From Design Thinking to Game Thinking

Design thinking involves using design principles to solve real world problems. Game thinking involves game design principles to solve real world problems.

While the idea of using game mechanics in non-game contexts is getting a lot of attention, I think of game thinking as a bigger idea than game mechanics. Just as engagement architecture principles are useful for designing social platforms, game mechanics principles are useful for designing game-like applications. However, game thinking is not only about badges, levels, points and challenges; game thinking is about using different types of fun to design solutions to real-world business and social problems.

Here is my work-in-progress list of  game design principles –

1. Social Proof: Sign up new users and encourage existing users to participate more by showcasing active friends and friends-of-friends.
2. Small-Step Stages: Design for ‘short, but often’ use so that time-poor or attention-poor users can participate regularly.
3. Statistics: Show dynamics stats for each desired user behavior to add an element of currency to it.
4. Status: Reward desired user behavior with points that add up to visible reward levels that the users can show-off.
5. Sharing: Design for sharing so that users are prompted to broadcast or narrow-cast their activity stream to their friends at each step.
6. Social Capital: Design for “giving” so that users can do a series of favors for their friends.
7. Surprise: Design to capture the curiosity of users and create unexpected moments of delight.
8. Sets: Design to motivate users to collect artifacts and complete sets.
9. Syndication: Enable users to export their activity streams using RSS feeds and widgets.
10. Single-Player Mode: Suggest a list of activities for new players who haven’t yet built an in-game friend network.

Some of these principles (statistics) lie in the realm of game mechanics, others (surprise) lie in the realm of game thinking, yet others (social capital) lie in-between.

As I think more about game mechanics and game thinking, I’ll try to articulate how they are different from each other. For now, it seems to me that game mechanics is about persuasion while game thinking is about pleasure.

In a recent post, Gabe Zichermann defines game thinking as “the lateral use of experiences from games to inform your worldview and solve problems”, but then goes on to talk about game mechanics elements like badges.

Perhaps, the problem is that instead of thinking outside-in and focusing on pleasure, marketers are thinking inside-out and focusing on persuasion. Pleasure and persuasion might seem like the two sides of the same coin, but they aren’t, at least not always. The intent to persuade often precludes the possibility of designing an experience that offers real pleasure.

Perhaps, this is part of the reason why Gabe’s book ‘Game-Based Marketing‘ felt flat to me. It talks a little about fun, but mostly focuses on frequent flier programs. The goal of game thinking, in my mind, is not to design a world of empty compulsiveness (George Clooney in  ‘Up in the Air’ is hardly an ideal to aspire for), but a world of meaning and beauty.

What do you think? How will an experience designed for pleasure differ from an experience designed for persuasion? Do share your insights in the comments below?

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