Topic: Practical ways to turn any website into a game, and the serious risks of doing it wrong. (description)
, by Andy Baio.

Starts off by showing some games…

Quest for the crown

Desert Bus (1995, Sega TV, unreleased) – Drive the Penn and Teller tour bus in real time. Get to the end (after 8 hours) and you get 1 point. (video)

Marathon video tame – Run a virtual marathon in real time button tapping, guy did it, took him three hours. Showed vid. Guy looks like he’s going to die.

You only live once – Standard platformer. When character dies, it’s for good. When you restart the game you’re still dead.

Upgrade complete – Game about upgrading a game. Game play itself is pretty booring. Can even buy the ending.  (walkthrough here)

Achievement unlocked – Get achievements for everything.

Punchline: All these use games to discuss what games are. Last two focus on the meta game. Even though you know you’re being manipulated, it’s still fun.

Mechanical Turk

Feels weird when he uses it. Feels like exploitation. So he set a Mech Turk task for people to photograph themselves with a sign saying why they do it.

Turns out that the demographics are roughly the same as the English speaking internet. Most say they do it for the money (very small amounts) or for fun (but the tasks are very tedious).  This is kind of weird given the small rewards involved.  Then he realized it’s kind of like a MMOG. You pick your tasks (quests), compete with each other, win cash (points), communicate with each other.

Social web = MMO

More examples of games at work

At Target, the cashier’s terminals provide feedback scores on the last 10 checkouts. Mainly is a motivational thing, incentivises them to improve. Get printout each week, compete with each other, place bets. Fun.

The Squeaky wheel – Bug tracker with achievements.

Obama campaign – Neighbor to neighbor – Level up, get promotions. Patrick was in room!

Ford Fusion, Honda Insight – In dash reflection of fuel efficiency – (growing leaves in the Ford).

Nike/iPod exercise site

Investigate your MP’s expenses – Had 450,000 documents. Posted it online. Let people dig through it. Had a leaderboard, persistant identity, reputation. View of entire team’s progress.

Kick starter – current project – Is all or nothing. You hit the goal or get nothing. 90% of projects that hit 20% mark succeed. Never had a project that hit 80% fail.

What you need for a good game

  • Options (decisions the player makes, picking which quests to do)
  • Feedback (points, metrics, levels)
  • Recognition (awards, achievements, collectibles)
  • Goals (with levels of difficulty)
  • Community

Ribbon hero – turns Microsoft Office into a game. Using more advanced features of the application increases your score. Includes hints, and suggested “quests”. Gives feedback when do something write. Has advanced mode. Connects with Facebook to challenge friends. Exploratory learning.

Good games are easy to learn, hard to master.

Grinding is no fun. It’s when it stops being fun.


Once you have game elements, they are very hard to remove. Community gets pissed.

Do not do a leader board (absolute ranking) – every single time it results in a conflict. Alienate people who can’t get near the top. Negative competitive vibe. Can be ok if scope it to friends, or small location.

Metafilter – number of favorites for comments. Moderators felt it contributed to snarkyness. Wanted to try changing it from number of favorites to just “favorited” for a month. Huge outcry. Ended up changing it back.

Cheating – It’s hard to resist. Foursquare example (fake check ins, fake accounts). Incentives can invite abuse.

Stack overflow – Was lots of cheating. Solution – Bind incentives very tightly to the desired behavior. Who’s gaming who?

Evil gaming

What responsibility do we have? Do we have a responsibility to tell people we are hacking their brains?

Do games make people happy? Or do we just make them unhappy whne not playing.

Farmville – Uses incentives well. Reciprocity. Loss aversion. Whole friends can see how bad you’re doing. Set completion. Mostly is grinding with a lot of social interaction. Not really evil, but has very compulsive.

CruX360A – 3rd ranked woman in the world. Plays games just for the achievements. Collection impulse. Especially when you’re almost there, hard to stop.

MMOs – Blizzard tells people to take breaks, go outside. Are doing more timed events. Don’t want people to burn out, loose jobs, drop out of school. Better to keep them for life.

I personally draw the line when you start using feelings of guilt to motivate behavior., sooo evil. Pay to bid, each bid brings the cost up by one penny and extends the auction. One person gets a cheap product, everyone else looses what they put in. You feel like you’ve already put in so need to get something. Even auction bids. Bid buttler – bids for you. Takes advantage of our irrationality, gaps in how we think.

Final thoughts

Making boring fun – Need a skill that is repeatable and measurable, with those two things you can make anything a game.

Reputation – want something supportive, that fosters collaboration. Achievements don’t take away from other people. Are popping up everywhere. Quests are also good.

Making a direct connection to cash changes people’s behavior dramatically. Like paying your mother for Christmas dinner. Lawyers surveyed were asked if they’d do work on discount for good causes, answer was no; asked if they’d do the same work pro-bono (for free), answer was yes.

Further reading

Jesse Schell talk – everything is trackable, everything has points and achievements.

Web reputation systems – O’Reily (check their blog post about karma)

Amy Jo Kim – Putting the fun in functional.

The art of game design

Panic status board – Good example of reflecting back progress to staff, which then serves as a motivator.

Usability for evil