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GDC 2011: McGonigal Says, 'Don't Exploit Gamers,' Extrinsic Rewards 'Missing The Point'
GDC 2011: McGonigal Says, 'Don't Exploit Gamers,' Extrinsic Rewards 'Missing The Point'
March 1, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

March 1, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
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    30 comments
More: Console/PC, GDC



Although author and designer Jane McGonigal spoke at the 2011 Game Developers Conference's Gamification summit, she's not exactly happy with the way the gamification trend -- focused on awarding game-like points and badges for completing real-world tasks -- is taking shape.

Rather than trying to make the real-world "game-like", McGonigal prefers the idea of "gameful" design, as an alternative to the achievement and metrics-driven traits associated with the gamification movement.

"Instead of thinking about the things we can do to make something look like a game, what can we do to make something feel like a game?" she suggests. There are some caveats: Her philosophies aren't oriented toward monetization, but "a place for bold people who are willing to be creative." She concedes that neither is her work focused on those making games for entertainment.

In her words, "gameful" isn't the same as "playful" -- "I don't think that gamers are really playful," she said. "Playful to me seems suggest whimsical, improvisational... gamers are in fact fairly focused and motivated." So she coined the term to define having "the spirit of a gamer... someone who is optimistic, curious, motivated and always up for a tough challenge."

But it requires one further step, in her view -- to translate those concepts into reality. Gameful design aims to be "life-changing... can we make games that can have a positive impact on players in real life? Reality-changing... [having] a positive transformation of a space... game-changing, a positive transformation of a process, a tradition or an institution, and... world changing, [having] a positive impact on a global challenge."

Her four main tenets are Positive Emotion, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment -- "I would encourage you to think about the five or 10 things that you think really make your life worth living... and then see which of these four things are manifest on this list." Any goal can be described by one or more of these four traits, she believes.

"Designers should be making games that help people flourish," McGonigal says.

"As we are trying to make the real world more gameful, any of our organizational goals need to be achieved by empowering the players to get more of what they really want from life." That, says McGonigal, is the main difference between her work and gamification.

"Don't exploit gamers," she urges. "We're better than that."

Gamification is generally focused on extrinsic rewards -- "things that we try to reach for because they improve our status... but not because they're things we want in and of themselves," in McGonigal's words. Ultimately, she believes gamification has crucially missed the fact that games in and of themselves are intrinsic activities players do because they enjoy.

Making the world more like a game through extrinsic rewards "is really missing the point," she says.

In May, she'll launch a project with the New York Public Library where she's using game design to try to encourage young people to visit the library more in an era where the internet's made it much easier for them to stay away from that traditional institution.

Player groups will be shut into the library and must finish "quests" -- writing objectives based on interesting artifacts found in the library. The work they write based on the artifacts will be put into a book that will be housed in the library itself: After all, reasons McGonigal, the best way for young people to feel good about and interested in the library is to be part of it.


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Comments


Carlo Delallana
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I got a lot of wonderful insight into game design when I read Drive by Daniel H. Pink. Anyone who is considering rewards design should read the book. It talks about the different kinds of motivation, specifically intrinsic motivation.

R G
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I'll have to check this out, I've heard it's a good book once before on this site.

Glenn Storm
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Agreed. (this, as well as your other comment here, Carlo)



I can understand the passion behind the argument being made, but if we try to simplify the assertion and clear up the semantics, we might find we all agree. Learning is perhaps our strongest motivator beyond base needs.

R G
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"As we are trying to make the real world more gameful, any of our organizational goals need to be achieved by empowering the players to get more of what they really want from life."



I'm sorry, I don't know what gamers want other than what I have heard from them and what I want:



A fun game.



I'm not deriding her goal, because I see what she is saying. But games should allow each individual to gather what they want out of it. BioShock is a good example of this in my opinion because after beating it, I know some people who said they enjoyed playing it, but each taking something different out of it. I'm fairly sure that many of us on this site have favorite games, and that we each took something away from those.



I want to play a game she has made, and see if it is fun first. Then, I want to see if I can learn and take something away from it. Also, just to throw this in there, I like her four tenets. Thought that was nice.



And I can think of some of our most cherished games that use that.

Morgan Ramsay
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Robert:



"I don't know what gamers want other than what I have heard from them and what I want."



Anyone who solves problems for other people must early on define how to best serve the customer. Should the solution address what the customer wants or what the customer needs?



To exacerbate the difficulty of that definition, most people cannot effectively express their requirements. Research data (e.g., surveys, focus groups) plays a role in decision making, but such data is not authoritative.

R G
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Yeah, I agree. It's just that, you can't expect all the players, even in a given genre or for a particular franchise, you can't make something for everyone. It's unrealistic and usually hampers your game. I just notice that people like to play something that is fun, and something they can really dig deep into.



As for what they want out of life, it's like games: Everyone has their own opinions on that. Just make the game that you would want to play, shape your universe around it, and people will gravitate toward it. If not, you try again. For as much as we laud certain games (I don't want to name particular ones because the game I'm thinking of would upset a lot of people), if it's not fun to play, it's not going to find much of an audience.



