Level Up Your Community with Amy Jo Kim’s Principles of Game Thinking

Amy Jo Kim‘s work building social systems and online experiences for The Sims, Rock Band, Ultima Online, and the New York Times, to name a few, makes her an industry go-to when businesses and clients have questions about creating engaging experiences for gamers, shoppers, and more.

Amy Jo is the author of Community Building on the Web (2000) and Game Thinking (2018). While some think of her as a community professional because of her writing and others know her more for her work in games, Amy Jo sees her work as continuous and intertwined.

She was tackling questions around user incentives and gamification decades ago and even then she thought, “is it too late for me to write a book?” Let’s all take that as a lesson that it’s never too late to share what we’ve learned and then, as she says: “Keep going, keep getting better, keep developing new frameworks that give people value.”

Patrick and Amy Jo also discuss:

  • Amy Jo’s experience getting a community book published in 2000
  • Why simply just implementing “PBL” (points, badges, and leaderboards) likely won’t take your community very far
  • Focusing on the “middle” of your community experience
  • How inclusivity and diversity factor into game thinking

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Big Quotes

Writing a community book in the late 1990s (3:40): “The thing that motivated me to write [Community Building on the Web] was … that, although this was a new medium, and we were dealing with tech-enabled communities, people are people and the dynamics that have always made communities rise or fall are pretty much the same, whether you’re digital or not. … [In the late ’90s], there was a lot of, as there is now, breathless hoopla about, ‘Oh, it’s completely new. We’ve never seen anything like this.’ Yet I felt that there was all this older wisdom about communities that was readily available to us if we wanted to learn from it.” –@amyjokim

Sharing your industry experience (6:00): “If you’ve got something valuable to say, if you can say it in a compelling way people understand; [being] late/early doesn’t matter so much. … Get the thing that you have to state out into the world so people can react to it. That’s an incredibly powerful thing.” –@amyjokim

Be thoughtful about your gamification practices (20:42): “If you want to capture the magic of games in your product, it really has a lot more to do with building the right systems than sprinkling [points, badges, and leaderboards] on top.” –@amyjokim

Give your superusers the opportunity to make an impact (35:46): “Find some way for your most dedicated customers to play a role in the community that gives them impact. People like swag, they like being paid, they like being praised. They like all of that, but there’s nothing that can beat having an impact on a community you care about.” –@amyjokim

Making diversity part of your design process (41:04): “If you’re building something new, and you want it to be inclusive, find people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, different skin tones, different religions, whatever it is that you want to be inclusive about. Actively recruit early adopters from those groups and make sure that their voice is heard at the beginning and then throughout.” –@amyjokim

Onboarding is important, but… (47:36): “There are so many apps, communities, marketplaces, and services that fail because they [just] have great onboarding. They took to heart that onboarding is so important. … What about day five? What about day ten? There’s nothing there. It’s so common. The reason it’s common is it’s much easier to design pretty onboarding than to figure out your core loop. It’s actually the hardest part. It’s the part that’s going to drive retention.” –@amyjokim

About Amy Jo Kim

Named by Fortune as one of the top 10 influential women in games, Amy Jo Kim is a game designer, community architect, and innovation coach. Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, eBay, Netflix, nytimes.com, Ultima Online, Covet Fashion, and Happify. Amy Jo has helped thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators bring their ideas to life through her coaching programs at gamethinking.io. She pioneered the practice of applying game design to digital services and is well known for her books, Community Building on the Web, from 2000, and Game Thinking, from 2018.

In addition to her coaching practice, Amy Jo teaches game thinking at Stanford University and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she co-founded the game design program. She holds a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Washington and a BA in Experimental Psychology from UCSD.

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