Game on at #TFTLondon: level 3: the four Ms of gamification

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Yesterday, I wrote about the ubiquitous gaming culture, the second in a series of posts from The Fantastic Tavern (TFT)’s gamification evening. Now we move on to the final level – examining the 4 Ms: of mystery (easy learning), mastery (hard learning), membership (making it social) and meaning (a story with a beginning, middle and end).

At TFT, four speakers each gave a lightening talk on one of the Ms so, here’s each in logical (not chronological) order…


TFT’s founder Matt Bagwell (Global Creative Director at EMC Consulting) started out by describing some characteristics that might describe mystery in gameplay: Where am I? What is the story? Make it compelling by building in reward/failure – make us feel on the edge, in flow (one of the tenets of happiness) and compel us to play.

Matt told us that, for mystery we need:

  • A goal.
  • Rules.
  • Increasing difficulty.
  • Voluntary participation.

Golf is a simple game – the goal is to put a ball in a hole. Add some rules and increase the difficulty hitting the ball with a club and putting the hole a long way away. Then introduce elements such as other players, handicaps, etc.

Mystery is about the goal. But some games are actually about working out what the goal is! Mystery is about the player, their role, and what they are trying to achieve. Why are you here?

In short, mystery is about creating new worlds for us to discover; designing in some flow; and make us work hard to unlock it.


Richard Sedley (Commercial Director at Foviance) took this topic, explaining that games are about engagement; capturing moments of attention and elongating them; repeating interactions to strengthen involvement.  The aim is to achieve flow – to match skills and satisfaction.

There are various game mechanics but rewards alone don’t make for engagement. When people use a wastebin, they like to toss it in – to make it a challenge, some fun – that is mastery.

Richard outlined three techniques to make mastering a challenge both fun and engaging:

  • Set a task – collecting can be fun and motivating. An example is the Get Started page for Dropbox, which allocates additional storage space to users who have carried out all of the activities.
  • Create hurdles, obstacles and enemies (but not brick walls) – build on levels.
  • Reward randomly – build in variable reinforcements but don’t use a fixed interval – use variable intervals and rewards.


Tom Hopkins (Strategy Director at Fortune Cookie) explained that, to understand membership, it’s often useful to look at the opposite: exclusion, alienation, being an outsider and how the resulting feelings drive human behaviour.  Clicking to sign up for something, or Liking something or someone on Facebook is not membership. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and belongingness.

Social identity theory shows that we define ourselves through membership of groups; and we may have multiple group memberships.  We need to consider both inside and outside the groups – what do the groups’ enemies look like?

An example is the Mac and PC advertising that Apple used for a number of years – it creates vitriolic feelings between members of the two groups. Generally people are either in or out of groups like these [I’m unusual in being in both groups]. Another example is the Stanford Prison Experiment – proving that artificial tribes can be powerful (even if they are arbitrary).

Ultimately though, Tom concluded, membership must confer some form of identity.


Alex Lee (Creative Partner at Kempt) gave the talk on meaning, starting out by describing different types of games:

  • Core games, like Street Fighter, are typified by being difficult. They require the player to acquire skills and they punish – even the language is punishing with “lives”, “continues” and “game over”.
  • Casual games are becoming dominant – things like Angry Birds and Farmville. They generally don’t require skills, but time (and maybe currency)

Some games are about status – they reward everything so that the player earns more of something, has new opportunities, and can progress through the game. Alex gave an example that involved breeding celebrity puppies but I prefer the example of the pottery game that my children play on my iPad. They make pots, sell them (virtually), earn credits, buy more colours and patterns, and make more pots, to sell, etc.

We can gain meaning from slight of hand – a feeling of success – or by rewarding – rewarding failure as well as success.

Even health apps like Nike+ [or Runkeeper] are games that provide meaning when we’re exercising – they don’t chastise us, but talk in our ears and reward us for small achievements.

Another real-world gaming example is Weight Watchers – allocating points to “spend” on food, rewarding with real results – and now it’s gone online.  Movember is another example, growing a moustache, but having fun at the same time (and with meaning).

Alex left us with some food for thought on gaming and meaning: how do people feel about Just Giving? When you donate, how do you feel about the value of donations either side in the list?

Wrapping up

That’s it for this series of posts – if you want to read more about the science of gamification, check out my post from Michael Wu’s talk at Digital Surrey – and if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

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