Gamification Getting it right 1
3 2 3 Missing IngredientsAll grumpy German scholar, I often get invited as the odd contrarian to spice up a gamification debate. On one such occasion, a friendof mine approached me afterwards and asked: Your critique is all nice and fine, but is there anything that you do like? Do you thinkgamification can be done well at all? Which got me thinking. And resulted in the thoughts in this talk. (Short answer: Yes, I do.)
Gamification 1 Getting it right
3 2 3 Missing IngredientsSo today, I‘d like to do three things: First, to give a brief introduction into »gamification« for those unfamiliar with the topic. Thesecond and largest part will cover three »ingredients« that I find missing in the current debate and implementations – and how toaddress them. I will close with suggestions how to translate that into practice as a designer.
Make-believe Rules, challenges Goals Feedback
Free, safe play space Shared toy objectsZooming out, I think that these three little stories already contain many of the principles that – done well – make games, or gameifiedapplications, fun and engaging. And if you probe your own memory, I am sure you will remember how you yourself have already usedsome or all of these principles to »gameify« some part of your own life.
But on to the present:
What is this »gamification« thing that people are talking about in the digital industries today? A commondefinition comes from one of the major service vendors, Bunchball. In short, »gamification« describe the use of design elements fromvideo games in non-game contexts to make a product, service, or application more fun, engaging, motivating.
FitnessLet‘s have a look at
some examples. »Nike+« has been a poster child for way too many things, but adding scores, challenges, trophies,and competitions to what would otherwise be »just« a running self-tracker, it definitely is a widely publicised case study for»gameifying« fitness.
EntertainmentIn the media industry, companies
try to make their online properties more sticky and engaging by adding minigames, challenges,(redeemable) points and leaderboards to them, as in the case of the USA Network show »psych«.
ShoppingIn retail shopping, companies like
»BarcodeHero« bring the concept of »checking in« somewhere from Foursquare or Gowalla tostores or products in stores, again complete with points, leaderboards and other game elements.
ProductivityAnd even in the productivity
space, several companies have set up services to add game elements to work tasks, as in the case of »PlayNice.ly«, which »gameifies« software debugging with points and badges earned for the number and quality of bugs you report.
Service Vendors and AgenciesFinally, a
couple of service vendors and agencies have sprung up that offer game elements (points, badges, …) as a service layer tointegrate into your site, as well as design consultancy.
Points Badges Leaderboards tracking, feedback
goals, rewards competition The blueprintHowever, if you take a step back, the blueprint all current implementations follow is still defined by location-based service Foursquare.You have an activity you wish your users to do more often and therefore give points for it. You have badges or levels users get forcertain points or activities. And to create some competition between users, you throw in a leaderboard for good measure.
Ga b e Z ic
h e r m a n A my J o Kim By ro n Re eve s Jane Je s se S c h e ll McGonigal Some proponentsDepending on who you ask, these features will be framed in a vastly different manner: As a »super-charged, super-cheap« form ofloyalty programs, as a new field of (meta)game design and community engagement, as the future of work as perfect informationmarkets, as the future of advertising and advergames, or as alternate reality games used to change the world for the better.
»At SCVNGR we like to
joke that with any seven game dynamics you can get anyone to do anything.« http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/09/welcome_to_the_decade_of_games.html Seth Priebatsch welcome to the decade of games (2010)Broadly speaking, the debate debate is split into two camps: Between mostly enthusiastic marketers and startups (like Seth Priebatsch)who present gamification as the next big thing after »social«, and essentially a key to outright mind control ...
»Gamification is an inadvertent con.
It tricks people into believing that there’s a simple way to imbue their thing ... with the psychological, emotional and social power of a great game.« http://www.hideandseek.net/cant-play-wont-play/ Margaret Robertson can‘t play, won‘t play (2010)… and mostly game designers (like Margaret Robertson) on the other side, who consider gamification the next oversold social mediasnake oil, falsely promising to distill the qualities of a carefully crafted video game into a small set of turnkey features.
