Dr. McGonigal, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Gay Mechanics, part two

Oct 29, 2009 • Karen

This post is part of a series on applied game mechanics that I’ve been writing for the OpenHatch blog. The original is located here.

Last you heard from us, we were discussing the various common types of game mechanics and game players, including examples from both traditional games and game-like web apps. Today we're discussing a few of the websites that most inspired us to employ game mechanics and, more fundamentally, try to make OpenHatch addictive.

1.) thesixtyone

thesixtyone is a music discovery site. The site's stated mission is to make music more meritocratic and help good unknown stuff rise to the top. To that end, users of the site are given a certain number of 'hearts' each day. Users listen to songs and, if they like them, can give them one of their hearts. The incentive to only heart stuff you like is 1.) songs that get lots of hearts tend to get pushed to the front page of the site and 2.) if a song gets lots of hearts after you heart it, the song pays you dividends in the form of 'reputation' (the sixtyone's equivalent of points). It's basically mechanizing the "I listened to them before they were cool" cliche.

thesixtyone also makes heavy use of quests, which teach new users how to use the site and reward older users for particular kinds of site participation--listening to older songs or late at night to make sure that good songs don't fall through the cracks, for instance. When you complete a quest, you are rewarded with reputation and extra hearts. When you reach a certain level of reputation, you level up, where higher levels receive more hearts each day and, eventually, get the privilege of adding multiple hearts to a song.

thesixtyone does a good job of making it easy to feel like you are connecting personally with the music and musicians on the site. When you feature a song on your personal homepage, thesixtyone suggests that the band should buy you a drink. If you give the maximum number of hearts to a particular song, the site remarks, "Holy Shit!" in deep bass. You can comment right on individual songs or on the artist's "wall"; if you feature an artist's song or make a particularly nice comment, often the artist will reply back on your profile. The Growl-esque notifications that appear with popping noises in the bottom right corner make affectionate reference to Pop-Up Video, which I, at least, remember fondly. Also, if you use Adblocker, thesixtyone has a special message for you.

Overall, thesixtyone is an exercise in UX design that is both clean and full of personality. And there's some damn good music on there. It's probably our strongest influence.

2.) OKCupid

OKCupid is an online dating site that puts special emphasis on user generated content. Indeed, it may be better known for its collection of quizzes and tests contributed by users than for its dating functionality. Its use of game-like functionality goes beyond quizzes, though. When you first visit OKCupid, you're greeted by a robot woman who encourages (or goads, depending on your perspective) you to sign up. Once you have, instead of quests you are then encouraged/goaded by a completeness bar which suggests the next thing to do (answer N questions, upload a photo, hit on someone) to make your profile more complete.

3.) Stack Overflow

The fundamental function of Stack Overflow is asking and answering questions about programming on a forum. Doing this does not require you to play or care about Stack Overflow's reputation game. However, as you participate on the site, you do get reputation for getting good feedback and providing good feedback to others. This reputation gives you more privileges; high-reputation users are nigh-indistinguishable from moderators. In addition to reputation, Stack Overflow also has small, automated badges with moderately clever names classified into bronze, silver, and gold classes based on difficulty. You get a badge for completing various tasks on the site -- visiting the site every day for 30 days, or having a question voted up 25 times, for example. The badges aren't anything special to look at, but they still manage to motivate behavior. There's a bit of a scoreboard aspect in that you can see which badges have been received by more or fewer users on the Badges page--rarer badges, presumably, feel more special.

4.) Gaia Online

Gaia Online is a gigantic MMORPG-esque forum for anime fans. It makes ridiculous piles of money selling clothes, accessories, and other upgrades that users can apply to their avatars. I won't go into depth in how their site works, as their evil addictive genius can pretty much be assessed by what they have on their home page:


Now that you've seen our mad scientist senseis and slick inspirations for applied game mechanics in web apps, tune in next time for the result of this research: OpenHatch: The Game.