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?

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

  1. I took a class on online communites from Amy Jo Kim. We got on the phone with Lord Blackthorn in Ultima Online, rode around on horseback, and called down lightning.

    And then, in the hallways of the Gates building at some gathering, she told Ed Feigenbaum that knowledge-based AI was full of shit (I can’t remember the exact words she used, but it was something like that).

    It was awesome.

  2. This is one of the reasons I’m working in ecommerce at a games company. The intersection of ecommerce and gaming is totally fun–the UI exchanges here are quite educational as game designers think very differently about UI than our web UI folks do. Adam I think you might even have been the person who turned me on to this idea way back in the day at eBay. 🙂 Susan Wu is definitely well versed on this subject–I saw a talk she gave recently, and it really opened my eyes to some of these possibilities.

    In the casual games space the “casual MMOG” is really the child of all this thought. Have a look at “family feud online party” from my company: http://www.iwin.com. Let me know what you think. (sorry for shameless plug but I do think it’s right on point).

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