The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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Farmville and Angry birds - could they have some useful takeaway for the enterprises?

Those who have played 'Farmville' and 'Angry Birds' know how much fun it is. 100+ million hours being spent globally every week on Farmville and Angry bird combined - 'fun' part is fairly evident. How would you feel if I say that there are hidden secrets of the people engagement techniques in these games? This is what I realized after thoroughly analyzing the mechanics behind these games.

I was so much intrigued by the addiction and 'pull' created by these games, I closely monitored the features, rules, options and engagement styles of these games. I tried to figure out forces that kept my interest sustained in this game, made me spend time on seemingly mundane acts in these games and ultimately made me happily do things that the game ownewrs wanted me to do on the platform. I explored these issues like a layman to understand the working principles of the people engagement in simple terms. Let me share my observations of the game dynamics of social games like Farmville and Angry birds. In some of these observations, I will also illustrate the examples from these game.

  1. Every time you engage, you gain something. Your persistence pays off. If you are on Farmville, simple activities like visiting other's farm, feeding animals, planting a crop, harvesting the crop etc. will give you experience point or cash. You just have to do it and you can start accumulating the necessary points that are essential for you to trade later on for a big rewards or assets.
  2. Gains are relatively easier to achieve simply through the activity that people can perform without extraordinary skill or knowledge requirements.
  3. There are differentiated gains - 'normal' and 'exceptional'. Those interested in higher gains  can opt for complex gaming challenges. For example in Angry Birds, you can always cross a level by using all your birds and just ensuring all the pigs are destroyed. But that is likely to give you just one star. However, to get 3 stars, you will need to ensure that you use your skills to utilize minimum number of birds and create maximum destruction. Having lot of 3 stars unlocks some special games or goodies.
  4. Performance of the intimate peer group creates the motivation. If you are a Farmville fan, you are highly likely to keep your eyes on how your friends are leveling up on the Farmville and what distinguished accomplished they have that you don't. And that pushes you to explore, do it more and improve your gaming profile.
  5. Visualization creates immersive environment that engages the mind in much more creative, forceful and captive manner. The graphics and the sound effects in both Farmville and Angry birds create enjoyable and engaging experience for the players. Visualization amplifies the experience and allows you to engage through sight and sound apart from locking you in the problem solving mission centric thinking.
  6. There is a 'tangible' gain in the 'give and take' model of the social collaboration / network enabled gaming eco-system. So when one gifts the goodies on Farmville, one most of the time end up receiving it also from others. That's why players happily send gifts to all their neighbor farmer players and expect the reciprocity to work like a charm and that indeed works. This becomes an important strategy to build the assets and levels in the game. In fact, many of these game have certain goodies/features that can only be unlocked or experienced through gifting. Can you imagine what a smart way of reinforcing the behavior of 'give and take'? Does it work so nicely in your organizations?
  7. You don't need to remember a lot. Intelligent and context driven suggestive mechanisms allow you to know where your attention is needed in the game either to resolve a problem or to complete a task. For example, every time a new feature is released in the Farmville, it makes you familiar with it through guided overlay of the instructions within the game without disrupting your gaming experience. You learn by actually doing it through guided instructions. Similarly, when you land up in your farm, different markers and indicators help you know what key actions are possible on the screen. So if you just need to follow the visual cues and common sense to figure out the game rules/features.
  8. You value your assets, reputation and 'power' in the game that drives your strategies, focus and attention
  9. There is frequently something new that provides differential experience on what already exists which allows to redo what has been done already but with a new experience. If you look at the Angry Birds game, ultimately it is just about throwing birds on a structural establishment using projectile trajectory. But we end up doing the same thing with different variety of structures, configuration and themes and get excited about it every time.
  10. Curiosity to discover the unknowns drives the exploration
  11. Contextual  variances increase the worth of the discovery depending on the individual's scenario, needs and nterests. Worth of discovery drives the sustainable life of the curiosity.
  12. Games allow the players to be that they can't be in real world or have the experience that they can't get in real world easily. It expands the world that exists in player's mind.
  13. Games allow the entire spectrum of the experience from bottom up creation to incremental improvisation. Some pople like to create, most like to modify and hence everyone has a way to experience the game they way they enjoy.
  14. Results of the game is as motivating as the 'activity' itself (experience). In the Angry Birds game, while getting scores and clearing the levels is important but we equally enjoy the act and fun of throwing the bird and destroying the structures.
  15. Games provide instant gratification as opposed to the real-life scenario where there is a lag between action and the outcome and feedback.
  16. Games involve 'experimental' and 'exploratory' learning (with some basic know-how and rules) progressive with the game plays as opposed to highly structured and methodical upfront learning
  17. Games that offer diverse possibilities based on player's imagination have higher sense  and depth of engagement as opposed to games where activities, possibilities and gains are all fixed. In Farmville, players have great deal of flexibility to exercise their creativity in organizing their farms and also in executing their farming strategy to accumulate greater experience and cash. While overall objectives of the farming in terms of leveling up and proficiency building could be same for all but each players can chose to achieve it through a different experience.
  18. Games that evolve their own social economy based on certain form of tradable virtual currencies tend to  offer much deeper, self-sustainable and immersive engagement. Again, Farmville is a classic example where virtual cash can be traded with the virtual goods like farming equipment, seeds, more farmland, animals etc. It can't get any deeper engagement now where people are paying real cash to buy virtual goods and virtual cash for the game. It is a different matter that such degree of addiction may or may not be desirable but if such deeper engagement can be created in the enterprise world for the business objectives, just imagine what wonders can be it do thought extreme productivity of the employees.
  19. Games that allow everyone to win their things, may be at different point in time, at different pace and in different ways are much more social, and collaborative
  20. Games allow people to experiment with and experience the possibilities. In real life, we typically don't have flexibility and viability of experimenting with various possibilities for our decision making. It may cost us too much or it may be a hugely time consuming thing or simply it could be too risky to experiment. However thought games, we can simulate the scenarios, try out what-if possibilities, unleash our imagination to develop new experiences. That's allows us to expand our thinking and our experiences which pulls us to experience it again and again.

Now, this analysis is strictly about how games like Farmville leverage human psychology to engage people and sustain their interest. Gamification is not just about game. Games are just one type of strategies for applying gamification, however in terms of the gamification strategies, the game psychology provides great foundation to create people engagement frameworks. It is also true that not all the behavior patterns that I shared from my observation can be practically useful or recommended for the serious context of the enterprise business. And hence there is a discretion involved in creating the gamification strategy.

So far so good. But how good is this really for the enterprise? My next blog with touch upon the key question - "Why should enterprises pay attention to Gamification".

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