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Gamification: The Three Levels of Design Abstraction 02 – Mechanics7 min read

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This post is part of a series

Dynamics, Mechanics, Components

In Part 1, we introduced the three levels of design, and went into detail regarding the first level of dynamics. The next, more concrete level of choices we have to make in designing a game or gamified software is mechanics.

2 Mechanics

for the win gamificationMechanics are the basic processes that move the game forward, and allow your players to progress in skill, experience, and achievement. The following list is not exhaustive, but a good set of basics to review when you ask this question:

“What features do I need to meet the goals I chose for the dynamics of my software?”

Mechanics are the processes that drive the action forward and engage your users.1

2.1 Challenges

Puzzles or other tasks that require effort to solve can meet many needs in a gamification design, including:

2.2 Chance

This mechanic is one of the top two that make your players addicted to your software, so take note! Elements of randomness have shown to not only play into our need for autonomy, but our love of chance wins.

Put simply:

Players would rather get a big payout randomly than have an even payout ever time they try

The surprise factor is what keeps people gambling in casinos, and will keep people using your game or software. This is what keeps people gambling, but you can leverage it for good!

2.3 Competition

As we saw previously, one of the four player classes, the Killer, is characterized as having the desire to compete and win. Competition can be simply defined this way:

One player or group wins, and the other loses

Not all gamification focuses on competition, but even in less aggressive gaming situations, some level of healthy competition can increase the player’s engagement, especially when competing against other real players, not just NPCs or the game itself.

2.4 Cooperation

Players must work together to achieve a shared goal

forbiddenislandI have three young children, and one problem I have with a lot of games is that there is only one winner, which in my house produces not a few bad losers. Some days, I don’t want to focus on teaching my children how to lose (or win) gracefully, I just want to have fun.

That’s where co-op games come in. Great board games like Forbidden Island assures a group experience, where we learn a different virtue – how to help one another so that we all win or lose together.

2.5 Feedback

One of, if not the most essential engagement mechanic is that of meaningful feedback – that is:

Making progress visible through (a) persistent progress meters, and (b) feedback that gives meaningful praise and instruction to the user in a timely and regular manner

Information about how the player is doing meets the need for achievement better than rewards. It appeals more to the intrinsic desire for competence than mere extrinsic rewards.

2.6 Resource Acquisition

cslewiscollectionWhat is is that is so appealing about collections of items? When I was a kid, I collected bottle caps and short pencils. As an adult, the image of a good collection of written works is a severe temptation.

Obtaining useful or collectible items appeals to both the Collector and Explorer player types, and produces an unique satisfaction.

2.7 Rewards

Rewards can come in many fashions, as we will see in our next post on game components. However, generally speaking players need to be rewarded for effort. Though this is often an extrinsic type of motivation, and so of less value than intrinsic motivations, it is still a necessary part of making games satisfying and fun. Otherwise, players can feel like they are working for nothing.

2.8 Transactions

Trading between players, directly or through intermediaries

Ever felt sad and went online or the mall for some retail therapy? Buying things is strangely enjoyable. In-game commerce, with either game currency or real, with the game or real players, adds a level of engagement.

Admittedly, in-game economies can be hard to create with limits that deny abuse but also have enough of an element of chance that users can thrill over getting a deal or making a profit.

But even simple markets with a fixed economy (rather than a dynamic one that fluctuates with supply and demand) can add a level of fun. It feels powerful to create, sell, and buy.

2.9 Turns

Sequential participation by alternating players

q3dm17bWhen I was in my 20’s, I mostly enjoyed non-stop adrenaline games, such as first person shooters like Quake (see the infinitely fun “space map” to right).

However, as I age, I am appreciating games of strategy much more. They require thought, and give you a chance to rest!

Turns allow your players to take breaks and come back refreshed. They also provide the pleasure of having time to scheme.

2.10 Win States

The term “wins states” is a bucket that includes the victors of competition as well as solo achievements. One of the main concepts, however, is to define more than global winners and ranks. This is because only a few players can be overall winners, especially if credit is earned over long periods – this makes ranking almost impossible for new players.

That’s why we must also define local or temporal win states – winners within a smaller space of time (today or this week) or cohort of players (best in your group of friends).

We should also think about partial win or draw states, and how players get at least partially rewarded for effort or participation. We don’t want them to give up, either because they are not the best yet, or because on the other hand, there is no real competition because “nobody loses.”


There are a great number of possible mechanics that we can employ based on the focus of our game or project. Choosing to focus on 3 or 4 is a good idea, while at least addressing the others consciously. In our next post, we’ll finish up with looking at the various components we can employ to make our chosen mechanics real.


  1. Werbach, Kevin; Hunter, Dan (2012-10-30). For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business (Kindle Locations 1127-1138). Wharton Digital Press. Kindle Edition.[]