Gamification in the Arts, Part 3: Game Design


Game design is, unfortunately, something that not many people are skilled at.  The chances of being able to find and hire an experienced game designer in your area is slim.  This leaves two options: consultants, or the process of educated trial and error.  The iterative process:  create a game, try it out, go back to the drawing board and improve it, try again. Almost anyone can ultimately find success in designing a game layer for use with a marketing, development, or educational effort; more information is available on game demographics and questions to ask before going into a gamification project. The first step to creating a game for your marketing or development project is to brainstorm.  Using the previous two posts on games and gamification ask yourself about your audience and about who (what market segments) are likely to engage in your game project.  Use what methodology works best for you at this point:  flip charts and a facilitator, sticky notes that everyone puts on the wall, mix and match concepts where there are two groups and one generates game ideas and the other generates market segments, or any other technique that works for you.  Don't work at this process for too long, about an hour is as long as you will remain creative.

Game playing, is something that many people are very very good at.  In almost every community you can easily find dozens or hundreds of people who are adept at playing games, either electronic or in the non-virtual world, and who can potentially help you with testing your concepts.  Test your ideas before you move into implementing a full scale game!  Testing means taking your game concept and having individuals or small groups of people try to play it and then give you feedback on what works, what doesn't - and how they both work and don't.  This will, in turn, give you information on how you may modify the game, re-balance it for speed and pacing, fairness, fun, encouragement, and efficacy towards your ends.

Here, for example, are three ideas for dynamics with subordinate mechanics, target market segment, and an idea around pacing/time flow:

1)  An external game - A competition between your patrons (target ages 18- 30 as discerned by the type of prize you are giving out):  for ten weeks, every week you post a riddle that once solved provides a clue about a grand prize.  Competitors can cooperate but if they do they have to share the prize at the end of the competition.  Only the first three people who arrive for the clue receive the clue and the results each week are posted via leader-board or on social media.  The competition culminates in an event that, to get access to the participants must have registered and competed during the ten weeks.  The winner(s) are announced, the prize is given out, and the next game is announced during the event as well.

2)  An internal/external game - A competition between your volunteers (target ages 40-60 as discerned by the type of prize, again):  for an entire year you give the patrons that walk through your lobby a token that they can drop in a station near a volunteer post (with there being 4-5 total posts).  Volunteers are always posted at the same stations and work as teams.  Each month an eye catching (be it gaudy, glamorous, or just beautiful) trophy is moved to the station that received the most tokens from patrons.  Rules are set to govern how far the teams can go in order to earn the tokens from patrons.  Each time the trophy is moved it is announced via your website, social media, and via your newsletter/e-newsletter (if you have one).  At the end of the year you give out additional prizes or badges for things like:  most creative station team, most wins, longest streak of wins, and best month's effort.

3)  An internal game - A anonymous competition between teams comprised of a member of each department as well as two donors/volunteers at an organization set over the span of a week.  The competition would be judged by a panel of community members who select the winner based on appeal, creativity, and  quality.  The internal contest would be to come up with a name, creative slogan, and a mascot for in order to get funding for a new program or effort in the next year.  The judging would happen in phases with the winner of each round being announced after each one along with feedback for all teams.  The overall winning team would be announced at the end of the week at a party and would be crowned.

When designing a game there is tremendous freedom of choice.  Here is a way of framing the creative process, first choose what dynamics you want;

Competition:  Do you want people to compete?  Can this be anonymous?  Do you want competition to be the driving idea?

Cooperation:  Will you make it necessary or advantageous to team up in pairs or groups  either for the duration of the game or temporarily?

Ownership:  Either online or in the non-virtual world you can inspire greater levels of engagement by allowing or encouraging players to create names or personas of teams or individual characters.  You can encourage or require them to create fictional back-stories or non-fictional profiles and reward them for the completeness of their actions.

Achievement:  Rewards, either by recognition, by granting advantages, or by payout for the motivating factors.  You can use this to create a feedback loop (Loops described in this helpful article by Andrzej Marczewski) and balance a game while it is being played.

For more in-depth information on game design check out The Art of Game Design, A book of lenses by Jesse Schell (from the Entertainment Technology Center here at Carnegie Mellon University) or Game Design Workshop, A Playcentric Approach to creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton.  The Gamasutra website also has lots of good information.