Where’s your Visceral Payoff?

Recently, I’ve returned to playing one of my favourite video games, Warcraft 3. I’ve always been a fan of the real-time strategy genre and specifically Warcraft as it embodies 2 aspects of video games that really appeal to my sensibilities: resource management and wanton death & destruction.

It’s a solid combo.

As I was spending another night building up my Night Elf village and amassing my army, I began to think about why this game (and similar games) appeal so much. What’s the satisfaction that I really got out of the hours spent there? I drilled it down to the fact that when creatures die in Warcraft (usually by my hand), they give off a really hearty, satisfying shriek, keel over and begin slowly decomposing into the ground. It’s a simple driver. That sequence of aural and video effect gives an immense, visceral satisfaction. When the effect is multiplied ten-fold as my invading hoard army over-runs the enemy camp, it signals a satisfying end to an hour spent overcoming a game level.

Designers have been talking for a while now about the gamification of everything. This idea revolves around giving activities other than gaming a score, or a game mechanic like collecting or customization. It’s a great way to drive user activity and competition. We even have our own scoring system on the web platform I’m currently designing, OpenIDEO.com, called the Design Quotient.

Beyond the game mechanic, there are other aspects of games we could also plunder. In the case of why I enjoy Warcraft, it’s about the ‘visceral payoff’. After all, when I kill enemies, I could just be watching my points accumulate. But the visceral experience of a slow, decomposing death is my experiential reward for achieving something… and sometimes, it’s more powerful than a score. Case in point, the new XBOX arrived pre-loaded with Peggle and oh-my-gosh what a visceral payoff. At the end of every level, as your peggle hits that very last marble, the visual effect is pretty damn cool and drives home the achievement of finishing up a level.


So how can we bring more visceral payoffs to the web? When I ‘like’ something on Youtube, can animatics fireworks go off to make me feel like I’ve made a worthwhile contribution? Can we make earning currency in whatever web service feel like an experience rather than a point?

One Comment

  1. paul frigout says:

    Interesting to ask where the visceral payoff comes from. A recent video from TED was showing that our viscers contains some neural cell! These tend to relate to our emotions, hence the payoff.I am wondering if the payoff and “gamification” can be culturally dependant. An aspect of gamification is the controlled liberty. This notion resonnates differently in americans, russian (Doistoieveski) and so on.

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