Why do game mechanics succeed in some games and fail in others?

Have you wondered why a so called Game Mechanic succeeds in one game, yet when tried to reproduce in another game, fails miserably?  is it because the Game Mechanic itself is a failure? No.  it is often due to skipping over a couple critical aspects of the Game Mechanic that make it a success.  Let’s spend a few minutes looking into what those critical elements could be.

To make our discussion easier let’s take a common game Mechanic found in many of today’s online social games.  This is the Consumable game mechanic.  I have worked on games that have implemented this mechanic successfully as well as games that failed at implementing this mechanic properly.

The basic mechanic is that you have an item.  Let’s assume it is a building.  This building is a premium item.  Players want to have this building in their game.  In order to complete the building however they need parts to assemble the building together.  In other words they need to spend other items in order to get this new premium item.  Maybe they need 5 nails, 4 pieces or wood and a single hammer.  Once they acquire all of those items they are able to trade them in to get the premium building.  That is the basic overview of the consumable mechanic.

So why then do some implementations of the mechanic fail while others succeed.  Well — let’s look first at what defines a success of the mechanic.  Success can be achieved if it drives 1) Virality  2) Revenue or 3) NPS.  (Click Here to learn more on Net Promoter Score NPS).  Before you begin implementing the mechanic you need to understand which metric you are trying to drive.  You can drive more then 1, but it is critical that you understand which metric is the primary metric you want to drive.  Otherwise you will be unable to make key decisions around the mechanics implementation.

Let’s assume that you want to implement the mechanic so that it drives virality.  In order to have this mechanic be a success you need to classify the consumables into different groups.  Those that are hard to get, those that are obtained via normal game play and those that are easy to get.  Using our example of Nails, Wood and a Hammer let’s assume that the Hammer is very hard to get, the wood is moderately difficult and the nails are easy.

Players might get the nails through normal game play, something they can easily do for free.  Maybe they interact with a Friend’s game board and get a nail for free.  As a result they will have lots of nails and will want to obtain wood and a Hammer so that they can spend their nails.

Players might have a little harder time getting Wood.  Maybe it is a more random chance object that they get when a friend visits their game board, or maybe after they have completed a mission or quest or specific action involving a friend.

The Hammer is the item that is hard to get.  In this case the players will do the specific action required in order to get the hammer.  In essence they know they will be rewarded with a hammer and are more willing to pursue the task they need to complete.  This would be where you want to put your most prohibitive, yet necessary social actions.  Maybe this is where they have to actually ask their friends for help.  Maybe this item can only be obtained by a friend responding to a help request and providing a hammer.

The nails in this example are easy to get and gives the player a task to do in order to properly spend the nails.  They are enticed to collect the other items so they can redeem all of their nails.  The Wood ensures that the player stays engaged in the game and progress across normal game player.  The hammer ensures that the metric you want to drive is interacted with.  Players must send help requests to their friends in order to receive their hammer.

Too often game designers look at this loop and easily provide the needed hooks for the nails and the wood.  However they stop short of putting up the viral gate for the hammer.  They fear that it might be a negative action against their game.  This has always puzzled me.  Why would a game designer look at this as a burden for the gamers to share their game?  Most players are enjoying the game which is why they are playing.  This is the perfect time to ask them to share it with their friends.

Other times I have seen this mechanic fail has been when the prize at the end of the tunnel has not been valuable enough.  If the players do not want the building that you are offering – then they are not going to go to the effort of working for and collecting the consumable items.  You must ensure that the end result properly reflects the investment that players must put into your game to achieve it.

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