6 steps to level-up your gamification skills

"GA-MI-FI-CA-TION". Never heard the word before? Or already fed up of hearing it? But what exactly does it mean? A scam? A magic solution? Just another buzzword? Obvious or mysterious, opinions vary. 

So what are we talking about? 

Gamification – n. The use of gameplay mechanics and game design techniques for non-game applications. 

What should be emphasised here is that gamification is a new approach to the design of products/services/business processes, drawing on knowledge from disciplines such as game design, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and many more. Gamification is all about putting the user (or rather the player) at the centre of the business process design to transform every task, every action into an experience that is both engaging and... fun!  

Maybe you need examples? Gamification can be used internally, to facilitate communication and knowledge management or for fostering collaboration. It can also be directed outside of the firm, to develop interactions with clients, partners or candidates. Gamification thus supports both performance and business. Finally, gamification may be used at an individual level, in order to gain motivation to attain one’s goals (for example, many people are keen on fitness apps and trackers to increase their physical activity). 


More than a trend, a genuine asset 

Initially accused of being just another fad, gamification has now attracted widespread interest for around a decade, and the emergence of numerous success stories in a variety of fields has proved its relevance . Not only has gamification proved beneficial in terms of user motivation and engagement, it also appears to be in tune with current market trends:  

  • It strikes a chord with the new generation (generation Z, or digital natives) who are entering the working world, thus influencing both the labour market and the consumer market. This generation grew up with video games – particularly in the golden age of educational video games – and tends to be receptive to the concept of gamification, which uses conventions that are familiar to them. 
  • In today’s collaborative economy, consumers have taken up a role of co-creator of value and it is crucial for companies to nurture strong two-way interactions with them. In this dynamic, external gamification can be used to increase users’ engagement with firms. 
  • Finally, in a context of the experience economy (as described by Pine and Gilmore), gamification is used to create richer user experiences around a product, service or company, which is a critical factor in setting companies apart from their competitors. 


But watch out! Gamification is NOT child's play 

Despite its versatility, gamification is not a kind of magic spell suited to every occasion. It is a complex concept and must be implemented discerningly to get the best out of it and tackle your specific problem efficiently. Clearly, results are not likely to appear after just a lazy sprinkling of points, badges and leader-boards to your user experience. The implemented system must be well-thought-out if it is to trigger the right sources of motivation in the users and, most of all, to guide their behaviour in the right direction. 

So it is more complicated than it might seem but... where there's a will there's a way! A number of researchers have developed analytical and assessment frameworks to help you develop your gamification strategy. I will refer to some of them in a 6-stage journey to help you with your quest: becoming a Knight of Gamification. 


Level 1: Is it wise to fight? 

Before you start thinking about developing a gamification strategy, here are a few questions you need to consider: 

  • Would influencing the behaviour of your employees/clients generate significant added value for your organisation/project? 
  • Can you represent the desired behaviours in the form of algorithms? 
  • Will you be able to avoid a conflict between the incentives specific to your gamification strategy and the ones that already exist within your organisation (salaries, loyalty programmes…)? 

Did you answer yes to all three questions? Well done! You’ve made it to level 2! 


Level 2: Know what you are waging war for 

What treasure do you wish to reach through gamification? Brand preference? Reduced absenteeism? Top-notch customer satisfaction for your after-sales service? 

Define objectives that are clear and can easily be measured through a few KPIs. Remember to prioritise these objectives so you know what behaviour to favour in the event of conflicts between your objectives. 


Level 3: Know your army 

Who will use your platform/system? What demographic and psychographic information do you have on them? Is there a single user profile or does your army feature both infantrymen and archers?  

You can create your own personas for your users or otherwise use existing models, including: 

  • The Bartle test identifying 4 different profiles for MMOG (massively multi-player online game) players. 
  • Myers Briggs’s Type Indicator (MBTI) for identifying psychological types in management and interpersonal relations. 

Source: wikipedia.com

  • Amy Jo Kim's Social Action Matrix for social/community games players.

Source: amyjokim.com 

Level 4: Plan your attack

Now you have objectives and players, let’s define what behaviours your players must take on to help you reach your objectives. How this behaviour is measured must also be specified. For example, to measure engagement, would you count the number of monthly connections or the time spent every month on the platform?

Level 5: Direct your troops

To influence user behaviour, gamification uses operant conditioning: a stimulus induces the player's action, then rewards reinforce the desired action (punishment of negative behaviour is a sensitive subject), creating a feedback loop. To design these feedback loops, you have to start by selecting the right gameplay mechanics and dynamics to trigger the desired behaviours:

  • Marc LeBlanc's MDA framework (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics) is used to understand the various layers composing a game.

Source: https://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/pubs/MDA.pdf

  • Yu-Kai Chou's Octalysis framework identifies 8 core drives that motivate players in a game or gamified system, as well as game elements to trigger these specific drives.

Source: yukaichou.com

A reward system must then be designed to encourage the repetition of desired behaviours, completing the feedback loop. This design replicates the neural reward system that triggers the release of dopamine in the body.

  • Gabe Zichermann's SAPS model classifies rewards into 4 types: Status, Access, Power, and Stuff, with the assumption that the former are the most efficient and cost-effective to implement.
  • Engagement loops nurture a feedback loop at a micro-level (individual actions). This can be represented using Nir Eyal's Hook Canvas.

    Source: nirandfar.com

  • Progression loops act at the macro-level, keeping the player engaged throughout their gaming experience, along the player journey. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow theory highlights the necessity of adapting games’ challenges as the player’s level evolves, so to keep them in a “flow” state, where they are most productive and engaged. It particularly focuses on perceived difficulty and ability.

Level 6: Don't forget fun

All your efforts will be in vain if you forget the central element of a gamified strategy! Like game design, gamification requires a user-centred (as opposed to traditional function-focused) approach, and gives great importance to the experience throughout the player journey. The key success factor of a gamification strategy is voluntary participation: if you have to force your target users to engage with your system, then it has been poorly designed and is not attractive or fun enough. Fun might seem hard to grasp as a concept but here are two frameworks to help you identify various forms fun can take in an experience.

  • Marc LeBlanc's 8 Kinds of Fun: Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, Submission.
  • Nicole Lazzaro's 4 Keys 2 Fun:

Source: learningwire.crossknowledge.com

Congratulations! You’ve made it through! You have battled bravely on your quest and I am honoured to grant you the title of Knight of Gamification. If you use your powers wisely, you will soon be the master of user engagement.