So is there a secret
ingredient?I‘d like to take Margaret Robertson‘s objection as the starting point for my argument: What exactly is it that most current gamificationproponents are missing? Are there some »secret ingredients«, or is it all just snake oil 2.0?
Gamification Getting it right 1
3 2 3 Missing IngredientsAs I already said at the outset, I find three such »ingredients« that are missing in most current implementations and discussions ofgamification:
1 MeaningThe first one is
meaning. To be effective, gameified applications have to connect to something that is already meaningful to the user –or wrap themselves in a story that makes them meaningful, as in the story of the walk home from school.
2 MasteryThe second missing ingredient
is mastery: The experience of being competent, of achieving something, of making progress on yourgoals – like mowing a lawn. It turns out that this experience is at the core of what makes any good game fun and engaging.
Stack OverflowCompare this with the
software development Q&A platform Stack Overflow, often quoted as a case study for gamification because of itspoints and badges given for posting on the platform. However, if you were to take away those »gamy« elements, the platform wouldstill be hugely valuable to its users.
The lesson is that to
be successful, a gameified application must provide something that is already meaningful to the user on its ownright. Game elements are like an amplifier: There has to be a genuine sound first – a value, an interest, a motivation – for the amplifierto do any good.
»What we have learned from
our users is that any game aspect has to be, at least for finance, more oriented toward some specific thing that you are working toward: I want to buy a house or a car, take a vacation, get out of debt ... Otherwise you have a system of points with no levels or no end game.« http://www.thestreet.com/story/10944765/3/business-looks-to-win-at-gamiﬁcation.html Aaron Patzer founder, mint.com (2010)This is nicely reflected in a recent statement by the founder of mentioned financial service platform Mint. They found that for any gameelements to work, the elements have to connect to some personal goal the user brings to the platform.
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Personal goalsTo condense this into a design principle: Especially if you build a gameified application that support users in pursuing their own ends(e.g. health, fitness, finance, sustainable behavior), ensure that you connect to and support the personal goals of your users.
Customizable goalsOne practical way to
do this is to allow users to set and customize their own goals within the platform. The design challenge is tosupport and guide the user in setting long- and short-term goals such that they become achievable and provide experiences of mastery(see below).
Professional passionsNow not all gameified
applications support users in their goals; often, they try to enlist users for their ends (think crowdsourcing or ad-driven entertainment sites). But again, the broader principle »provide something that‘s meaningful to the user« applies. This might betapping into their professional passions. Take Book Oven, a crowdsourcing platform for book editing:
»One editor told me: Your
bite-sized edits is Crack Cocaine for proof readers.« Hugh McGuire cofounder, bookoven.comBook Oven has some minimal game elements (points and leaderboards) for the task of copy-editing small chunks of text. Who woulddo such a menial task, you ask? It turns out professional proof readers who do it for a living. Why? Well, I‘d argue because the platformconnects to something they are already good at and they passionately care about – well-edited books.
Prosocial caresBroader social interests can
also lend meaning – take the many games today that use gameplay to crowdsource some task for scientificdata processing, like matching DNA sequences with Phylo. Why would people do this (instead of e.g. playing a full-fledged free onlinegame), if not because it taps into their general care for science?
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Meaningful community … vs. Quality and VarietyMany gamification proponents argue that status, reputation, »bragging rights« are a central motivation they tap into. But forsomething worth bragging about, it better be (a) a real achievement that (b) I and people I care about care about. So a second tactic fora meaningful application is to ensure it connects to and enrolls the existing community of interest around its core activity or content.
The pop entertainment recommendation platform
GetGlue offers users stickers for activities – like a »Movie Buff« sticker for liking 50movies. However, neither I nor my friends care about pop entertainment that much, so earning a »movie buff« sticker or receiving arandom »thumbs up« on it from some unknown girl in Tucson, Arizona, is nothing that would excite or motivate me.
