Game Mechanics and Social Game Mechanics

There is a great deal of conversation in the business and startup world about Game Mechanics and applying them to various business and creative endeavors. Game mechanics have been part of the internet for a long time and the use of them in social networks has been well documented by Amy Jo Kim in her great presentation Putting the Fun in Functional. There’s of course a great deal of thought leadership from the game design community as well including this great presentation Design Outside the Box by @jesseschell.

Game mechanics in most cases are based upon rules, do x and y happens, or more tantalizingly do x and y might happen :) (see reward schedules and operant conditioning). It occurred to me that many of the game mechanics in what are emerging as social games are social game mechanics, in that they are not emerging from rules as much as emerging from other players behavior. It’s going to be pretty important in the future to understand how social game mechanics shape emerging games especially if you want to create a sustainable game that creates positive outcomes. SCVNGR recently created what they call a social play deck with various game mechanics described, Adrian Chan provides a pretty thorough critique of the deck concluding that it’s not very social.

Social game mechanics describe the emerging dynamics between players that shape behavior and outcomes over the long run. It may be that social game mechanics are the mechanics that make up the metagame (I particularly like the urban dictionary definition of this as “The highest level of strategy in many complex games”). Social game mechanics are often tacit and built through shared game play so can be hard to identify if you’re not immersed in the social system. It also means they exist in many social networks and can often work against the goals of the organization running the network.

Some examples of social game mechanics would be:

  • Strategies: The player formulated path to a “win” scenario. Win scenarios in social systems often emerge from community norms by what is valued by the community. There also might not be a win scenario
  • Competition: systems that provide comparative feedback to players
  • Co-operation: shared tasks, goals, items, teams
  • Helping: a more altruistic form of co-operation. Like an old school quake player showing a newbie how to rocket jump.
  • Gifts and exchanges: things that are exchanged between players
  • Visible actions: hard to quantify this one, but any action taken by a player that can be observed by other participants

That’s just a strawman so please add any additional thoughts or feedback. Thanks.

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