What are Game Mechanics?
Game mechanics are the basic mechanisms used to deliver a reasonably predictable desired outcome by encouraging certain behavior through a system of incentives, feedback and rewards. They are the building blocks that can be applied and combined to gamify any non-game context. Examples of Game Mechanics include levels, badges, points, challenges and leader boards.
Game mechanics can be strung together and combined in interesting ways to drive a very complex sequence of actions suitable for different contexts or desired results, enabling you to gamify pretty much anything.
However, Game Mechanics alone are not enough. Just adding some challenges that earn points to an existing process may well deliver a short-term spike in behavior change, but very soon it will become repetitive and the behavior will revert to normal. To keep the gamified activity ‘fresh’ and the user engaged, Game Dynamics are required.
What are Game Dynamics?
Everyone is motivated in different ways. Hence Game Mechanics that work well for one type of player will work poorly for others. For example, leader boards will be motivational for those with a highly competitive nature, such as sales professionals, but will have little impact on those that seek social collaboration to solve problems.
This is where Game Dynamics come in.
Game Dynamics define the patterns of how both the game and the players will evolve over time and that will make the gamified activity enjoyable and keep the user engaged for as long as possible. Game Dynamics tailor the Game Mechanics to address the desired outcomes and motivations of the participants.
Early game researcher, Professor Richard A Bartle created the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology. A series of questions and an accompanying scoring formula that classifies players of games into categories based on their gaming preferences. The Bartle Test covers four types of gaming personality:
Prefer to gain points, levels, badges and other concrete measurements of succeeding in a game. They will go to great lengths to achieve rewards that confer them little or no gameplay benefit but want the prestige of having achieved it.
Prefer discovering and learning about new areas. They often feel restricted when a game expects them to move on within a certain time, as that does not allow them to explore at their own pace.
Prefer to play games for the social aspect, rather than the actual game itself. They gain the most enjoyment from a game by interacting the other players and being part of a team.
Thrive on competition with other players and prefer competing with them to be the winner.
Everyone has components of each of the 4 characteristics highlighted in the table above. However, one tends to dominate. Understanding the profile of your game participants is key to which Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics you use.
For example, Killers require a set of gaming dynamics that are faster than those for Socializers. An engaging game will need to get progressively harder to challenge the Achiever so that they don’t become bored.
Are you starting to see the difference between game mechanics (framework) and gaming dynamics (content)?
Points, achievements and badges are game mechanics used to motivate behaviors, but how and precisely when a badge is unlocked and the precise reward schedule are gaming dynamics.
Gaming Dynamics also need to consider timing. A well-designed gaming dynamic brings players to the next stage the right time, so that the players feel accomplished. Poorly designed Gaming Dynamics will tend to lose players along the way. For example, ‘levelling up’ too quickly will make the game feel too easy, not challenging enough and users will quickly become bored. Challenges that are overly complex will create anxiety, making it hard to succeed and will cause users to disengage.
The most effective business gamification approaches carefully consider both elements of Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics. Successful approaches will deliver new Game Dynamics (content) by combing various Game Mechanics over time to make participation more interesting and to keep users continuously engaged.
Approaches that do not carefully consider both elements, for example, just deploying simple Game Mechanics to a single process, will find that users will quickly suffer ‘game fatigue’ and will simply stop playing altogether.
What is Game Theory?
Game Theory doesn’t have much to do with gaming or gamification. It is a well-established branch of mathematics that aims to describe the decision process in any strategic situation, including games.
Even though Game Theory is not specifically about gaming or gamification, it is often used to analyze how decisions are made. In a controlled setting, Game Theory can reveal principles that give us a better understanding of how humans think and act.
Translated to the business world, Game Theory can be thought of as the process that you should undertake prior to introducing any gamified process. This would include the careful and detailed analysis of how business process is implemented, how users currently behave and interact, the desired change in behavior (which may be broken down into multiple steps) and the typical behavioral profile of the users.
This detailed analysis is then used to carefully select the Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics that will drive your desired outcome and prolong engagement over time. Without this up-front analysis, you are simply guessing at which Game Mechanics and Game Dynamics will work, which if you get wrong, can produce a negative result.