The New Games People Play: How Game Mechanics Have Changed In The Age Of Social


The crux behind game mechanics is the feeling that you’ve accomplished something; “Whether you’re clicking on a plot of land or a musical note, that is an accomplishment” says Social Gaming Network’s Shervin Pishevar. Social gaming gives you the opportunity to share these goals with your social graph so that many people see them, as well as the chance to work on these accomplishments collaboratively.

At Friday’s Social Currency CrunchUp, leaders from the Social Gaming space including Pishevar, Disney Mobile SVP Bart Decrem, Stanford School of Business Professor Jennifer Acker and SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch sat down together in order to discuss gaming’s latest incarnation.

What elements are needed for addictive games?

Pavlovian mechanics are crucial. It’s important as a user to feel like the time that you spent came up with a result, social elements like being able to see how you did with other people, and being able to play with other people play into this. Integration with music also creates an emotional linkage, one thing responsible for Tapulous’ success was the functionality to apply multiple songs from artists like Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga.

Decrem elaborates, “There’s an actual science around how to engage and monetize users, the Farmville harvest mechanic, for example. On mobile, its ‘the x factor’ does the game have magic?” What we’re now seeing is what happens when the science of game mechanics in social games is combined with the quirkiness of what you see on the iPhone platform.

According to Seth Priebatsch, new employees at SCVNGR memorize a deck of 50 game dynamics like the progression dynamic, or earning points to make progress. They then can incorporate those elements into a game, “Humans love progress bars, if you see a progress bar, you want to complete it.”

How will games increasingly square with the real world?

Currently all the value creation happens mostly on Facebook, but that will soon change. The panelists all agreed that this recent integration of social and mobile is beginning of a new computing platform, mainly due to the capabilities introduced by the iOS. Killer apps on this new platform will need to incorporate both a social element and an entertainment element in order to survive.

According to Pishevar, SGN is “Working on things where you’re placing your phone in the real world and seeing 3D characters walking down the street, games where you have a garden in your actual physical yard that you’re actually tending to and it’s growing and you can see it on the iPhone.

Decrem elaborates “There’s no difference to me between playing Tapulous on the iPhone and using my Starbucks card in the morning, wanting to get 15 stars so I can get a free coffee … “

Real life rewards for online behavior are a force to be reckoned with, and will increasingly become more prevalent as developers continue to experience success with them. Yelp for example, saw their usage skyrocket when they incorporated the Check-in element. “You’re checking in with a physical card instead of a mobile. We haven’t invented anything new.”

Says Priebatsch “We are bringing one very new thing to the game framework, the open graph API. Social traffics in connections, games traffic in influence. By applying that to the real world, we are building a platform that traffics in motivations and rewards.”

In what new ways can these game mechanics can be applied in the future?

“We’re really in the first or second inning on the mobile side,” says Pishevar, “The level of creativity and fun that’s coming is incredible.”

Should businesses rush to apply social mechanics? “It’s just natural evolution,” says DeCrem. Businesses developing a product should ask themselves, How about if you can connect with your friends? How about if we make it fun?

Piveshar’s one criticism is that the gaming industry could do so much more. “Because of the social graph many have cut corners of quality in order to monetize; We’ve got hypergrowth. Lots of millions have been created and its time to give something back.”

Acker brought up the idea of games that cure cancer as one way social gaming can actually benefit society, referring to HopeLab’sRe-Mission and Zamzee, “It doesn’t matter how many brochures you show a kid, he’s not going to want to [go to chemo]. But when you build an avatar called Roxy, have her shooting the cancer cells, and then when she feels feel weak you go get her a chemo tap … It’s incredibly powerful.”

Elements of gaming engender powerful emotions; Chemotherapy can become a positive thing and cancer becomes something you can beat. And that’s pretty formidable.

Photo: Flickr/Allaboutchase

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