But thanks for the response.

Morgan Ramsay
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Robert:



"If you build it, they will come" is a fantasy, not a business strategy.

Carlo Delallana
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Depends on what you're building

R G
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Bingo.

R G
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Morgan:



Funny. Tell that Zynga. And Mojang with Minecraft.

Maurício Gomes
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Tell that, to those that Zynga copied ;)



It was already proven that Zynga games are sometimes outright plain rip-offs of other games, even in the name, what made success was their business strategy, marketing, etc...



"Build, they will come" don't work at all.

R G
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Not saying what they have done is right. But they built a game and an audience flocked towards it.



Just like with Minecraft, few people knew what it was until the end of last year, and it's not like it had much advertising. Mojang developed it, people flocked to it.

Alex Beckers
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Minecraft is an exception. How many other games have been released in a similar fashion and no one has ever heard of them? You can't say, "We'll just do what Minecraft did," and expect success.

Morgan Ramsay
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Both had a lot of marketing. Already explained. See:

http://forums.indiegamer.com/showthread.php?p=231605#post231605

R G
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Hm....Halo: Combat Evolved, Counter-Strike, Fallout (pretty much nobody heard of the games before 3), etc.

R G
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I'm talking about traditional advertising. Your assuming people have already seen the game, and this actually supports my comment from above. Few people knew about it and it spread by word of mouth (or teh Interwebz). Mojang developed it, and people flocked to it.

Morgan Ramsay
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1. If I don't tell you what I'm offering, you will never know that I have something to offer. Marketing is communication with commercial intent. Marketing is necessary for all products.



2. Word of mouth describes the "phenomenon" of people talking about products they like with other people. As a tactic, word of mouth is a supporting actor at best, never the lead. Marketing is the only way to start the conversation.

Bart Stewart
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Funny. We were just talking about extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards over in the Minecraft interview thread.



I'll stick with my view that the kind of rewards a game should have depends on what kind of rewards your game's target audience tend to prefer. If you're aiming at the mass market, you'll need some concrete, tangible, collectible extrinsic rewards, because that's what the majority of today's gamers prefer. Otherwise, abstract, the-journey-is-its-own-reward intrinsic rewards might be fine... but neither intrinsic nor extrinsic rewards are always the Right Thing in and of themselves.



That said, I can understand the desire to remind people that extrinsic rewards aren't the only kind available to game developers.

Eric Geer
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'If you're aiming at the mass market, you'll need some concrete, tangible, collectible extrinsic rewards, because that's what the majority of today's gamers prefer."



I'm not sure I truly believe this. I think this is something that develpers have grabbed onto and so gamers have no choicen but to grab onto it and embrace it. I think if you got rid of some of these concrete, tangible, extrinsic rewards there might be quite a few people that follow suit.



But it has become a basis for a majority of games...---to move forward in the game you need This item...in order to get to the next level you need to have X # of stars...when you get this item it becomes a special moment(magic/cutscenes/etc)..if you get so much of this then you will get better skills...if you get so many of these you get more of this....



Yes people enjoy rewards...but does every game need a these items to stop your progress forward to enjoy the game...it might be more worthwhile and useful as a learning and growing experience to make these "rewards" more mundane...but they would be special because of the way you come upon it...say creation of tools...mix that and htis and you get this...experimentation with movements and actions...exploration and stumbling into something that will help you but is not particularly a "reward"



PS lets not get started on the trophy/achievements garbage...they could toss all of that out without a second thought--none of it is value added--and these do make gamers look like they are being exploited.

Bart Stewart
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Eric, I promise I didn't just drop that assertion with no thought behind it. ;)



The chain of data and logic are simple: Myers-Briggs data (see _Gifts Differing_) indicate that most Westerners, and especially Americans (the primary sample source for the M-B data collection) prefer dealing with the world in a tangible, concrete, physical, realistic way. According to M-B numbers, about 75% of the general population prefer Sensing while only about 25% naturally incline toward seeing the world in an abstract, internals-oriented, imaginative way.



If you accept that, and you agree that gaming continues to become more mainstream as entertainment, then it follows that it's not just developers choosing to design games full of extrinsic rewards, but that those are the kinds of rewards that most of today's gamers are saying they want.



That's not necessarily what I prefer with my gamer hat on. I actually tend to appreciate intrinsic, journey-is-its-own-reward designs. But if I'm designing a commercial game (especially with someone else's money) I can't ignore the reality that most gamers prefer to be given specific collectible benefits as a reward for completing some specifically-defined play action within the gameworld (including real-world actions that have been gamified).



Just wanted to offer the basis for the claim I made. You're still free to disagree, of course.

Eric Geer
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'If you're aiming at the mass market, you'll need some concrete, tangible, collectible extrinsic rewards, because that's what the majority of today's gamers prefer."



