Learning to play the Game!

Gamification is something that has had a lot of publicity over the last 2-3 years. The principles behind gamification have been around since the days of Green Shield stamps and airmiles, but before we look at real world situations let’s first define the term.

Gamification is the use of gameplay mechanics within non-game situations to increase engagement and activity.

The mechanics of gamification we see drawn from actual online games such as Farmville in this case a game where gameplay and it’s rewards are applied to the context of farming an area of land. That isn’t gamification by our definition, because it is an actual game but it demonstrates the same mechanics. In fact the tools used in these games were set up for one purpose - engagement! You can probably relate to this as the candycrush obsession!

If you want to see engagement then the stats on this type of game are impressive. At it’s peak in 2012 Farmville had 40 million active users and 28 million people harvesting their crops in Farmville every. single. day! To put that into context at that time that was more than the number of people using twitter!

As a tool Gamification has been successfully applied to many other applications and online services to improve user retention and engagement.

Nike+

Nike through Nike+ turned the most simplest sports in the world, running, into a data-driven social sport that rewards runners for running! Nike’s VP, digital sport Stefan Olander said Nike+: “[…] thrives on the fact that people want credit for their athletic activity”.

Nike + also gives users access to a whole load of data about their personal achievements. Runners can then use this data to become better at running.

As such the Nike+ platform gives runners answers to questions like:

How fast am I running and am I progressing? When do I lose momentum when I am running? How much calories do I burn while running? How are my friends performing and what does it take to beat them?

Nike + has created an engaging gamified platform where runners can interact with each other, share their data and learn from the insights derived from it. Since the launch in 2006, the platform has built a user base of 11 million runners. That is a whole lot of data which has the main benefit of providing Nike with some tremendous insights into it’s target customers. Incidentally they also control over 60% of the running shoe market in the US. It’s also a great example of how gamification is tied to ‘big data’.

The Khan Academy

The Khan Academy is a great example of how to gamify eLearning. It is a free site and has received backing from Google and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Sal Khan it’s founder started it by giving video lessons to his nephews in maths, there is now a huge collection online of self paced exercises, lessons and videos. The subject matter ranges from academic subjects like arithmetic, physics and chemistry but also covers complex current events like the credit crisis. What makes this such a great tool is the way it has used game mechanics to make subjects that people would normally shy away from fun and addictive.

The nuts and bolts

In real games rewards are a crucial aspect of gameplay, and can take the form of in-game assets, such as a special purple cow in Farmville, or a new weapon within in a combat game, your BFG. In gamification rewards are typically a badge, or points on a leader-board or a progress bar. These game mechanics are used as a means of both rewarding and encouraging participation: The more you participate the more virtual rewards you get. Crucially, they can also offer the player the ability to continue participating in the game at an enhanced level. For example, a reward may provide them with extra game levels, enhanced firepower, or new and more prestigious livestock.

As such, game mechanics can function simultaneously to reward previous participation, and to actively facilitate future and ongoing participation and engagement with the game and its contents.

Gamification as a concept isn’t new if you consider things like green shield stamps, airline and hotel loyalty programmes etc

In recent years gamification has become more of a science and a focal point for businesses looking to deal with “the problem of motivation.”

Businesses either want to build loyalty, keep employees engaged in their work or just increasing participation in a website

Making a game of something which really isn’t has really concrete evidence of increasing engagement

Road safety

In 2010, the Swedish National Society for Road Safety in partnership with Volkswagen tried to improve the safety of a particular stretch of road in Stockholm.
They put a speed camera on that stretch of road to photograph all drivers. Speeding drivers received a fine, aligned to their income and percentage of the citation value was put into a cash fund. Drivers who drove under the speed limit were entered into a lottery to win all the money. In less than 3 days, they had a 22% reduction in average speed. Having a chance of winning the lottery was seen to be more valuable to drivers than getting there faster!

Game fail!

But it’s not enough to add some badges, points, and leader boards to activities. Gabe Zichermann, a leader in Gamification research says gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology.

According to Gardner Research, they predict that more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application by 2014. They also predict that 80% of gamification initiatives will fail in 2014. Simply due to poor design.

To succeed in gamification we need to understand some key factors.

Firstly we need to identify a core business problem and really understand it. If there is a mature reporting system which can identify real business issues and understand what people are doing or not doing that contributes to it we can get a clear view of the problem. This is one of the reasons big data is becoming so popular because it gives us such rich detail on peoples actions instead of basing decisions on anecdotal evidence.

Next we need to really understand our target audience, the gamification mechanics we use need to benefit the them. Rewards need to be linked to what your audience cares about. One of the early researcher Amy Bruckman in 1999 wrote a famous paper on gamification called ‘Can Educational Be Fun?’ She mentions the concept of chocolate covered broccoli. Coating something your children are never going to voluntarily eat in a thin layer of incentive. It will will never work, after all it is still broccoli!

The successful initiatives are usually far reaching starting small, testing and growing organically from there.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn had a problem back in 2009, their data indicated that people weren’t filling out their profiles. They found a really simple approach to solve the problem. They spent a couple of hours and paid a programmer to come up with a “completion bar” that lets you know every time you log in how far along you are to having a complete profile. They saw a 50% increase in profile completeness – just from incorporating a visual feedback indicator that tracks progress.

Fun Factor

Adding in social and competitive elements for example a leaderboard and including the concept of “flow” into the experience to make it easy to stay “in the game” all help. However the prevailing opinion is that we need to add an important ingredient…Fun! If it’s not fun then today’s learners are too experienced in game mechanics and will see through your “chocolate covered broccoli” approach.

Photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/anned/8700093610