We’ve been seeing a lot of talk over the last month or so about Foursquare’s decision to reduce game mechanics in the new version of its app. Since Foursquare is such a prominent and successful company, many are taking this decision to back up claims that gamification doesn’t work. Even though many of us at BigDoor are huge Foursquare lovers (we even have a Foursquare special at our office), even we have to admit that Foursquare’s gamification fell short. Yesterday, our friends over at Gamification.co asked the question “What happened to the game mechanics of Foursquare?” and we thought we would take a closer look. Gamification is an evolving concept and it’s successes and failures can all teach us something about what works, and what doesn’t. Here’s our take on what makes gamification a success and how it fails.
Foursquare seemed to have a huge leg up in gamification. They have a huge user base and people clearly want to engage and use their app. So why didn’t the game mechanics catch on? The answer can be found with the very people who often claim to detest gamification; game designers. While good content, users and a service that people want are all important aspects to implementing gamification, they don’t matter as much as the need for gamification to have…you guessed it…game mechanics.
We don’t mean that Foursquare should have felt the same as playing a late night game of Call of Duty with your friends or that it should have shared the same addictive property as slinging tiny round birds at pigs in castles ala Angry Birds, but for those of us designing gamification solutions, we can’t forget basic principles of game design.
So before marking all gamification as a failure, we think its important to ask if a gamification solution has these key elements:
Play must be meaningful – No one plays a game just to play a game. Whether users are seeking simple entertainment, educational value, or attempting to win something (be it status or tangible rewards), participation in a game or gamification system will not be sustained unless users feel as though their interaction provides them some value. While Foursquare offered the reward of mayorship (status) and some small perks that came with that status it appears users didn’t see the value or meaning in that status, and the perks were too sporadic to make them worth the effort.
Clear feedback – In addition to defining the meaning and value of a game, it also must have clear rules and defined actions needed to succeed. Feedback provided by the game to influence the behavior of the user must be consistent and clear. While the act of checking in was clear enough thanks to points, I often found myself confused as to what the best way to earn maximum points was, as well as angered over the seemingly inconsistent algorithm defining mayorships held, stolen and lost. Users want to know that action X creates reaction Y. When even an advanced user doesn’t understand what actions create positive reactions, frustration will brew.
Increasing difficulty/variance in tasks – As I write this, I keep trying to think of a game that doesn’t become increasingly challenging as a user becomes more familiar with the rules and systems. Even a game like Tetris with its repetition challenges advanced users as the bricks fall more quickly. The fun of a game comes from the increased level of challenge. The simple task of checking in more often doesn’t seem to hold enough interest to sustain a user’s attention span. It’s too repetitive and simple. Tasks need to be increasingly difficult or levels and rewards need to become increasingly difficult to earn.
While we are sad to see Foursquare’s game mechanics reduced, we also hope that their decision doesn’t result in a widespread “gamification fails” argument. Gamification requires well thought out design, challenge and focus on what specific users of the “game” want when they interact. Badges and a leaderboard can’t sustain the level of engagement that users want to keep coming back for more. However, careful thought out design can greatly increase the likelihood of a successful gamification implementation.
We’d love to hear what you think makes gamification succeed or fail? What other principles of game design should gamification creators be thinking about?