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A Theory of Gamification Principles Through Goal-Setting Theory

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Goal setting theory has been used for decades to explain how to motivate people to perform better in work related tasks, but more recently gamification has also gained attention as an alternative method to increase employee engagement and performance at work. However, despite goal setting and feedback being at the core of gameful implementations, there is a lack of literature explaining how gamification works through the lens of goal setting theory or suggesting how goal setting concepts and recommendations can be employed to improve gameful systems. Therefore, we present a conceptual framework that establishes a relationship between the goal setting concepts and gamification concepts and mechanisms. Next, we describe how this framework can help explain the mechanisms behind gamification and suggest potential improvements to current gameful design methods. Finally, we propose directions for future empirical research aimed to apply this conceptual framework in practice.

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A Theory of Gamification Principles Through Goal-Setting Theory

  1. 1. A Theory of Gamification Principles Through Goal-Setting Theory Gustavo F. Tondello Hardy Premsukh Lennart E. Nacke
  2. 2. Goal-Setting Theory x Gamification 2 GOAL SPECIFICITY GOAL DIFFICULTY PERFORMANCE CLEAR GOALS CHALLENGE ENGAGEMENT
  3. 3. Research Goals • Identify the current uses of goal-setting theory in gamification research • Explain the principles and elements of gamification within the framework of goal-setting theory • Understand how goal-setting recommendations can be implemented with gamification • Understand how goal-setting recommendations can improve gameful design 3
  4. 4. Methods 1. Systematic literature review 2. Confrontation of Goal-setting and Gamification literature 4 Literature search: Google Scholar: 302 hits Not a peer-reviewed paper or book chapter: 80 papers Not a full paper: 5 papers Not available online: 8 papers Not written in English: 42 papers Total discarded: 135 papers Read papers’ title and abstract: 167 papers Gamification is not the main topic of the paper: 107 papers discarded Read the full paper: 60 papers Goal-setting theory is not mentioned in relation to gamification: 16 papers Goal-setting theory is not cited at all: 2 papers Total discarded: 18 papers Included papers: 42 papers
  5. 5. Examples of current uses of goal-setting theory in gamification research To explain a specific gamification element • badges, leaderboards, rules, goals, challenges, progress bars To understand how gamification works in a broader sense • badges and levels can be mechanisms for implementing goal setting; progress bars are mechanisms of direct feedback [1] • incentives and rewards can be seen as goals [2] Evaluation of gameful interventions • investigating social motivations for using a gameful exercise service [3] • investigating the success of leaderboards [4] 5 [1] R. N. Landers, K. N. Bauer, R. C. Callan, and M. B. Armstrong, “Psychological theory and the gamification of learning”, in T. Reiners and L. C. Woods (eds.), Gamification in Education and Business, Springer, 2015, pp. 165–186. [2] G. Richter, D. R. Raban, and S. Rafaeli, “Studying gamification: The effect of rewards and incentives on motivation”, in T. Reiners and L. C. Woods (eds.), Gamification in Education and Business, Springer, 2015, pp. 21–46. [3] J. Hamari and J. Koivisto, “Social motivations to use gamification: An empirical study of gamifying exercise”, in 21st European Conference on Information Systems, 2013. [4] R. N. Landers, K. N. Bauer, and R. C. Callan, “Gamification of task performance with leaderboards: A goal setting experiment”, Computers in Human Behavior, 71, Elsevier, 2017, pp. 508–515.
  6. 6. Goal-setting Basic Principles Goal-setting principle How it explains gamification Gameful design guidelines Related gameful design elements Specific goals Clear goals are specific Goals should be specific to focus the user’s attention and effort towards them badges leaderboards levels progress bars goals, challenges, points, achievements rewards boss battles certificates collections exploratory tasks quests ... Difficult goals Goals are difficult if the challenge is adjusted according to user skill Difficult goals should result in better performance than easy goals However, goal difficulty must not exceed user ability 6
  7. 7. Goal x Performance Mediators Goal-setting principle How it explains gamification Gameful design guidelines Related gameful design elements Choice or direction Presenting the next best task helps focus user attention Always present the next best task once a goal is reached goals tasks Effort Increased motivation leads to increase effort Persistence Gameful systems allow users to try again after a failure Support mastery through repetition challenges glowing choice Task strategy Balancing skill x challenge allow user to practice new skills Adjust the challenges to the user’s skill and give practice time challenges Self-efficacy Feedback and purpose help user feel responsible for their success Provide feedback and meaning for the user’s actions feedback, badges, achievements, progress bars, levels, narrative, meaning, ... 7
  8. 8. Goal x Performance Moderators Goal-setting principle How it explains gamification Gameful design guidelines Related gameful design elements Ability Breaking complex tasks into smaller pieces reduces complexity Divide complex tasks into smaller pieces that are immediately doable quests, goals, tasks, glowing choice, power- upsTask complexity Progress feedback Feedback on goal completion has been shown to increase performance Provide meaningful feedback that shows progress towards goal achievement points, levels, badges, achievements, leaderboards, narrative, rewards, ... Goal commitment Gamification can help the user understand the task importance and increase self- efficacy Context or meaning help the user understand the importance of the task and feel committed to it narrative, story, meaning, purpose, humanity hero, social network, collaboration 8
  9. 9. Types of Goals Type of goals How it is implemented in gamification Gameful design guidelines Related gameful design elements Outcome goals Goals related to completing specific tasks challenges, quests, exploratory tasks Performance goals Goals that require the user to reach certain performance level badges, points, achievements, leaderboards, levels Process goals Topic open for future investigation learning Stretch goals Topic open for future investigation achievements SMART goals Goals usually are specific, measurable, and attainable Realistic and time-bound goals need further studies Goals in gameful systems should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound for optimal performance 9
  10. 10. Takeaways Existing literature employs goal-setting theory to support, explain, or help design specific gamification elements Our new conceptual framework connects the most important gamification and goal-setting principles 10
  11. 11. Takeaways How gameful experiences activate the mechanisms at work when goal setting is used to improve performance: 1. setting clear goals through gameful elements helps users focus their attention and efforts towards achieving the goals 2. gamification can encourage users to fail and try again until they achieve mastery, thus fostering persistence 3. gamification can help users learn new skills by scaling the challenges according to the users’ current abilities 4. gameful experiences usually lead to self-attribution of performance, positive affect, and self-efficacy, further enhancing the effect of performance improvement 11
  12. 12. Takeaways How gamification can act on the moderator variables that influence the relationship between goals and performance: 1. gameful design guidelines suggest that the system should scale the difficulty and help users acquire new skills, so they would always feel they have the ability to pursue the goals 2. gameful systems usually provide constant and actionable feedback, which informs the users regarding their current performance and show the potential next actions towards the goals 3. gamification can facilitate goal commitment by helping users identify the importance of their goals and by fostering social interactions 12
  13. 13. Opportunities for Future Work Propose new ways to implement goal-setting interventions with gamification Investigate the overall effects of gamification on task performance Measure the intensity of the mediating variables to understand if these mechanisms work in gameful experiences in a similar way than in traditional goal-setting activities Measure how much goal commitment, feedback, and ability influence overall task performance by variating the type of game design elements Investigate if different types of goals lead to similar or different overall performance, mediating, or moderating effects 13
  14. 14. Full research paper: A Theory of Gamification Principles Through Goal-Setting Theory CONTACT Gustavo F. Tondello gustavo@tondello.com @GustavoTondello http://hcigames.com/ 14

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