BoardGameGeekI am, however, a big
board game geek, and therefore care for feedback from and status within the community of board game geeks.Hence when I earn a microbadge on Boardgamegeek.com that states that I support the platform with a donation for hosting costs –that signals something meaningful to me and the other board game geeks whose opinion I do care about.
BoardGameGeekLikewise, when I earn a
badge that says I am a fan of the game »Hornet Leader 2«, or when some other community member thumbsup a review I posted on a game – all of that is very meaningful to me and the other board game geeks.
Community-generated goalsOne practical way to
achieve this is to have the community itself create challenges and/or badges or similar, as onBoardgamegeek.com. This almost automatically ensures that the community itself understands and values them.
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Meaningful storyBut what about video games? Their fictional worlds usually stand apart from our real-life concerns and communities – and intentionallyso. The short answer is: story. Video games wrap their goals and activities into a large story that lends them meaning. And not beingshy kids, in 95% of all cases, that story is: Only You Can Save Mankind!
»Keep red from reaching blue«On
an abstract game mechanics level (and the graphics are also pretty abstract), the game is about small green points tracing redtrajectories on the screen, and you have to position and time blue trajectories such that they intercept the red ones. If I put it in thisabstract fashion, the game sounds not that exciting, right?
»Defend cities from nuclear bombs«If
I wrap that game mechanic into the game‘s narrative, however – »only you can save mankind«, in this case: »only you can defendcities from nuclear bombs by intercepting them with missiles« –, now that is quite a different story.
»File earmarks«And I believe this
is easily transferable into non-game contexts, and something that hasn‘t been made much use of yet. Take the manycrowdsourcing efforts that exist today to increase government transparency, like filing earmarks for washingtonwatch.com. Now youwould have to be a true policy/transparency wonk (connection to personal passion) to care to do this here, wouldn‘t you?
»Discover corruption«However, what if you
presented the same activity in a »The Untouchables«/Watergate narrative of »be a citizen journalist, endcorruption« that lends purpose and meaning to it? Suddenly, the menial task seems much more exciting and motivating. (Bonusquestion: Consider how political campaigns muster support by connecting supporters‘ actions to a bigger narrative.)
Supporting visuals and copyNow story
doesn‘t necessarily mean you have to tell a full-fledged story with heroes and villains, conflict and resolution and all. Think»Missile Command« again: The visuals of the box and screen were enough to cue a coherent imagination. Similarly, gameifiedapplications should consider how to cue their narrative with consistent visuals and copy – e.g. for »citizen detective«.
Visuals and the fiction they
cue do play a big role. Imagine the popular facebook game »Mafia Wars« would be strapped from all visualand narrative cues of the underlying mafia fiction.
The result is the bare
»fill progress bar to progress« mechanic shining through. Not only do the game elements become lesscomprehensible if we have no unifying conceptual metaphor to map them to. They also become far less exciting.
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with social meaningsThe is also a specific danger connected to meaning: Any activity in the application has a social meaning in a broader context. Myfavorite illustration to this is akoha, a platform that wants to encourage prosocial behavior by turning it into missions you earn pointsfor, like the »treat a friend to your favorite dessert« mission. Which a friend of mine did with a friend of his.
Who got curios and asked
why he was taken out. To which my friend took out his mobile phone and explained akoha. Which made hisfriend quite irate, asking did he have any idea how degrading it is to be invited not because he liked him, but because of some s****ygame? In general: Beware of the way game rules and activities can mess with existing social norms and meanings.
Test with your non-geeky friendsBrian
Reynolds tells the story how when they added spouses to FrontierVille and a colleague created his randomly, the next day thecolleague‘ wife called Brian asking whether her husband really created that spouse randomly or on purpose. That story containspractical advice: Test your applications with your real, non-geeky friends to see whether they produce any awkward social effect.
