The Gamification of America, Part 3

The Gamification of America

This is the third part of a presentation I gave at the USC Institute of Multimedia Literacy about my career and recent developments in the game industry. In Part 1, I discussed how indie development and digital distribution now allow for a greater variety of games, much as it was when the game industry was in its infancy. In Part 2, I discussed I discussed the elements that make an activity a game: fun, goals, rules, conflict, choices, and a win/loss condition. In Part 3, I look into those elements in more detail.


Well all know what “fun” is, right? Well, maybe not. What’s fun for one person is not necessarily fun for another. Every player has an opinion about what is enjoyable or engaging, but most will agree that a fun activity is one that has several of the following qualities:

  • Novelty: The activity provides a new or unexpected experience.
  • Immersion: The player has an illusion that s/he is in a different time or place
  • Challenge: The player’s skills or abilities are tested by the experience.
  • Stimulation: The player has an emotional experience from engaging in the experience, whether it is the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
  • Harmony: The experience provides an opportunity to work cooperatively with or cooperatively against other players.
  • Threat: The player faces some sort of threat or risk by participating in the experience.


A game’s objectives or goals provide a sense of progression towards advancing to the game’s ultimate win/loss state. Some of the qualities goals must have for the game to be engaging are:

  • The player needs to see the goals as being worthy of obtaining.
  • The player also needs to see the goals as being obtainable.
  • Ideally, the goals should be just barely out of the player’s reach until the player has developed sufficient skill to obtain them.
  • Once the player has obtained the goals, new goals should replace them.


A game’s rules should be reasonable: they must be easily understood by the players and be consistent with the game’s story or theme. Rules define the three phases of a game:

  • Setup: The things that the players do at the beginning up the game: dividing up initial resources, determining which player starts first, etc.
  • Progression: The playing sequence, or main game loop, that occurs repetitively as the players advance to the game’s end.
  • Resolution: The conditions under which a game comes to an end


Choices are the decisions that the player makes in his or attempt to achieve the game’s goals. Goals should have the following qualities:

  • Meaningfulness: The player needs to be able to perceive either a direct or indirect correlation between the available choices and the path to meeting the game’s goals.
  • Balance: The various available choices should each have an equal chance of advancing towards a game’s goals, when all other game elements are considered.
  • Replayability: There should be a random element in the game so that there is an uncertainty or variety in the outcome of a particular choice.


Conflict occurs when the game’s rules, resources, or opponents become obstacles between the player and his or her goals.

  • Games should be easy enough at the start that inexperienced players are not easily discouraged, but not so easy that they do not feel the game will soon present a challenge.
  • The obstacles should become progressively more difficult as the players become more proficient at playing the game.
  • The game should be difficult to master, even for experienced players.


Feedback provides the player with information about the game’s rules, how he or she is progressing through the game, and whether the goals have been achieved.

  • All player actions should produce some kind of results.
  • Results should be visible to the player.
  • Those results should be traceable back to the player’s actions.

Win or Loss

As a game comes to its resolution, or ending condition, players should know whether they or not they have achieved the game’s goals. For the win or loss to be satisfying:

  • The player needs to perceive that the outcome was indeed based on whether or not the goals were achieved.
  • The game’s results should not come across as being arbitrary.


In Part 4, I will look at how game design techniques can be applied to activities that are not, strictly speaking, games.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on June 3, 2013, in Game Design, Gamification, My Career. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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