Last week, we spoke at length with 42 Entertainment founder Elan Lee, who managed to break down in 10 minutes concepts that we had derived over the course of many months of debate.

Over a year ago as we pieced together our game conceptually, much of our time was spent scrutinizing the specifics of the game: the interface, the rules, and the rewards. What we boiled down was a game where over the course of one month, players earned points for minimizing their environmental footprint in 3 ways. In addition to monitoring utilities usage (a back-end function), players received points for logging everyday pro-environmental actions: recycling, taking a 10 minute shorter shower, unplugging appliances; and for purchasing pro-environmental products over their equivalents: local/organic food, environmentally-friendly products, supporting socially-responsible companies. The goal of this game was to create an incentive system around going green.

During these early stages of our project, much of our debate revolved around whether or not our game would be fun, or whether it would feel a bit like homework. Although there was always the prize, we realized that the prize alone would be a fleeting interest for players. To ensure sustained gameplay, the game itself had to draw people in.

Hence, in the very early stages, we added several entertainment layers to mitigate the homework suspicion. These ideas included a feature which randomly matched teams at the beginning of the round as direct competition, an initial environmental assessment which based results of the game on change, and a real-world clue component where moles would infiltrate the community playing the game and pepper clues throughout the community.

As we pieced together what the game did and what it would look like, we scratched all of these features and instead opted to include a massive, central community map. We even contemplated scratching the map since it served no direct purpose, but over the course of several UI meetings something told us that a map was a key feature. The map later evolved to include more information, such as a ticker which displayed the latest actions in real-time, a pop-up feature which showed the current team standings as you rolled over their representations on the map, and plans for a mobile add-on where one would be able to see where actions logged via mobile phone had occurred in the community.

What Elan explained to us was that two novices had organically deduced a fundamental game design principle: essentially, there are two key elements which keep a game moving forward 1) a storyline, and 2) extremely visible competition. We had considered both without realizing it, and opted for the latter. Given the aim and functionality of our game, the storyline attempt always felt forced, but the visual layer reinforced a sense of urgency, serving as constant reminder of the community’s (peers, colleagues, and friends) progress in reaching a highly competitive, shared objective. Oh, and a cool prize doesn’t hurt either.