Quick recap• Tap personal goals,
interests and passions• Tap the existing community of interest around your core activity/content• Wrap your activity in a visually supported story• Beware of messing with social context meanings
2 MasteryLet‘s move on to
the second missing ingredient: the experience of mastery. Mastery is a core piece of the puzzle why games are fun andengaging.
However, if we look at
the home pages and advertising material of most gamification vendors, they paint a very different picture: To,rewards is what makes games fun, and points, levels, and badges are basically all rewards (and virtual, read: cheap ones, too).
Which means that they engage
in a very flawed pop behaviorism: They consider games as Skinner boxes that doll out rewarding pointslike sugar pellets every time we hit the right lever (usually comparing dropping loot in »World of Warcraft« with reinforcementschedules). But if that reasoning would be correct, ...
Thankfully, Jakob Stjerning took that
idea to the test and built that precise game: »Progress Wars«. Oh, watch how those lovely barsprogress as you click! Isn‘t it fun? Isn‘t it engaging? Well, in fact, no, not so much.
»Fun is just another word
for learning.« Raph Koster a theory of fun for game design (2005)For all empirical studies on the motivational psychology of video games that I know of make this point articulated by Raph Koster: Thefun in video games is learning. That might sound counter-intuitive at first: Usually, we associate learning with school, and school withanything but fun. So let‘s unpack Koster‘s statement. What does he mean with learning?
»Fun from games arises out
of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. With games, learning is the drug.« Raph Koster a theory of fun for game design (2005)According to Koster, games pose challenges to us: patterns to recognize, rules to grock, puzzles to solve, hand-eye coordinations tograsp. Fun is the good feeling we get when we finally succeed in mastering the challenge, when we experience that we learned tocompetently control a part of our environment.
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/joits/645044175/sizes/o/… and the release upon
our successful resolution of that challenge. Again, in other words, playing video games is intrinsicallymotivating, not extrinsically rewarded. And if you misunderstand this crucial motivational psychology of games, you are likely to buildsome version of »Progress Wars« that quickly loses its appeal. (Source, Source, Source)
»Fun is just another word
for learning.« under optimal conditions Raph Koster a theory of fun for game design (2005)This is an important addition to Koster‘s statement: Fun is learning – under optimal conditions. That‘s what makes good games funand marks the core of game design: crafting precisely such optimal conditions.
Interesting challengesGames do this by
creating interesting challenges that provide said experiences of mastery. Thus, it becomes obvious why gamedesigners criticise most gameified applications as shallow: They offer challenges as bland as »leaving the house«, like »read a blogpost«, »revisit our site 5 times«, or »fill out a profile«, and overcompensate that blandness with the amount of feedback they give.
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/30691679@N07/3466924019 Goals ...How do games
create interesting challenges? Allow me to nick the example of golf given by Bernard Suits in his beautiful book TheGrasshopper: First, games set you goals – like »put the ball into the hole«. If that were all, however, golf would be a pretty boring game –you could just pick up the ball, walk over to the hole, and put it in.
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/b/36541088/sizes/l/in/photostream/ … plus rules ...Enter
rules. The rules of golf state you cannot »just walk over«. You have to start from a specific point on the course, and you have to hitthe ball with specific weird sticks in specific weird ways. And you have to play the ball from whereever it lands. (Suits therefore callsgames a »voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles«. Ask any golfer.)
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Clear, visually present goalsThe first principle is that your users should know their goals. So present them visually in a clear, easy-to-find fashion. GetGlue actuallystands apart by doing a decent job here. Upon returning to the site, the user is greated with a clear recommendation which next stickerto strife for, and suggestions what to do if one is bored.
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Structured flow of goalsNow video games don‘t just present goals. They ensure that a structured flow of nested goals pulls you through, from the long-termgoal (safe world, rescue princess), to medium-term (kill level boss-monster) and short-term goals (collect five level coins). Whereveryou are in and whenever you return to a good game, there will always be one next goal that is just within reach.
