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The Bokardo Interview: The Hidden Track

Just for fun, here's one question that Josh asked and didn't use (I'm assuming, in the interests of brevity but also quite possibly because I veer dangerously close to pomposity.) Anyhoo…

10) What do designing video games and designing online reputation have in common? How do they differ?

Well, I'll say right up front that I've never worked on an incentive or reputation system for a game, so my answer will draw from a limited frame of reference. But I think it's evident that software has a lot to learn from the gaming world, and there are plenty of people excited about the prospect of that and talking about potential applications of game-like incentive systems. Amy Jo Kim has a wonderful presentation that she did at Etech a couple years back on that.

What's maybe talked about a little bit less, but is just as evident, is that there's an influence running in the opposite direction as well: the video gaming world is becoming much more social, and learning quite a bit from the Web 2.0 crowd in the process. I've had conversations with my friend Colm about this. (Colm Nelson was the lead UI Designer for Halo 3, and worked on expanding the system's social, party— and matchmaking elements.) It sounds ironic to say that "GAMES are learning social from the 'Net" (I mean, what could be more social than play?) but if you think about the historical arc of video gaming, it's only… oh, within the past 5 years, and the success of Xbox Live, and now online networks from Sony & Nintendo, that gaming is starting to become a much more social and less isolated experience.

I'm wildly generalizing here—computer-based games, MMORPGS, etc have had persistent community elements from the beginning. (In fact, a chief contributor to the Yahoo! patterns was Randy Farmer, who made his early reputation in online communities with Lucasfilm's Habitat and has worked on dozens of games, easily.) But, in general, with games of all stripes, we're kind of expecting now to use the game as a social meeting place. A means to bring our friends together, share a common experience over shared artifacts. Even in first-person shooters like Halo.

It's a very different experience than 10 years ago… you might've had that same experience in a LAN party, but that would require people to actually meet face-to-face. So now, in online gaming, reputation and social elements have become very important. As your circle of potential play-mates grows wider, so too does your need to evaluate those folks, remember them, find them again and communicate with them. You could do all of this in Friendster or MySpace years ago, and the video game services are catching up nicely.

So that's how both sides are similar. How do they differ? One significant difference, I think, is that… in gaming, it's probably easier to assume some common frame of reference between all participants. So, regardless of our specific individual motivations for coming to a game—perhaps you're there mostly to hang out, have fun and learn the game, while I've come to hone my techniques and stomp some N00bs. But, at some level, we're both there to compete or at least we acknowledge that what we're engaged in is a contest. So we're not at all astonished to see indicators to that effect. We're okay with seeing points assigned to our performance after a round: in fact we expect it.

This is not at all the case with reputation systems for online communities. I don't think we can fully anticipate all of the motivators that might bring someone to a… recipe site, for instance. Why would someone become an active recipe contributor? How would they want to be acknowledged for that contribution? Would earning a status indicator or a badge actually help motivate them? Or would it be seen as an insult—something that demeans and devalues their contribution? We've actually heard this in our research—some folks have a gut-level, instinctual aversion to 'earning points' or badges. It makes otherwise-fun online activities feel like school, or like they're being graded. I don't think you have this problem so much in games: the norms are more established, the expectations are set and all comers realize that being judged, graded and compared is… just part of the game.



This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 26, 2008 11:11 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Welcome, Bokardo Readers!.

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