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DICE 2011 Hot Topic: Gameplay Vs. Gamification

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Posted February 10, 2011 - By Kevin Kelly

Gamification: Turning Everyday Activities Into Video Games

Our very own Adam Sessler conducted the Hot Topics discussions at DICE 2011 today, bringing together different people from around the industry and having them speak on relevant issues in the development community. One of those involved Jesse Schell, Professor of Entertainment Technology at Carnegie Mellon, and founder of Schell Games, along with Chief Designer Brian Reynolds from Zynga.

Both men have a lot of development mileage under their hoods, with Jesse being a former Imagineer at Disney and founder of his own game studio (and the subject of last year's infamous "Toothbrush" game development video), and Brian having worked with Sid Meier and developed titles on his own like Civilization II and Rise of Nations, along with working on the XBLA version of Settlers of Catan with German board game creator Klaus Teuber.

Together, they spoke with Adam about "Gamification vs. Gameplay," and you might be asking yourself "What the hell is gamification?" Brian approached it like this, "Gamification is where you use game elements to try to get people to do stuff they don't want to do. That's my working definition. The exercise bike tries to tell me I'm earning achievements so I'll keep going, and all that."

Adam wanted know if something has been gamified, does that still make it a game? Jesse's responded thast his definition of gamification is: "It's a problem solving situation that you enter into because you want to" to which Brian pointed out that Sid Meier (whom he has worked extensively with) says, "A game is a series of interesting decisions." But breaking it down to that level, is it still a game anymore? Are you having to convince yourself that you're having fun?

Putting gamification into a game form doesn't always work, and to Jesse Schell that's because human pleasure is a strange (and wonderful) thing: "The thing about human pleasure is that it's very complicated. There are hundreds of things that are all very different that we find interesting and pleasurable."

He pointed out that people approach him all the time about gamifying things, and he used a chocolate analogy. In an example situation, people call him up and say "Hey, look. People like chocolate, right? If you put chocolate on something, it makes it better! Well, I make cottage cheese, so I'm going to put chocolate on it and it'll be great, right?" Schell responded "No. NO! That doesn't work."

Brian mentioned that the philosopher Aristotle said ""Happiness is activity in accordance with your purpose." He said that the difference between Zynga's philisophy and gamification is that "Gamification is taking something you don't want to do, like choosing an airline, and convincing you with a series of rewards to join that airlines frequent flyer service, and then showing allegiance to that airline. Zynga is an entertainment company, and we try to create an experience that is fun and social, then get players to pay for it."

Although Jesse responded that, like the chocolate analogy, You have to find something that resonates with what you're doing. Let's say you're at Toys R Us, and suddently they come up and congratulate you on being a Platinum Level toy buyer. Well, you're not going to brag about that, are you? Maybe it's a problem that you're buying so many toys."

Basically, what it boils down to, is that gamification is a diffcult process that has to feel transparent. You still want your game to feel like a game. And if you're able to make brushing your teeth feel like a game? Perfect. Mothers everywhere will love you. It will be interesting to continue watching both of these developers to see what sort of games, gamified or not, they produce in the future.

DICE 2011 Hot Topic: Gameplay Vs. Gamification
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