at the end of a post. I would have liked to do the same but I find I have more questions than answers. Once children books are on interactive e-readers, will parents see them as acceptable reading material, or will they just be thrown in the “more screens” category? Will authors need to adjust to the new philosophy and add bells and whistles (read interactivity) to their books if they want to go mainstream? Will books, interactive content, videogames and movies stay in separate categories or are we looking at a merger of media? Will the next generation really care about those categories or just think of it as Entertainment with a capital E? Two things are certain: first, the paper book is not going to disappear any time soon. After all, in this “MP3” world, my daughter still listens to good old vinyl records once in a while! Secondly, creators and consumers should rejoice: in whatever form it takes, the future of entertainment is going to be exciting! Like in a good book, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Guest Post: The Impact of Interactivity On Children's Books

This guest post is written by Annie Bacon, a freelance game designer (www.anniebacon.com) living in Montreal. She’s also the author of the youth novel series Terra Incognita and akidstory.com personalized books.

It all started with this link to a blog post with a YouTube video in which someone puts an iPhone into an actual physical book to make it interactive. My first feeling upon looking at the video is a simple and complete “wow”, isn’t that remarkable! Considering that I’m both a youth novel writer and game designer, it looked like the best of both worlds merging book and videogame together. But then, I started to wonder why is the physical book frame needed? The interesting part is how the touch screen of the iPhone allows for the story to come alive; the rest is just a pretty shell… or is it?

After years of laissé-faire (70s and 80s), parents have started putting their foot down on the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV. “Obesity” and “passivity” were the two words most currently used to demonize the entire medium. By association, videogames and computer games are also considered “time wasters” even though they actively engage the child with their interactivity. “Less TV” has quickly become “Less time in front of a screen”, even in my own home, I must admit!

Interactive stories have been on the market as CD-ROMs and websites for years, and yet none of them ever got the reaction that the aforementioned YouTube video got. Why? Because they were not cleverly disguised as the sacred object that is a book! Books are wholesome! They make kids smarter! They prevent school drop-out! Not actual reading, just the books itself!

Books vs. Screen

This brings me to the electronic book. I follow a lot of writers and editors on both Twitter and Facebook, and the “what do you think of the Kindle” conversations are multiplying. A lot of purists are strongly against them, as if the smell of the paper was more important to the experience than the story contained within. Again, it’s the screen that causes a problem. If e-readers were made of paper with magical ink instead of plastic and pixels, they might be more widely accepted, and yet, the experience would be exactly the same. Some wonder if they’re here to stay. Of course they are! But they’ll also transform. They’ll add colors to accommodate illustrations, then sound, then interactivity, and suddenly the line between books and web-like content will blur.

What it means: It’s the habit of this blog to have a thought-provoking analysis at the end of a post. I would have liked to do the same but I find I have more questions than answers. Once children books are on interactive e-readers, will parents see them as acceptable reading material, or will they just be thrown in the “more screens” category? Will authors need to adjust to the new philosophy and add bells and whistles (read interactivity) to their books if they want to go mainstream? Will books, interactive content, videogames and movies stay in separate categories or are we looking at a merger of media? Will the next generation really care about those categories or just think of it as Entertainment with a capital E? Two things are certain: first, the paper book is not going to disappear any time soon. After all, in this “MP3” world, my daughter still listens to good old vinyl records once in a while! Secondly, creators and consumers should rejoice: in whatever form it takes, the future of entertainment is going to be exciting! Like in a good book, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Three Reasons Why Videogames are more Fun than Real Life

At the Web 2.0 Summit this morning, Jane McGonigal, Lead Game Designer at the Institute for the Future explained to us the reasons why virtual life (in video games, MMORPG and virtual worlds) is more fun than real life.

  1. Better instructions. Videogames offer a clear path to achieving the main goals. People have tested out the ways to succeed and they share their experience with others.
  2. Better feedback. You have scores and various success metrics. You have a sense of how your actions are impacting the game and you can show off. Real life does not have the same kind of audience to your various successes.
  3. Better community. In a game, we all share the same mythology and we agree to the same narrative, the same roles. There is a heroic sense of purpose.

Web2Summit Jane McGonigal

She forecast two directions in the future: keep making games that are more and more immersive and realistic or make reality feel more like a game. She thinks the second option is in the zeitgeist and listed some examples:

YellowPages.com on IPTV

Readers of the Uverseusers.com forum have posted screenshots of the YellowPages.com channel you can now find on AT&T’s U-verse, their IPTV play.

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(originally reported on the Zatznotfunny blog)

What it means: I often talk about media fragmentation. This is yet another good example. Surfing the Web on your TV either through a set-top box or a videogame console is something I see more and more. Make sure your content is ready for these new formats.