A Kindred Spirit: Amy Jo Kim at USC on Game Mechanics

Many thanks to Will Hsu for his post today for pointing me in this direction.

Please check out this summary write-up on the O’Reilly site on the philosophy and theories of Amy Jo Kim, PhD, based on her discussion of Game Mechanics and Online Communities at ETech.

Kim discussed five key mechanics of game design, why they are important and powerful, and examined examples of how they can be used in other settings. The five game mechanics discussed were collecting things, earning points, providing feedback, exchanges, and customization.

Many of these mechanics speak to very primal response patterns inside the human psyche, which is why they can be so powerful. Another key point is that games are designed to be fun and engaging, and whenever you can make any system or appliation more fun you’ll likely improve the user experience and get them using the system more regularly and for longer times.

I can’t tell you how closely Kim’s assessment of how to build compelling engagement matches my own. In fact, some of her assessment of the mix of understanding of video games, behavioral finance, and online behavior vaguely mirrors my own concept and theme for this blog.

I’ve long believed that people have underestimated video games as a new medium not only for entertainment, but for engagement. Video games have often been on the forefront of experimental and exploratory attempts at bridging the gaps between new technology and human interaction. Audio, Color, 3D, economics, story telling… video games have managed to incorporate these elements in the human/technology interaction long before any other classes of technology products have.

Kim lines up five types of game mechanics in her talk that she directly traces to the success of online communities like MySpace:

  • Collecting
  • Points
  • Feedback
  • Exchanges
  • Customization

It’s worth the full read here. Sounds like eBay, doesn’t it?

I’ve read some great material from Susan Wu at Charles River Ventures, and Wil Wright, creator of The Sims and Spore. But Kim’s overview is squarely aggregates quite a few of the insights I’ve been working to rationalize over the years.

I’ve got to look into this more deeply, as this captures so many of the threads in human computer interaction that I’ve personally been most interested in since my days in computer science at Stanford.

Update (4/5/2007):  Amy Jo Kim has a blog… why not go direct to the source?

US Mint Warnings: Fraud Surrounding Fake George Washington Dollar Coin Errors

To date, my posts on the new Presidential $1 Dollar Coin series have been some of my most popular. In particular, the posts about the two confirmed errors found on these new George Washington dollar coins have been off the charts most days:

In several of these posts, I’ve offered caution to buyers that these errors are relatively rare, and to be careful of fraud around sellers passing off “upside down lettering” as an error, and other unscrupulous tactics.

The US Mint today published specific warnings on their website today on these issues, and specifically about the issue of people grinding the edge lettering off dollar coins and passing them off as errors. The following is quoted directly from the US Mint Hot Items page on their website:

Fraudulent Presidential $1 Error Coins Being Sold

The United States Mint has recently learned that some individuals are grinding the rims of Presidential $1 Coins to remove the edge-incused inscriptions and then marketing these altered items as error coins. This practice not only exploits unwary consumers and collectors, but also is a Federal crime.

The United States Mint recently announced that an undetermined number of George Washington Presidential $1 Coins were minted and issued without the required edge-incused inscriptions, “E Pluribus Unum,” “In God We Trust,” the year of issuance, and the mint mark. Because true error coins such as these can be rare, they often become very attractive among collectors, many of whom are willing to acquire them at a premium above their face value. Apparently, some individuals are exploiting this situation by altering the rims of perfectly good Presidential $1 Coins to make them look like the recent error coins.

Although altering and defacing United States coinage generally is not illegal, doing so violates a Federal criminal statute (18 U.S.C. § 331) when the act is accompanied by an intent to defraud. Accordingly, a person is committing a Federal crime if he or she intentionally alters an ordinary Presidential $1 Coin to make it look like an error coin for the purpose of selling it at a premium to someone who believes it to be a real error coin. Under this statute, it is also a Federal crime to sell at a premium an ordinary Presidential $1 Coin that one knows has been altered so it looks like an error coin to someone who believes it to be a real error coin. Penalties include a fine and up to five years in prison.

The United States Mint has no Federal enforcement authority. Rather, it refers such matters to the United States Secret Service, which is lawfully authorized to detect and arrest any person who violates a Federal law relating to United States coinage.

Also note this warning about the upside-down lettering error scam:

Presidential $1 Coins With “Upside-Down” Edge-Lettering Are Not Errors

It has come to the attention of the United States Mint that some people are offering to sell so-called George Washington Presidential $1 “error” coins with “upside-down” edge-lettering on on-line auction sites. These coins are not “error” coins. The Presidential $1 Coins are inscribed on the edge without regard to their “heads” or “tails” orientation.

The edge-incused inscriptions on Presidential $1 Coins are the year of minting or issuance, “E Pluribus Unum,” “In God We Trust” and the mint mark. The United States Mint incuses these inscriptions on the edge of each coin at the second step of a two-step coining process. In the first step, the blanks are fed into a coining machine which impresses the obverse and reverse designs onto the coins, and dispenses the coins into a large bin. In the second step, the bin is transported to the edge-incusing machine, into which the coins are fed at random, without regard to their “heads” or “tails” orientation. Therefore, statistically, approximately one-half of the coins produced will have edge-lettering oriented toward the “heads” side (obverse), and approximately one-half of the coins will have the edge-incused inscriptions oriented toward the “tails” side (reverse).

Take care, and please pass on this information to other collectors as broadly as possible.