Six primary desires that video gaming satisfies

The videogame industry has indeed been booming in the past decade. Once that technology had overcome the challenges of computing power, and smartphones made gaming accessible to billions of individuals, the entire gaming sector has flourished like never before.
It is estimated that of the nearly 2.5 billion smartphones in the world, nearly 90 per cent has at least one video game installed on it, that is played at least once a week.
In my parents’ eyes (and most people in their generation), video games are just a fast-paced way of entertaining youth. Such narrow vision nearly “killed” Lego some decades ago. Back in the ‘80s in fact, the consultants of the Danish group suggested to enter the video game frenzy just by making everything digital, colourful and fast paced. What they missed out completely is that games trigger some of the emotion that are foundation of being human.
Lego saved the “sinking ship” by tapping on the primary desire of Achievement, by defining progressively more difficult step by step instructions, that children take as milestones of their improving ability. But the sense of achievement is just one of the 6 main desires that we — as human — take pleasure in satisfying.
The 6 desires are: Reward, Status, Achievement, Self Expression, Competition and Altruism.
Each of the feeling is matched by specific features that game developers have managed to integrate in every successful video game.
Reward = Points
Point system is an excellent way to reward returning players. In my teenage flippers were a very popular entertainment. I recall vividly the sense of reward whenever the ball hit specific spots of the flipper and generously rewarding me with points. When the points entered in the millions, it felt as if I was earning millions of dollars.
Points are also introduced as a reward in learning. For example new language learning applications make use of this tool to encourage learners not to give up. Points are a great way to reward small steps.
Status = Levels
Some games focus on segmenting the saga into small chunks called levels. One of my favourite video games was called Bubble Bobble, where two little dragons had to capture monsters into bubbles and burst them to complete the level. There were 100 levels in the game. I remember that when I reached the 100th level for the first time, I became the “king” of my town for one day, or at least it felt that way. But if you have listened to two adults talking about Candy Crush Saga, certainly one will ask: “At what level are you?”
When applied to other field that relate to gamification, “passing a level” means “not turning back”. The status achieved feels as if it cannot be lost any longer.
Achievement = Challenges
The need of achievement is inbuilt in our character since childhood. In school we have to pass exams to prove that we are capable. In gaming, challenges are often associated with other needs and game mechanics. For instance, in Bubble Bobble, every 10 levels there was a monster bigger than all the previous one to defeat. So passing the challenge corresponded with passing the level too.
Self Expression = Virtual Goods
Early stage fantasy games allowed to use the points earned (in form of digital coins for example) to pay for digital goods in the virtual stores within the game. Users could purchase a new armour, new weapons, shields and so on. Later on they could simply customise the look of the character. This element per se later became the inspiration for an iconic gaming experience called Second Life, whereby players could purchase customised items designed and produced by fellow players. The all experience was glued and kept together by a virtual currency, the Linden, circulated within the game itself.
Competition = Score Boards
In the ‘80s arcades offered quite limited gaming options and the opportunity to leave a mark was equally limited. In fact, at the end of the game, the players able to make it within the top scores, were allowed to “sign” with 3 digits their performance. I have the vivid memory of a German boy spending his summer holiday in Italy and signing his score as SSS. My brother and I could have spend hours watching him playing, and when we saw SSS in any score board, we knew that he was the champion.
Games such as FarmVille and Candy Crush Saga managed to make scoreboard social, a concept replicated in language applications such as Memrise to keep users pushing themselves in learning more words by placing all learners in a long score board.
Altruism = Gifting
Last but not least, Altruism, a basic human need that links to other more rooted feelings. Although some people enjoy donating because it “makes them look good”, gifting drives interesting dynamics in gaming. Some players do gift and then wait for some gifts in return. Others just as a social component to broaden their perspective outside the game.
The usage of the word Gamification has skyrocketed in the past couple of years. Many financial institutions are looking at ways to gamifying their banks. Those that will manage to emphasise the 6 basic human needs through the game mechanics described here, will be able to attract more engaged and more loyal customers in the long run.

Stefano Virgilli
stefano@virgilli.com