Zynga‘s »CityVille« can serve as
a good design example for gameified applications: On the left side of the interface, the game alwayspresents fresh »missions« to fulfill. The missions are optional – you needn‘t complete them to play the game –, but they lend guidanceto momentarily overwhelmed, uncreative, or bored players.
If you click on one
of the mission icons, you will find they are structured just as described: Each mission consists of a set of evensmaller, even more achievable sub-goals.
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Scaffolded challengesVideo games also structure goals in relation to their degree of challenge. The recent gameified crowdsourcing of twitter‘s translationgives a handy example: Players could earn points for each piece of interface text they translated, and they would level up based on theiroverall point score, which then got displayed on their profile pages.
If you look closely at
the leveling structure, you will see that with each level, translators needed to earn a little more points than beforeto reach the next level. Each level got more difficult to achieve. Challenges are scaffolded.
anxiety lo w« »f Difficulty
boredom Skill/Time Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi flow: the psychology of optimal experienceAnd this matches nicely with one central model for the appeal of video games: the concept of flow. According to psychologist MihalyCsikszentmihalyi, people feel best when they are neither underchallenged (boredom) nor overchallenged (anxiety and frustration), butjust at the point of their skill. And as people learn with time and repetition, challenges have to increase to keep up with growing skills.
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Difficulty Skill/Time Varied pacing provides ...However, if you look at the real difficulty curves of commercial video games, they are not straight lines. Rather, they fluctuate up anddown along a general upward trend.
Failures to learn from...On the
one hand, with sudden spikes in difficulty, this creates valuable experiences of failure: Failures that lead the player to examinehis performance and explore new, alternative strategies, but also make eventual success so much sweeter and more satisfying.
… and experiences of masteryOn
the other hand, regular easy challenges allow players to really experience and savor that they master the game. (View Scott Rigby‘sGDC 2009 presentation on the importance of such moments of PWND! or, more academically, expressions of mastery).
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Not just more of the same ...There is a weakness in the design of twitter‘s crowdsourcing game, however: The challenge increases just in quantity, which can quicklyturn into a boring grind of »can I persist?« instead of an interesting »can I learn how to do this?«. Similarly, if you earned a sticker forliking 50 movies on GetGlue, the question whether you can like 50 more is not a real challenge.
Super Mario Bros.As game designer
Daniel Cook outlines, video games keep their learning challenges interesting by varying them and increasing theircomplexity. In »Super Mario Bros.«, the first challenge is: Can you jump? Then a different challenge awaits: Can you shoot monsterswith fireballs. When you mastered that, the next, more complex challenge is: Can you jump and shoot at the same time? And so on.
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Capture the core challengeAnother thing that makes the challenges games create interesting is if they match the core challenge of the slice of reality they aresupposed to model. In the game »Diner Dash«, for instance, the challenge is sequencing under time pressure, rapidly figuring out whatto do in which order: Seat new customer? Serve meals? Just table 2 or table 1, 2, and 3? Take orders at table 4?
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Capture the core challengeAnyone who ever served tables will realize that this is actually a pretty good replication of the core challenge of being a waiter orwaitress. In contrast, imagine »Diner Dash« had depicted waiting tables as a trivia quiz game, or shooter. The game mechanic wouldnot fit the modeled activity and feel rather forced and less engaging.
The core challenge of e-mail?
• Maximum output/time? • Error-free, polite, actionable? • Order of priority? • Timely replies? • Checking less often?Along those lines, an application that supports users in achieving their goals with game elements should fare best when thoseelements speak directly to the core challenge keeping the user from following through on her intentions. Take e-mail: What, to you, isthe core challenge of good e-mail management? (Example courtesy of Stephen Anderson)
Order of priority?Depending on what
you consider it to be, you will want to employ different game elements. Seriosity‘s application »Attent« considersgetting the order of priority right the core challenge, and hence adds a virtual currency to mails to communicate priorities better. If youconsider checking e-mail too often your core challenge, you‘d likely pick another game element.
