Accelerating Early Product

with Amy Jo Kim

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Game Design

Game design for startup MVP

Amy Jo Kim

Game Designer, Social Architect, Startup coach

Lessons Learned

Game design principles have been muddied by the popularity of “gamification.”

Gamification misses key elements: skill building & experiences that evolve over time.

Onboarding will be a different experience than level 20.


Lesson: Accelerating Early Product with Amy Jo Kim

Step #6 Game Design: Game design for startup MVP

Games have a lot to teach us. I've learned a ton from games and from games designers. I think that what's happened is that the water has been muddy by gamification because gamification prompt is really coming at it much more from a marketing or a loyalty program point of view. Gamification wasn't created by game designers. It was created by people that look at games, see the superficial aspect of games, and say, "If I took that, and put it over here, I would have the power of games."

The other thing is that, if you come out of loyalty and you look at games, of course you'll see points, and levels, and rewards, because those are the hallmarks of a loyalty program. That's the atomic units of any loyalty program. So gamification has become about that. I've been labeled, by some people, as the godmother of gamification because I've been talking about applying deeper game design to products for 20 years. They're, "Oh, she was doing early gamification." But I do apply game design, so I would differentiate it in saying I think there would be more applied game design if gamification hadn't come along and distracted people with the promise of something easy that's actually not easy.

Part of why, I think people don't apply lessons from game design is that it's actually challenging to do a good game. It's much harder than to do a good app. There's many more complex systems you need to balance. It's comparable to doing a market place, which is also very hard.

There's two key things from game designs that most gamification people never address, much to their demerit. One is, skill building. A good game is interesting not because it's shoving points in your face, but because it's engaging you in a series of challenges that builds some skill, that develops something in you, you’re getting better at something by playing the game. Games where you don't get better at something are boring, and they lose their appeal.

So basic but there's so many things to get better at. Doesn't have to be a game. You get better at saving with coupons. That's an example from a client I'm working with right now. You could get better at using a stress reduction app effectively. There's so many things to get better at.

If you build your whole gamification system, or you can call it a progression system, around what is this person actually getting better at, and how can I give them feedback to make it them more awesome and build their skill, you come up with a very different system, than if you said, "I think I’ll have some levels and points in there." So that's a key difference that, I think, applies to everybody. No reason not to use that.

Then another one is the idea that you're experience of evolves time. The game itself evolves over time, and that the player or the customer's experience of evolves.

I have a model I use called the player's journey which is based on four stages — discovery, on-boarding, habit building, and mastery. Some people write a whole book about habit building. Habit building is great. Habit building is part of your experience. It's not the whole thing. And it's a very important part. It’s the part I start with when I build an MVP.

If you're doing a game you just naturally think about that because if you're dong an online multi-player game, which is my specialty, online social games, online multi-player games, you're going to think about that. On boarding is of course different than level 20. You have different challenges, you have different things you can do. If you gave people all the complexity of what happened at level 20, they'd be overwhelmed at level 1, so you don't. You just give them a little bit at level one, and then you evolve the experience over time. You get them new challenges just when they're ready for it. You don’t give them everything at once.

The reason I've been talking about this for 20 years is, of course every product should do that. Why wouldn't it? I mean, every digital product. Yeah, not a physical product in the real world, but there's no reason except people don't make it a priority that digital products don't do that. More and more of them do. I learned that from game design.

That means that the player’s experience, when you’re noob or a newcomer, you have a very different experience. You're on rails. We call it on rails where you give them . . . it's like having bumpers and bowling. You make it really easy for them. Later on, the rails are off, the bumpers are off. You're thrown into a dungeon with a bigger boss than you ever had to deal with, and you have to actually rely on your colleagues, your people that you're there with or you'll be killed

But you don't do that right at first, you do other things. You bash a few monsters that you know you can kill, build up your skills. That's World of Warcraft’s leveling up, but that concept applies everywhere.

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