Everything I Know About Gamification

Gamification is about using game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.

Game thinking is a great way to approach a problem because it starts with asking why people buy, use or do your thing in the first place? The process always begins by understanding THEIR motivation.

Game thinking also prevents you from calling people ‘users’. Apart from the fact that it makes me think of junkies, it also misrepresents who is in control. Having ‘users’ fools you into thinking people need your app. The truth is that they can always stop using your thing when it becomes shit. Calling them ‘players’ subtly highlights this fact and makes it clear that the onus is on you to figure out how to make your thing more compelling, interesting and fun.

Gamification is about motivating people.

If you need more qualified people, or if your prices are too high, then gamification won’t help. Neither of those things can be solved with more motivated people.

It works particularly well for creative work, mundane tasks or changing behaviours.

Dynamics #

At the very top, you have dynamics. These are your overarching themes. You can emphasise one dynamic over another but all games must have all five dynamics.

  1. Constraints - Constraints are what make a game, a game. The rules you set can turn rote actions into interesting challenges.
  2. Emotions - Consider the range of emotions you seek to invoke. Fun is a blanket term. You need to go deeper and pick out finer emotion like curiosity, competitiveness, frustrations, happiness, creativity, self-expression, etc. At the very least you can group fun into four kinds. and you can gear your design to cater to one or each of them.
    • There is hard fun like challenges or puzzles.
    • There is easy fun like watching TV.
    • There is experimental fun like the joy people find in trying out new things.
    • Then there’s social fun that comes from interaction, even if it’s competitive.
  3. Narrative - You should strive to make sure that everything makes sense on its own terms. The system should maintain an inner logic. A good narrative gives players a sense of connecting them up to a larger storyline. This can be explicit or implicit. The idea here is to reinforce the story your thin tells, don’t try and challenge it.
  4. Relationships - Winning is epic but sharing and helping people are powerful motivators too. Designing for relationships involves being aware of the mechanics inside the game and how your thing affects players outside of the game and in the real world.
  5. Progression - The first priority should always be to show people the ropes. Then you want to design for engagement at every level. Make things too hard and people will get anxious, too easy and they get bored. You have to constantly ratchet things up to keep someone’s attention as they get better and better at using your thing. Mihaly introduced the idea of a flow channel which is really handy for visualising the goal here

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You must offer opportunities to players at all stages. Everyone starts out as a novice, they need a bit of hand-holding, once they become regulars, they need novelty to stick with something. Finally, they become experts, they need challenges and reinforcement of their status.

Generally, engagement works in loops. You have a motivation that drives an action which then produces feedback that in turn ignites a new motivation and the cycle goes on.

Progression stairs are good engagement loop. You start at level one and end with a boss fight, level 2 then another boss fight, etc, This is good because it lets you experience some level of mastery as the level plateaus before the boss fight. That said don’t forget to incorporate a measure of randomness or it all becomes too predictable.

Mechanics #

  1. Challenges - puzzles that require effort, time, skill or creativity to solve. The important thing is that overcoming the challenge shows competence or mastery.
  2. Chance - Chance can be frustrating but when handled well it introduces as an aspect of unpredictability that makes things interesting.
  3. Competition - one loses, the other wins.
  4. Cooperation - when players must work together to overcome a challenge. Cooperation isn’t always voluntary. Involuntary cooperation means introducing challenge too difficult for any one player to overcome on their own. you have to overcome obstacles. Coop and competition don’t have to be mutually exclusive, you can have both mechanics in the same game.
  5. Feedback - Providing players with information about how they are doing. Think Fitbit. Players like to get reinforcement about how they are doing. A badge for work well done. A graph for tracking progress. Players will regulate their behaviour based on which metrics you show them. Feedback loops regulate the behaviour in the direction of the feedback. Also, unexpected informative feedback increases autonomy and self-reported intrinsic motivation. People enjoy being surprised by the achievements and rewards they didn’t anticipate.
  6. Resource acquisition - collecting stuff for fun, or to trade, or just to create other resources.
  7. Rewards - A benefit for some action or achievement, delivered on a fixed schedule, randomly or according to player activity. Be aware that rewarding people can crowd out any intrinsic sense of satisfaction from doing something. If I swim because I like swimming, then rewarding me every time I swim will erode my intrinsic motivation. Then take away the rewards and I will stop altogether.
  8. Transactions - Directly, through intermediaries or through a market. An economy dramatically increases the sophistication of activity in a game.
  9. Turns - turns mean players don’t always have to participate at the same time. This can make the a game simpler or it lets people participate on a more casual basis. It makes gameplay asynchronous.
  10. Win states - an event or action that makes one player the winner. These are less prevalent in gamified systems because winning implies finality and the objective is usually to keep people playing.

Tactics #

  1. Achievement - A defined objective that results in a reward or one player winning. Neither is necessary. And while we are talking about achievements can I just say Fuck loyalty programs. Create challenges that players find intrinsically motivating. Imagine a loyalty program that let you and your friends travel around the world and go on cultural quests or a system that gets you to work on something fun with your family and necessities you to travel across 4 international borders in the process.
  2. Avatars - anything from a coloured shape to a 3D rendition, the only requirement is that it is unique to the player.
  3. Boss fights & Combat - A boss fight is a hard challenge that culminates at the end of a level and must be defeated to advance. Combat and battles are a form of win-lose struggles, usually shorter-lived that the larger struggle of the game. So, winning a hand of blackjack or a single point in tennis.
  4. Collections & Virtual Goods - A personal set of virtual items. organised into categories, in some cases visible to other players. Virtual goods are often translatable to real-world values, people pay real money for them and can exchange them.
  5. Content unlocking - a form of reward that makes a new aspect of the game available.
  6. Gifting - Sharing resources within or outside the game. Unlike cooperation, gifting is always voluntary.
  7. Levels & quests - Defined steps in a player progression that helps you see where you stand. They help arrange rewards and mechanics. Quests are concrete challenges defined ahead of times. Usually attached to a narrative and a set of rewards.
  8. Social graphs - display the social connections a player amasses, showing friends and potential allies. Virtually all facebook games have this built-in, even if it is only to share progress.
  9. Teams - Groups of players that work together towards a common goal.
  10. Points, Badges and Leaderboards

Points are numerical representations of a game’s progression.

Points keep score. Points delineate state. Points create a connection between progression in the game and extrinsic rewards. Points provide feedback. Points can be an external display of progress. Most importantly, points provide data for game designers.

Each additional point merely indicates a greater magnitude and nothing more.

Badges are a visual representation of an achievement. Badges can serve a credential function. Badges provide a goal for users to strive towards. They provide guidance on what is possible. A signal about what a user cares about and what she has performed. They operate as virtual status symbols and affirmations of a personal journey. They are tribal markers.

A leaderboard is a visual display of achievement in rank order among a group.

Studies show that tactics like the PBL triad can actually demotivate when entangled with traditional rewards such a salary and bonuses. People see how low on the totem pole they are and give up. The climb is too daunting. Others internalise the idea that work is less important than the game and treat work less seriously. Promising to save time and improve efficiency while encouraging people to waste time with frivolous activity may generate cognitive dissonance.

Players #

There are four kinds of players. You usually cater to one kind but it’s helpful to add elements for each.

  1. Achievers respond well to levels and badges.
  2. Explorers like novelty and finding new things.
  3. Socialisers like engaging with friends.
  4. Killers like imposing their will on others and vanquishing their enemies.

That’s it.

That’s everything I know about Gamification.

I’d say about 95% of it comes from an incredible book by Kevin Werbach called For the Win

If you’d like to discuss this post, Twitter is the place.


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