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Excessive positive feedbackNow to the final tactic for providing experiences of mastery: When you succeed in a challenge, games provide excessive positivefeedback to make that abundantly clear to you. My favourite example is the Pachinko-like game »Peggle« by Popcap Games. The goal isto shoot all orange pellets from a screen with a bouncing metal ball. Here‘s what happens if you clear the last orange pellet of a level:
Game designers call this »juicy«
feedback or the »juiciness« of a game (Source, Source). The Microsoft Office tutorial game »RibbonHero« is another good case in point: For each small challenge like »clear formatting«, you get this big nice »congratulations« splash.
g er D an Encouraging
unintended behaviors … vs. Quality and VarietyAs with meaning, there is also a danger in goals, rules, and feedback: They may encourage unintended behaviors (like cheating,exploiting, or gaming your system). Consider the following story: In May 2009, tumblr introduced a new activity dashboard for userswith an overall tumblr popularity score, »tumblarity«, hoping it would encourage people to engage more with the platform.
And engage they did –
although in an intended fashion. As the easiest way to raise tumblarity was to just post as much as possible, thecommunity previously characterized by careful curation of web curiosities got drowned in dribble, or so the community felt, and reactedwith a huge backlash. In January 2010, tumblr took tumblarity down and replacedit with a directory of tumblr users.
»Members without any pre-existing friends
on the site had little chance to earn points unless they literally campaigned for them in the comments, encouraging point whoring. Members with lots of friends... sat in unimpeachable positions on the scoreboards, encouraging elitism. ... Even worse was our decision to allow negative votes. Members could gang up and "thumb bomb" other members. The best way to "win" at Consumating was to not participate at all!« http://bit.ly/fJ7LPU Ben Brown i love my chicken wire mommy (2009)Ben Brown, co-founder of Consumating, recently retold their experience of what havoc a badly executed point system can wreck,encouraging all kind of unintended user behavior.
Similarly, there are now quite
a number of apps out that allow Foursquare users to auto-check in to places, like Mayor Maker, renderingthe competition for mayorship or leading leaderboards moot.
Game Your Own SystemTranslated into
a recommendation, when you playtest your system, you should instruct some testers to try and game your system inevery way possible to surface exploits early on. Also, monitor user comments and analytics constantly for signs of possible exploits (likesudden point-inflations).
3 AutonomyWe have arrived at
the final missing ingredient: autonomy. The freedom of a sandbox to have a space to play in and something that canbe played with. As it turns out, this freedom is a core aspect of what it means to play, and why play is fun.
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/musebrarian/443103590/sizes/o/I like to call this
the »Tom Sawyer problem«: In the famous novel by Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer has to paint a fence white and is deridedby friends who pass by on their way to the fishing pond. By insisting that he‘d rather paint the fence than go fishing, Tom is able topersuade his friends that painting is actually fun – and has them pay for the privilege of painting the fence for him.
»If he had been a
great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.« Mark Twain the adventures of tom sawyer (1876)Great and wise philosopher (and psychologist) that he was, Twain rightly observed that autonomy is what makes the difference betweenwork an play: We usually experience as work what we are forced to do, whereas to experience something as play, we must feel that wehave chosen to do it voluntarily.
Work PlayThis explains why one
and the same activity – analysing spreadsheets – is experienced as work (and people demand payment for it) inone case, and in another case (like the Online Roleplaying Game »Eve Online«), it is experienced as fun (and people pay for it). In thegame, analysing spreadsheets is done voluntarily.
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Perils of and Variety … vs. QualityExtrinsic RewardsAnd this leads us right away to the danger inherent in giving out rewards for activities. A meta-analysis of more than 120 psychologicalstudies has shown that giving expected extrinsic rewards for an activity (e.g. »if you do x, I will give you y amount of cash/points/...«)reduces the intrinsic motivation of people to do it. (Source) Why? Two reasons.
