Gamification: Game Playing and Fiero

This is part two of the series, to start from the beginning, click here.

Humans have enjoyed playing games for thousands of years; archaeologists have found extensive evidence of dice-like games being played in region of South Eastern Iran approximately 3,000 years ago, and board games – like senet – being enjoyed by the Ancient Egyptians some 5,000 years ago.

Considered by some to be an early form of escapism, and a simple way of coping with the harsh realities of life, games such as Jacks (or Knucklebones) were invented by the Lydians and theorised to have been utilised to cope during times of famine.

But games are not limited to this simplistic, traditional view. Most human interaction within any society involves many aspects of game playing. Eric Berne‘s 1964 book “Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships” extensively details many different types of human interaction from a variety of perspectives, such as how differing power dynamics, or roles such as adult to adult, or adult to child, affect each players strategy in the game. Gamification seems to stand to confirm Kurt Vonnegut’s review of Games People Play, where he stated that; “…the good Doctor has provided story lines that hacks will not exhaust in the next 10,000 years”. The identification of these games provided an early insight in to what would eventually become the basis for Palringo’s Reputation and Achievements System, and how a competitive system based on these principles can be a very powerful engine for growth.

In the introduction I briefly mention the concept of fiero. Fiero is a defined by Jane McGonigal in her book “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” as a word to:

“…describe an emotional high we don’t have a good word for in English [Fiero being Italian for ‘Pride’]. Fiero is what we feel when we triumph over adversity. You know when you feel it – and when you feel it […] we all express fiero in exactly the same way: we throw our arms over our head and yell.”

Fiero is the basis for all game systems. You win, you feel good, you lose, you feel bad…and then you’re annoyed by the obvious display of fiero by the victor, and you try even harder to win – after all, everybody loves to win.

Simply put, fiero breads competition and powers our innate urge to win.

A key consideration that must be made when designing any game system is the difficulty to achieve fiero. While no-one actually likes losing, always winning also quickly becomes bland – after the initial hits of fiero dissipate.

Casino Poker has a number of variables, but to simplify this example we will focus on two factors;

  1. Skill of the Player
  2. Disposable Cash

Casinos spend significant time and resources to ensure their players are sitting at tables where they all have a similar level of skill and cash to ensure the best game experience for everyone. There is little fun when there is no challenge, and easily winning (or always losing) causes the same level of disenfranchisement as never having any risk. A multi-millionaire winning a $100 bet feels much less fiero than a student on minimum wage winning the same bet. This is also true for the other players, if you are at a table with a person that simply doesn’t care about the wagers that are being made, then the fiero you experience when winning is massively reduced.

These systems require the players to “buy-in”, much like the social contract that exists stating that participants should not lie when playing ‘Truth or Dare”. Managing this belief in the system – in the poker example, promoting good player to higher tables – is important to ensure continued competition.

Foursquare operates a system that distributes points to users when they check-in to bars, clubs, restaurants, and so on. These check-ins are also supported by a series of achievements: checking in to a bar on a week day evening, or going to the gym 10 times in a month. Xbox LIVE (XBL) Gamerscore – often considered to be the first and best video game meta-scoring system – has a similar system of points and achievements.

The big difference between the two however is that a player’s XBL Gamerscore is counted forever, where Achievements you unlocked in 2007 are still counted towards your score in 2013, and can never reduce. In contrast, Foursquare only counts points for a rolling 7 days, where points I earn today will be counted towards my score until next Monday. In this regard Palringo Reputation is closer to Gamerscore, where points are counted forever, but with the added complexity of being able to lose reputation by losing achievements.

Foursquare is tailored to be much more competitive, constantly informing you of your friends activity – with notifications when they check in – as well as any new achievements they unlock. You can always see how you rate against your friends, in a simple leaderboard system where having the most points means you’re #1. Competing on a 7 days basis, where simply being inactive takes you out of the running, means that the challenge is always fresh, in an ever changing landscape, where victory is only temporary, and must be continually fought for.

The Palringo Reputation and Achievements system primarily serves two types of fiero. The first (bigger, and rarer) via Reputation, and the second (smaller and more frequent) via Achievements. To build on the previous two examples, Reputation is a meta-score to provide a quick, clean, and cross-culture mechanic to compare two or more users. Our users use their Reputation as their primary means to compare, compete and brag about their standing within the Palringo Community. Achievements are used as guides to inform users on how to increase their Reputation, as well as encourage behaviour that we deem is suitable for Palringo – for example, running multiple groups, with a high number of users, as detailed by our “Crowd Sorcerer” achievement.

In the next part of this series, I will expand on just how Palringo uses gamification, and fiero, to guide user behaviour and cement our place as the de-facto massive Group Messaging Application in the world.