I'm not sure I truly believe this. I think this is something that develpers have grabbed onto and so gamers have no choicen but to grab onto it and embrace it. I think if you got rid of some of these concrete, tangible, extrinsic rewards there might be quite a few people that follow suit.



But it has become a basis for a majority of games...---to move forward in the game you need This item...in order to get to the next level you need to have X # of stars...when you get this item it becomes a special moment(magic/cutscenes/etc)..if you get so much of this then you will get better skills...if you get so many of these you get more of this....



Yes people enjoy rewards...but does every game need a these items to stop your progress forward to enjoy the game...it might be more worthwhile and useful as a learning and growing experience to make these "rewards" more mundane...but they would be special because of the way you come upon it...say creation of tools...mix that and htis and you get this...experimentation with movements and actions...exploration and stumbling into something that will help you but is not particularly a "reward"



PS lets not get started on the trophy/achievements garbage...they could toss all of that out without a second thought--none of it is value added--and these do make gamers look like they are being exploited.

David Serrano
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'If you're aiming at the mass market, you'll need some concrete, tangible, collectible extrinsic rewards, because that's what the majority of today's gamers prefer."



As usual, Bart is absolutely right. The demographics of both the core and casual audience indicate they are primarily Explorers and or Socializers (according to Bartle's model). Now... if we could convince the people who actually make the "mass market" games of this, life would be grand!



But the trend in high profile AAA titles has clearly been to either A) substitute obstacles and difficulty for content a.k.a. exploration, # of missions, collectibles and rewards or, B) "Unbundle" collectibles, treasures, upgrades, etc... from the base game and instead only offer them as DLC ( http://unbundling.wordpress.com/ ). Its now common for core developers to do both. It's most noticeable in sequels to games which released prior to 2008. Mass Effect 2 being the best example. If you compare ME 1 to ME 2, you'll find:



• ME 1 - 26 unique classes of armor with 11 subcategories. A total of 286 different armor options. All available in-game. • ME 2 - 1 set of in-game armor with no subcategories. 4 other classes of armor only available as DLC. Translation: 99% less content than ME 1.



• ME 1 - 4 unique classes of weapons with 17 subcategories. A total of 68 weapon options. All available in-game. • ME 2 - 6 classes of weapons with 2 to 4 subcategories. A total of 21 in-game weapon options. 6 additional weapon options only available as DLC. Translation: 69% less content than ME 1.



• ME 1 - 16 different varieties of ammo available for all weapons and squad members. • ME 2 - 3 varieties of ammo restricted by character and squad member classification. Translation: 81% less content than ME 1.



The same pattern applied to side missions and explorable environments. Clearly, the overall focus of Mass Effect 2 was to substitute combat and difficulty for physical content in the base game then only offer the content which most (RPG) fans likely purchased the base game to access as DLC. Fable III is another great example. Literally half as much physical content as Fable II in the base game and... Lionhead took it one step further by using a main character to continually hawk DLC in-game. Sleazy would be an understatement.



The part that kills me is ME 1 and Fable II are two of my ATF games. I still have both in my library but just two years later, I traded in both sequels within a week. How things have changed! Just further evidence of how out of touch the big core publishers and developers have become with their actual audience.

Carlo Delallana
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I can only speak anecdotally but there are those rare games that do intrinsic and extrinsic very well. I've watched my wife play Angry Birds and the "toy" of the mechanic and the physics is intrinsically rewarding for her. The meta-structure or rewards and achievements wonderfully compliments the pure play aspect of the game.



I think we can have our cake and eat it too. Maybe we "trip" ourselves up by thinking things too much. Analysis is paralysis as they say :) ... not sure if I just went on a tangent there.

R G
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Nah Carlo, got the meaning. Might have to borrow that saying of yours though xD

Grace Aust
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As will I, because I totally agree.

Alvaro Gonzalez
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It doesn't matter if a games is fun, rewarding, sad or whatever. What matter is that the Game Designer achieves its objective and leave something emotional to the player. Games are a language and a language is a set of signs and symbols that put all together say something. They could say Don Quijote, Edgar Alan Poe or Davinci Code...



When does "sayings" turns into art is a different discussion.

R G
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"It doesn't matter if a games is fun, rewarding, sad or whatever. What matter is that the Game Designer achieves its objective and leave something emotional to the player."



Contradicting a bit, hm?



Anyway, it does matter if the game is fun or any other factor you can put into it. If gamers don't enjoy playing your game, they're not going to buy it. Simple. Ask Silicon Knights what happened to Too Human.



Oh sure, they got their objective done. It's also 9.99 at my GameStop, and the scathing reviews should be a hint as to how gamers feel about it. Or look at the sales of it.

Alvaro Gonzalez
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Of course, in my post I leave money out of the ecuation.

R G
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Either way, I understand where you're coming from in a way. Mulled it over a bit after dinner lol.

David Serrano
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I'd love to see what Jane could do if she had the budget and resources of a Bleszinski or Vonderhaar. If nothing else, it would improve the image and raise the maturity level of core gaming. Sadly, I don't think I'll live to see the day.


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