The idea of gamification has been around a lot longer than you might think. Have you ever gone to a café and received a “buy 10 get one free” card? Were you more inclined to go back?
Maybe after signing up for an online discussion forum, you noticed that the more you posted, the higher your prestige among your online peers. Were you more inclined then to continue participating in the discussion?
If you answered yes to either of those situations (or a similar situation), considered yourself gamified. You can probably understand how these minor inclusions of gaming mechanics can be powerful in changing user behaviors or serving as a motivator for reengagement.
In fact, the use of game mechanics has a proven track record in increasing user engagement and motivation, so it is not a surprise that everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon when creating a new website or application. However, before anyone should consider gamifying their workplace or site, it is important to clarify what gamification really is, and when it should or should not be used.
What is Gamification?
Game designers typically utilize the MDA model to create games for players to consume. MDA is an acronym for mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics.
- The mechanics are what define the rules of the system.
- Dynamics are the action choices and reaction of the player based on the mechanics.
- Aesthetics are what allows the player to be immersed into the game.
A good game takes all parts into account.
People play games for numerous reasons – some to relax, others for competition or for fun. Whatever the reason, there is a game out there for everyone. If a game has ever had you engrossed, you can thank good game theory for it.
Gamification plays into the idea of using the same addictive mechanics in a non-game setting to create something functional, meaningful, and engaging to the user. However, unlike a game, each situation is not clear-cut, and it is not as simple as throwing badges on a website and rewarding users with points and statuses. Where it differs is that there are no clear storylines in real life, and in reality, things just keep changing.
Not a Game
Gamification is not about making a game. In fact, the resulting work may not even resemble one. For instance, we can consider eBay to be gamified although the user doesn’t have to play to win. Instead, users are driven by the buyer and seller ratings, with improvement as incentive for progression.
When creating an application or a website, we keep in mind a purpose or a solution to a problem. The approach with gamification should be no different. While user engagement and reengagement are important, it is more important to address the reasons why the users are visiting in the first place, before developing the solution or mechanics to do so.
The best way to determine if gamification is really the right approach is to examine the actual user goals and behaviors and see whether or not this particular pattern fits in. In some circumstances, it will be appropriate and in some it is not. Going back to the prior example, if the visit to the coffee shop was all about getting badges and unlocking achievements, there would not be much incentive to go back. However, if we determined that the user’s goals are to get great coffee and socialize, a leaderboard or a place for contributing ideas for those who visit most often might be a good gamification technique to nurture those customers and encourage them to come back.
The concept is not a silver bullet and in some circumstances can be more harmful than useful. If not correctly or intelligently designed, the “game” could literally hold your site hostage, and users may struggle to relate to the identity or the purpose of the site. It should not be the game that defines the website. What is important is creating something that is meaningful and functional for its users – an experience – and users should not be compelled to play the “game” to be successful.
Having said that, don’t be discouraged from using gamification as the technique has proven to be very powerful in changing behaviors and engaging and motivating its players. Rather, take this as encouragement to take an intelligent approach with the design. Look at the motivators and goals of the user and design accordingly. Then, whatever technique you use, gamification or not, it will surely be successful.
For more information on gamification or how to implement gamification on a site or application, you might want to check out these books:
- Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps by Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham
- Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences by Stephen P. Anderson