“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” – Albert Einstein
Over the past couple of years, I spent a lot of time playing games at work. I reached level 888 in Mafia Wars. I built a sprawling metropolis in CityVille. I played countless rounds of Words with Friends.
As a general manager at Zynga, I also watched, in exquisite detail, as hundreds of millions of other players did much the same. Zynga’s games generated over 16TB of player data a day – data that was mined to understand exactly what was, and wasn’t, working to keep players engaged. I came away in awe of the power that best-of-breed game mechanics could have, especially when coupled with the social web.
Can the same game mechanics that propelled Zynga’s rocket-like growth also help non-gaming companies scale at warp speed? Yes! In fact, the companies that have built social and viral game mechanics into their products or services are already enjoying an outsized advantage over their rivals.
“A good game makes us long to play it again.” – Wolfgang Kramer, German Board Game Designer
Even if you aren’t a gamer, it’s worth thinking about how to flesh out the “inner game” of your products to make them more fun, engaging, and – dare I say it – addictive. Game mechanics, employed correctly, are massive turbo-boosters for growth.
When determining what game mechanics might work best for your product, consider how your users engage with it. Think about… What makes using your product fun? What gives people a reason to keep using it? What does progress and achievement look like over a day, a week, a month, a year? What are the rules of this game? What are the payouts? What are the moments of delight? How do you challenge your users? What obstacles do they need to overcome? Where can your product provide suspense or surprise? What makes your consumers’ adrenaline start flowing? What does an “epic win” look like? The moment a user puts your product down, what’s going to drive them crazy to pick it back up again? What’s going to make a consumer want to get all her friends using your product, too?
In other words, harnessing the power of games is not about checklists of “game-like” things to add. It’s about asking questions that force you to figure out the gaming elements that are truly authentic to your product.
Envisioning products through the lens of gaming is truly an area where business leaders should “learn the rules of the game” then “play better than anyone else.” The prize for the winners is enormous.
To that end, I am excited to have joined the Scale VP team as an Executive-in-Residence. I look forward to helping both portfolio and prospective companies in mobile and consumer Internet, harness the power of effective game mechanics to accelerate virality, engagement, retention, and monetization… and ultimately create an epic win.