Curbing autonomy through controlThe first
reason is that people feel controlled by the person giving the rewards, reducing their sense of autonomy. This is especiallyrelevant to gameifying work, like the leaderboard above for salesforce.com. Depending on how your supervisor handles it, a leaderboardcan feel like yet another form of control and pressure, or as informational and supportive (»Let‘s ask Brian how he does it«).
Devaluing the activitySecondly, giving a
reward for an activity sends a strong social signal that you don‘t consider the activity worth doing for its own sake. Ifyou pay people to become facebook friends of your app or to retweet a link to your app for the chance of entering a sweepstake, thatessentially signals: »Our app is so bad, we have to pay/reward people to say they like it. They would never do it spontaneously.« http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/courosa/4955407599/sizes/l/in/photostream/
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No strings attachedHow to avoid those side effects? The first trick is not to attach real-world consequences to in-game activities: no quarterly evaluations,salary bonuses, sweepstakes, etc. Sabre Town is a successful enterprise Q&A platform that achieved high platform activity by usinggame elements (users who answer often can customize more elements of their profile) without attaching any such further strings.
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http://ascottallison.ﬁles.wordpress.com/2009/12/p1030286.jpg Shared goals, individual pursuitApologies if you‘re tired of hearing about Zappos‘ customer service, but it showcases a second strategy for autonomy: Ensure that youand your employees share goals and the intentions behind those goals (here: good customer service), so that they feel they pursue theirown goals. Then make them even more autonomous by leaving it up to them how they reach those goals.
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Informational feedbackThe third strategy is to ensure that system feedback feels informational rather than controlling, supporting users in reaching their goals.Mint.com again is a good example: It shows you how much progress you made on your own financial goals, and suggests next stepshow to make even more progress (rather than scolding you).
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http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/indy138/2852103473/sizes/o/ Unexpected rewardsA fourth strategy is to make rewards unexpected – like easter eggs in video games. When you don‘t expect a reward, you don‘t feel youdid something because of the reward – hence it doesn‘t feel controlling or devaluing.
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Something to toy with togetherSo much for the first part of autonomy – a free space to play in. The second part is the freedom inherent in the objects found withinthat space, that sandbox. Does your application provide objects whose uses are not fully predefined by the designer and/or blatantlyobvious? Do they offer possibilities to explore that spark curiosity and allow for self-exploration, and the pleasures of mischief?
Game designers usually speak of
»sandbox games«, and their current poster child for this is »Minecraft«. Players find themselves in arandomly generated world consisting of pixely cubes, which they can combine and process to all kinds of material.
Another obvious case are simulation
games, with »Spore« and its Creature Creator as the maybe most well-known successful example,generating more creatures that known species on Earth. (I spare you the pleasures of mischief of a thousand and one dildo creatures,but if you must, do a google image search.)
However, even games that appear
far less »open« on the surface have been explored for their expressive potential, like »FarmVille«.Never intended by the designers themselves, players quickly found they could use their farm and crops and pixel and canvas (checkfarmvilleart.com).
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http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/purplemattﬁsh/3205907410/sizes/o/in/photostream/ Freedom, with railsYet many people are frightened by too much open possibility with nowhere to start, like a blank page. Good »toy objects« are likeclimbing walls: To experts, they offer all opportunities to craft their very own path. For beginners and the momentarily-less-creative, theyoffer handles and pre-designed paths to follow and then explore from (more thoughts on this).
Lofty and hard to apply?
Here‘s a practical example, again from Boardgamegeek.com. A core social object of the platform are user-created lists of games. The intended use is to create useful topical collections like »pirate-themed games« or »the best new games fromconvention XYZ«. However, the technical features of the list were not confined to these uses.
Users quickly realized the creative,
expressive, and most importantly, comic potential of these features. Hence, the most popular lists ofthe site tend to be of the kind of »comments of my grandma, mom and wife on my games« ….
