Of natures and gamers:
Designing a gamified citizen science app
Anne Bowser, Derek Hansen, Jocelyn Raphael, Matthew Reid,
Ryan Gamett, Yurong He, Dana Rotman and Jenny Preece
Figure 1: A screenshot of the WordPress
prototype depicting the profile page of
Figure 2: A “plant” from the indoor and
outdoor prototyping sessions
Introduction and Background
Biotracker is a gamified citizen science data collection platform.
Researchers recently used Biotracker to host Floracaching, a serious
geocaching game where participants visit Floracaches of designated
plants and contribute data such as a plant’s identification or state of
bloom (figure 1). This data is used by scientists to study topics like
the dissemination of allergens and the effects of climate change.
Floracaching is designed to appeal to two primary populations:
gamers interested in location-based games such as Geocaching and
Letterboxing, and citizen scientists interested in themes relating to
botany, ecology, and climate change. In general, gamers are
motivated by game mechanics such as challenge, theme, reward,
and progress . Players of location-based games are also
motivated by a desire to experience nature, socialize, and perform
scavenger hunt activities . In contrast, citizen scientists have
different motivations based on personal interest in science as well as
more altruistic wishes to facilitate scientific work . We evaluated
Floracaching with both gamers and citizen scientists with two primary
purposes. First, we wanted to test out a new methodology for
prototyping LBAGs, which is detailed in . Second, we wondered
which aspects of Floracaching would appeal to citizen scientists (or
natures, to borrow the terminology from ) and which aspects of
Floracaching would appeal to game enthusiasts (gamers).
Two prototypes of Floracaching were evaluated at 2 Universities with
58 total participants. Twenty-two participants were classified as
natures; the remainder formed our gamer group. During the initial
indoor sessions, natures and gamers were split into different
sessions so that those without certain skills (i.e., plant knowledge or
familiarity with a certain technology) would not feel overwhelmed by
others who were clearly experts. Users shared their motivations for
using Floracaching, the activities they enjoyed, and suggestions for
improving the app through surveys, focus groups, and behavioral
trace data. The first prototype was relatively low-fidelity on multiple
dimensions, and evaluated indoors. The second prototype was
considered higher-fidelity and evaluated outdoors (see figure 2 for a
visualization of a “plant” in each prototyping session).
Natures and gamers who played Floracaching differed in their both
evaluation of specific activities (table 1) and more general
perceptions of the game. However, both groups appreciated
Floracaching as a game with a purpose. In the words of one
enthusiast, “with Geocaching it’s cool, and it’s fun, but it’s like ‘what’s
 Bowser, A., Hansen, D., Raphael, J., Reid, M., Gamett, R., He, Y., Rotman, D. and Preece, J. Prototyping in PLACE: A
scalable approach to developing location-based apps and games. To appear in CHI 2013.
 Flatla, D., Gutwin, C., Nacke, L., Bateman, S., and Mandryk, R. Calibration games: Making calibration tasks enjoyable by
adding motivating game elements. Proc. UIST 2011, ACM Press (2011), 403-412.
 O'Hara, K. Understanding geocaching practices and motivations. Proc. CHI 2008, ACM Press (2008), 1177-1186.
 Prestopnik, N. and Crowston, K. Purposeful gaming and Socio-computational systems: A citizen science design case. Proc.
Group 2012, ACM Press (2012).
 Rotman, D., Preece, J., Hammock, J., Procita, K., Hansen, D., Parr, C., Lewis, D. and Jacobs, D. Dynamic changes in
motivation in collaborative ecological citizen science projects. Proc. CSCW 2012, ACM Press (2012), 217-226.
Rank Natures Gamers
1 Budding Scientist
Citizen science activity
2 Friendly Floracacher
Citizen science activity
8 Tour Guide
9 First Finder
10 Forb Finder
Table 1: Nature and Gamer perceptions of different activities
“the point’ whereas for this, you’re contributing to science while you’re doing
it.” This appreciation may be the reason that the Budding Scientist activity is
ranked highly by both groups. Gamers appreciated game elements more
than natures. Two believed that the app would be better “if it were more like
a game with badges, achievements, etc.” and “if there was a way to ‘win’
rather than just participating.” In contrast, natures considered game
elements “distracting” and advocated for “more tools”. They also enjoyed
identification activities: “I like being able to put my plant knowledge to use.”
One compelling issue is designing gamified citizen science applications is
finding ways to support both domain experts and casual gamers. Other
researchers have solved this by offering a suite of activities that appeal to
different groups, or by using different skins for different audiences .
However, both of these solutions require considerable effort, and it is not
always clear what user group a new player belongs to. Therefore, it seems
crucial to ensure that a gamified citizen science application provides the
tools needed by both natures and gamers and supports the activities that
both user groups enjoy. Another consideration in the design of gamified
citizen science apps is ensuring that gamification does not have an adverse
effect on data quality, a compelling challenge for future researchers.