Gamification Lessons from Sim’s Creator Will Wright

24 09 2010

Will Wright, one of the gaming industry’s most respected thought leaders, has been designing video games for over 25 years.  With blockbuster titles including SimCity, the Sims and Spore, Will has won numerous awards, earning Lifetime Achievement Awards by both Game Developers Choice and PC Magazine.

Will gave a insightful interview at the Web 2.0 Expo in 2009, where he shared thoughts on why his games have been successful at engaging people worldwide.   The following quote is from the video clip which is available for viewing (courtesy below:

“Most people are very narcissistic.   The more you can make the game about that person, the more interesting, the more emotionally involved they will get.

(Interviewer) “Isn’t that the same thing about Amazon?”

“Yes, like the whole web thing, when you think about it, people like the idea of communicating and crafting their own identity.  Before the technology we have now came around, people did that with their choice of their wardrobe, or the kind of car they drove, or the kind of house they lived in…nowadays people are crafting more of their identity on the web and it’s a much lower friction, you don’t have to have a lot of money to create a really dense web presence or an elaborate one.

It can also say a lot more about who you are really. [For example] If you are really about protecting the endangered ring-tailed lemurs, you aren’t going to present that with your wardrobe probably. On the web though, I go to your Facebook Page and I can very clearly find out about the things you are passionately interested in very readily.

I think the intersection of these virtual identities that we’ve been crafting and experimenting with is starting to intersect and collide with kind of our real “face-to-face” identities in the real world in an interesting way.   I think games are going to be an aspect of that, they’re going to be one possible dimension of your personality .”

Will targets an important success factor in his game designs that can easily be translated into any gamified social system.  People are interested in directing their experiences, expanding on their personalities, and portraying this within online identities in the community.  Their choices are important and help define their personalities.

Personalization doesn’t necessarily mean graphical avatars and a full 3D gaming environment.  It may be presented as a simple series of attributes, levels, titles, activities and achievements.  From selecting virtual gifts to acquiring a specific title of status, to selecting a challenge out of a list of player-vs-player encounters, personalization is  one of the strongest catalysts for game-based engagement.

An example of how a title  (status  mechanic) can achieve this personalization is found in many massively multiplayer online (MMO) games today.  A title is the text found before or after a player’s character name.  MMO enthusiasts have been known to work outrageous hours across many months towards obtaining a title.

Interesting, fun titles in various MMOs are:

  • “God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals”  – GuildWars
  • “L33t Skills” – GuildWars
  • “Pie Eater” – Lord of the Rings Online
  • “Legendary”-  Star Trek Online
  • “Treasure Hunter” – Guild Wars
  • “Love Fool” – World of Warcraft
  • “The Insane” – World of Warcraft

If presented within a well designed UX, a gamified system that offers many choices and many paths to success can truly engage a user.  And by tailoring the mechanics to accommodate various personality types, people are thrilled to work and win in their own ways.

The complete 30 minute interview video is (well worth watching) found at




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16 10 2010
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