The Skyrim Opening: Shell vs Essence of a Game Design

Skyrim photo: Skyrim Markarth Side Markarth01_wLegal.jpg

Importance of Onboarding in Gamification

Most players experience video games as interactive story adventures, and the Onboarding Phase is essential in setting users in the right mood towards Onboarding. Besides making people feel smart (Core Drive #2: Development & Accomplishment), Onboarding should surface details of the game in terms of:

  • Setting the scene
  • Narrative elements
  • Context of the actions within the games.

This post has two focuses:

  1. How to really set the scene for a good Onboarding Experience
  2. How companies who are doing gamification just copy the SHELL of a game’s design but not the ESSENCE (very important topic!)

Gamification should not focus on the game mechanics but how users feel

Many of you know my disapproval of people who think they can just grab some elements they see from games, put it into their products, and their products will automatically be successful.

EVERY single game out there has game mechanics and game elements in them, but most games still fail because of bad design. Clearly, just because you took some elements that are even found in boring games and threw it onto your product doesn’t mean your product will become successful.

It depends on how you design for motivation (through the 8 Core Drives).

Gamification Campaigns that just copy the Shell of good design

When someone comes to me and says, “Yu-kai! I am creating a game! It’s going to be a ninja running around killing monsters. Is that fun?” I would respond, “…..I don’t know. It depends on how you design it.”

A slightly less subtle (which makes it even deadlier) sin in gamification is copying the shell of a game’s design but not the essence.

What do I mean by that?

Sometimes companies would see a site being very successful with a virtual economy system within it, and so they implement some type of virtual economy too that they think is the same as model. And this new virtual economy results in a colossal failure.

The reason? Virtual economies are very intricate systems, where you have to understand the anchors, input/output mechanics, rewards, tradability, labor-to-reward ratio, and much much more. It’s so easy to think that you copied someone’s solution but end up using your own “interpretation” or “creativity” and miss out on the core essence of WHY the successful virtual economy was designed that way. (This is why in Octalysis we always say, “Don’t talk about what the game elements are. Talk about WHY those game elements are there and how do they make users FEEL!”)

This is why, ironically, many games that are the most successful copy other successful ones down to the teeth! They basically switch up the graphics (like turn ninjas into frogs), or the platform (Facebook to iPhone) and become very successful, even though they don’t necessarily understand why those game mechanics are so addicting (I’ve talked to a lot of game designers now and realized a lot of them do things because “this other app does it successfully.” When I tell them about Octalysis, they respond, “Oh!! That’s why! Makes sense!”).

The games that copy the Shell of a successful game, but are “rough on the edges” in turns of what they copy, mixed with some of the designers’ own ideas, sometimes just fail miserably because they miss out on the essence.

Again, it’s not about what you design, but how you design it.

Lessons in Onboarding From Skyrim

One of my favorite places to learn about game design is the Youtube channel Extra Credits. (in order to apply to gamification – I encourage you to look into games more than you look into current enterprise examples, which only have the shell instead of the essence – we’ll discuss more on this).

This particular clip is about Skyrim which helps illustrate the relationship between the SHELL and the ESSENCE during Onboarding.

Many people find Skyrim to be a very exciting adventure. It is easy to get immersed into this world and let hours go by without even realizing it. As compelling as the game is, Extra Credits points out that the experience could be improved, particularly during the Onboarding Phase.

Extra Credits points out how the first 5-10 minutes is particularly important for gaining the interest of new players. This is a window of opportunity to make a powerful first impression. And the way to do this is by defining and shaping (what Extra Credits refers to as) the core engagement.  Throughout most of Skyrim, the core engagement is the motivation to explore and engage with a wondrous, mystical world.

Within the context of Octalysis, this is analogous to the drives of:

  • Core Drive #1: Epic Meaning & Calling: Being part of a journey that is beyond our own world
  • Core Drive #3: using creative problem solving abilities to overcome obstacles and broaden opportunities to explore.
  • Core Drive #4: Ownership & Possession: Feeling of ownership over one’s journey
  • Core Drive #7: Unpredictability & Curiosity: Drive to see what will happen and explore to satisfy one’s curiosity

The introduction of Skyrim offers very little appeal to these drives. During the initial experience of the game, players should be able to catch a glimpse of the various exploration opportunities in store for them. From a game design standpoint, onboarding story elements should be used to support the core engagement. This would help build a sense of anticipation and entice players to explore more of their journey.

Mistakes of the Skyrim Opening during Onboarding

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