Author: Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham
Audience: Potential Gamifiers
Reviewer: Sue Gee
Introducing game elements into websites and apps is now a well-accepted idea. Does this book provide the help developers need to implement game mechanics
Gamification isn't a new idea but it has becoming something of a buzzword recently. One problem is that it isn't a single idea. For some just providing challenges and badges is enough to constitute gamification while others might think in terms of simulations - the types of strategy games that are included in management training.
The introduction to this book states that it defines the term as:
The process of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems.
As its title "Foundations" suggests, the first chapter sets the scene. It's first point is that everything has the potential to be fun and later in the chapter it looks at loyalty and incentives. It introduces SAPS - an acronym for Status, Access, Power and Stuff - as a system of rewards. The chapter concludes by reminding readers that the house always wins.
One way in which this chapter, and indeed much of the book, is off-putting for some readers is that assumes a knowledge of products and popular culture - and yes it would be very tedious indeed to read full explanations of, say, Foursquare or the TV game Deal or No Deal - but on the other hand there will be some readers who are put off by the sheer number and range of references to unfamiliar products and brands.
Chapter 2 is on Player Motivation and the authors present a lot of well established social psychology - from the reinforcement schedules proposed by B.F.Skinner for operant conditioning of rats, through Eric Berne's Games People Play to Richard Bartle's Player Types formulated when he studied MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games). This chapter has a series of exercises that the reader is expected to attempt. Sheets for these pencil and paper exercises can be downloaded from Gabe Zichermann's website but, even when they lend themselves to drag and drop techniques, there is no way to complete them online.
The next three chapters are on Game Mechanics with Chapters 3 and 4 devoted to Designing for Engagement. Chapter 3 looks at point systems, levels and leaderboards. Chapter 4 first considers badges and then looks at "onboarding" - the act of bringing a novice into your system, before moving on to challenges and quests and social engagement loops. Up to this point more exercises are included and to get the most out of the book you probably need to do more than simply read the book.
Chapter 5 has the title "Game Mechanics and Dynamics in Greater Depth". Earlier in the book readers have met the difference between mechanics - the tools used to create games - and dynamics - how players interact with game experiences. This chapter reviews the importance of feedback and then presents a list of example game mechanics. It even suggests using dice to choose combinations of them to put together. If this chapter contains ideas which you find fresh and novel you'll probably consider it useful and illuminating. On the other hand if if you've come across most of it before you'll be less impressed. This will also color your response to the invitation at the end of the chapter to watch videos from key industry experts on the book's associated website.
Chapter 6 is devoted to gamification case studies and it too has the problem that some readers will consider the choice of examples, Nike Plus, Yahoo! Answers, Quora and Health Month, either too obvious or largely irrelevant. On the other hand you may agree with the book's point of view - that it can be useful to see how others have used gamification for real.
From being pragmatic we get to being practical. Chapter 7 is a tutorial, complete with long screeds of Ruby code, to add game mechanics to an open source forum application, Altered Beast which is a version of the Rails-based Beast forum than can be downloaded from GitHub. You might imagine that the inclusion of snippets of code in a book aimed, in part at least, at developers, would be welcome. But not in this context. These are lengthy listing and although there is explanation you don't really gain much from reading code that sizes a panel, for example. Given the book has a website why not let readers inspect the code there instead? But no, you can't download the code from the book's site.
The final chapter looks at an alternative way to implement the game elements covered in the previous chapter but using a commercial gamification and behavioral management platform. Badgeville.com must have been a very new startup when the book was in preparation as it was launched in Q4 2010 and has just celebrated its second anniversary by announcing that it has surpassed 200 customers, which include some well-known companies such as Citrix, Autodesk, Ask.com, EMC and Amazon's Audible. So this may not be a cheap and cheerful route for the rest of us. Again this is detailed with chunks of Ruby to interface with Badgeville's RESTful API that returns data in JSON format. Again this is quite out of place in this book - although some readers may get something out of it.
Overall this book comes across as promoting its authors rather than helping other to implement game mechanics. I don't regret reading it, but I can't recommend it.