You can turn just about anything into a game. Game Design in a broad sense is just the idea that you can structure any user experience in ways that inherently encourage participation. Fundamentally, a game is just an incentive system. You can incorporate game design into almost any activity.
Social networking is a game – it taps into our natural social-primate urge to express our identity and accumulate friends. The social-primate game is one that we play all the time (and online social networks let us do it in a way that advertisers can tap into).
Blogging is a game, too.
There are a few rules that your experience has to have if it’s going to take advantage of game structure. Raph Koster talked about this at the Web 2.0 expo last year. Here’s his list of game features that can make any experience game-like:
- Preparation. The user must be able to prepare for the experience in many ways – to practise.
- A play space. There must be a gamespace, which can be as limited as a tic-tac-toe grid, as abstract as your friends network on Facebook, or as limitless as the TINAG reality-wide playing field of an ARG.
- A solid core mechanic. In Facebook, it’s ‘Communicate to Accumulate Friends’. In Halo, it’s ‘Aim and Time your Movements to Shoot the Enemy’. In blogging, it’s ‘Write and Link to Contribute to the Conversation’. In chess, it’s ‘Move Pieces to Capture the King’. It’s all about the verbs.
- A range of challenges. Any experience where you do exactly the same thing over and over tires quickly. There has to be variety.
- A range of abilities required to solve challenges. Users have to be able to do things more than one way and still succeed.
- Skill required to solve challenges. You have to be able to get better at the experience if you devote more time.
- Feedback. Users have to have some way of knowing how well they’re doing.
- Failure cost. If you don’t succeed, you have to lose something – even if it’s just time.
UPDATE: Ian Bogost has a good article on games in advertising in the Guardian today.