Quick recap• In producvity contexts:
Beware of curbing autonomy• In consumer contexts: Beware of devaluing your product• Provide a shared digital toy object open for exploration and expression, with starting points
Getting it right Gamification 3
1 2 3 Missing ThingsSo meaning, mastery, and autonomy are key ingredients to good games – and gameified applications. But how do you ensure that youget them right when you design such an application? What practical steps should you take?
Process, not featuresThe most important
thing to keep in mind here is that any good design – game or software – hinges on good designers and goodprocess, not on features. Yet if you look at the websites of the big gamification vendors, what they advertise is features (understandably,because that‘s always an easier sell to executives). Although what truly differentiates them, I‘d argue, is their design experience.
Just think about Web 2.0
and »social«. Whether a site builds a community or not has nothing to do with having a certain feature – a tagcloud, blog, wiki –, or not. It depends on whether the team behind the site understood their users, spoke with them, designed andredesigned over and over to get all the little details right and ensure that what they build actually speaks to the needs of their users.
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Know Your UsersSo the first thing to do – again, as with any good design – is to know your users. What motivates them? What is meaningful to them?What keeps them from following through on their intentions? What kinds of games do they like? What kind of community to theyprefer? Without user research to figure these things out, you will miss your target audience.
Fanlib.comThe now-defunct community site fanlib.com
delivers a good cautionary tale. Fanlib.com tried to encourage fan fiction writers to submittheir work with competitions and sweepstakes. From above ad, can you tell their mistake? Turns out, the fan fiction community is 99%female – and driven by help and collaboration, not competition. Their game elements didn‘t fit the community they were targeting.
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http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/patrick_q/293314242/sizes/l/in/photostream/ Read the Rules … vs. Quality and VarietySecondly, you should learn the basics of game design – how goals and rules create challenges. There are good books on the subject,like Game Design Workshop or The Art of Game Design, but arguably the easiest, best, and most hands-on way is to start playing boardgames and then tinker with them and discuss how different rules create different dynamics and experiences.
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Prototype, Playtest, Iterate … vs. Quality and VarietyAgain nonsurprising to any good designer, if you read any of the mentioned books, you will learn that the core of game design is tobuild a functional prototype (paper is fine) of your rule system as early as possible to test whether it is any fun, tweak it based on thetest results, test it again, etc., to iterate your way toward something that is fun and engaging. In the words of designer Rainer Knizia:
»The life blood of game
design istesting. ... Why are we playing games?Because it‘s fun. You cannot calculatethis. You cannot test this out in anabstract manner. You have to play it.« http://shiftrunstop.co.uk/2010/08/19/episode-40-reiner-knizia/ Rainer Knizia famous board game designer (2010)
Take the best-selling casual game
of 2009, »Plants vs. Zombies«, with more than 15 mio. downloads and 1,5 mio. copies sold, over 1mio. US$ in iPhone app sales on its first week in the iTunes store, and more industry prizes then there are Oscars. The secret? Threeyears of iteration and refinement ...
… to the final product
(read their excellent postmortem). Now I don‘t want to say you need to invest three years to make your gameifiedapplication shine. What I do want to say is that the only way to ensure it shines is to prototype, playtest, and iterate as early and oftenas possible.
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Bring in the dataAnd that includes qualitative as well as quantitative testing. The »Plants vs. Zombies« creators not only played endless iterations. Theyalso tracked and analysed the game play to ensure they got the balance just right – is that level too long? too short? too easy? toodifficult?
Recommended readingA huge part of
gameified applications is basically a reputation system, so read Randell Farmer‘s and Bryce Glass‘s excellent BuildingWeb Reputation Systems. For a hands-on introduction to game design and prototyping, work through Tracy Fullerton‘s Game DesignWorkshop. And once it‘s out, Scott Rigby‘s and Richard Ryan‘s Glued to Games will be the best popular 101 on video game motivation.