Recently I started to ponder what makes an activity a game and what differentiates this activity from other fun and interesting activities. This speculation has been prompted by a number of recent assignments involving the incorporation of game mechanics into traditional business applications. The goal of adding game mechanics has been to increase traffic, customer loyalty, customer retention and to provide differentiation in the marketplace.
During my addition of gaming features into business applications I began to wonder why these features traditionally had value in a gaming environment and if they would be useful in a standard e-commerce application. What is it about games in general that naturally interest people and keep them playing over and over again?
The diversity of games and the way people play games came into the mix of my thinking. Why do some people play games in complete isolation with no contact with anyone and play these games for hours and hours and why are other people intent only playing peer to peer or multi-player game? Why do some people play a game of poker for no traditional compensation and why will others only play poker for high stakes?
Is there some thread tying all of these games and different behaviors together or are there really very different forces at work resulting in totally different behavior and motivation?
This question became very important to me as I began to decide or recommend what game features would be incorporated into my client’s applications. Do all game features apply to an environment or do different audiences require different game features to keep them interested?
My thinking about this problem has brought me to a very interesting place. Given the diversity of games, the different preferences of gamers and the shear amount of time invested in playing games I came to the conclusion that some basic game mechanics have a wide appeal. Others do not have mass appeal causing the marketplace to be highly segmented. The styles of games people play appear to be influenced by culture, age, history, availability, technology access, legality, etc. The only common thread amongst all game types I could detect was that people play a certain game because it makes them feel “good”.
The question is what is it about a game that makes people feel good. I am also a musician having explored a number of musical styles and have played different styles to different audiences. It is amazing to me how some people enjoy one style of music and not another. Even the same song played in a different style will get a different reaction form the same person. The music itself is based on the same system yet the a person will respond differently to a modified version of the song.
I suspect games and music are similar in this regard. There is something about a game that elicits an emotional and psychological state of satisfaction that is unique to that individual.
Finding a game style that makes everyone feel good is probably not possible. Some game sites and content providers address this by creating a large gaming content pool. Others focus on a specific market and only address that market. The challenge for e-commerce or other business models attempting to leverage the popularity of games in their applications is a bit more difficult. Certainly some of the basics that are found in most games and gaming environments are mandatory. Adding other gaming feature sets beyond the fundamentals requires more thinking. A study of the business clientele and audience is essential. The game a business is creating is a hybrid between a “true” game with a specific business objective to sell something other then the game while maintaining the feel good game experience. The feel good sensation has to lead to an actual purchase of a good or service.
Clearly businesses are on the move wanting to leverage the popularity of games into their business applications. This is a great idea as long as the approach to adopting games to a business is taken in the context of the business and its audience. One shoe will not fit all and some experimentation will be required to determine what the best game features are for each business. Certainly, if you can wrap the entire game and business transaction into a feel good gift wrap really good business things are going to happen.
The Soul And Anatomy Of Games For Business Applications