The five most commonly used game mechanics, as identified by Zichermann, are as follows:
- Points: Points are everywhere, and they’re often used in non-game apps as a way to denote achievement. Points also measure the user’s achievements in relation to others and work to keep the user motivated for the next reward or level. They can even double as action-related currency. Health Month, for instance, uses points in an interesting fashion. The site asks users to set up weekly health-related goals and stick to them for an entire month. Each person starts with 10 “life points” and the goal is to end the month with at least 1 life point. The player loses a point every time he breaks a rule, but friends can help the player “heal” and earn back points.
- Badges: While badges have their origins in the physical world, Foursquare popularized the digital variety with its oh-so-clever set of real-life merit badges that range from easy (Newbie badges are awarded to users on their first checkin) to nearly-impossible to unlock (it takes 10 movie theater checkins to earn the Zoetrope badge).
- Levels: Zynga uses levels to make the seemingly mundane task of tending to crops all the more enticing, and LevelUp encourages mobile users to level up and get better discounts for becoming more loyal patrons.
- Leaderboards: Leaderboards rank users and work to motivate and encourage them to become players. Foursquare started with city-centric leaderboards, but now places the emphasis on ranking users against their friends. Earn a few points for a checkin, and Foursquare will show you which of your friends you’ve flown by on the leaderboard.
- Challenges: These range from the simple to complex and often involve communal activity or group play. Priebatsch gamified his South by Southwest Interactive keynote with a group challenge that required all attendees to work together in rows. A proffered $10,000 donation to the National Wildlife Foundation was used to sweeten the deal.