Departments - November/December 2014

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Gamification Done Right

By Deborah L. Vence


Just a few years ago gamification was identified as an emerging technology. Today, the term has become a buzzword across numerous industries.

Widely applied in marketing, gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts designed to engage users in solving problems. Gamification applies the elements of games that make them engaging to drive interaction, competition and other gaming behaviors in a non-game context. Non-game contexts can be anything from work, learning, health and fitness, civic engagement or meetings, to incentive program participation, and more.

But, experts say there is a right way and wrong way to use it, as indicated by a 2014 Incentive Research Foundation study, which revealed the do's and don'ts of gamification.

The Do's

  • Understand the behaviors you are trying to drive. What are you trying to gamify?

The study indicated that one of the most important success criteria of gamification is an understanding of the behaviors you are trying to drive in fine-grained details. The granularity is very important, because it is often the case that people know what they want to drive at the high level, but not in specific detail. For example, a company might be interested in driving productivity in their customer relations teams or relationship building among their employees during an incentive trip. However, productivity is not a single human behavior, nor is relationship building. Instead, each of these high-level results consists of many specific detailed behaviors.

  • Have a sophisticated analytics platform for behavior tracking, measurement and inference.

After developing a list of behaviors that you are trying to drive, you should have ways in which to track those behaviors so you can measure them. And, the good news? With nearly 7 billion mobile phones in the world and billions of Internet users, there now are many devices that can assist with behavior tracking and measurement.

  • Keep an eye out for unintended consequences.

Once you are able to measure the behaviors you want to gamify, watch out for unintended consequences of each of these behaviors. Gamification changes behaviors in the physical world and can affect people in real, tangible ways.

Rewarding behavior with incentives by trying to game the system is one risk that, as a result, can lead to cheating as an unintended consequence. The analytics system must monitor the gamified behaviors and help monitor the unintended behavior.

  • Know your players.

Another key to successful gamification is to understand your players—the people you are trying to engage via gamification. The Fogg behavior model indicated that this means knowing if your players have the following three underlying behavioral factors: Do they have the motivation and want to perform the behavior? Do they have the ability (and access to all the resources necessary) to carry out the behavior? Is there a trigger that prompts them to take action?

  • Know the effective timescale of your desired behavior change.

Gamifying engagement of a marketing campaign that lasts a few months requires a different set of tools from driving participation during a meeting or conference that lasts for only a few days. Similarly, driving loyalty that lasts for many years differs from gamifying other short-term behavior changes. Hundreds of gamification tools exist, ranging from points, badges and leaderboards, to different kinds of reputations.

  • Create a community for your players.

Having a community for your players is important, especially when you are interested in achieving a behavior change that lasts more than several weeks. Gamification tools with a feedback timescale longer than a few weeks require a community to be most effective.

  • Try to create ways for everyone to play frequently.

Whether it's a video game, poker or golf, not all games appeal to everyone. Likewise, gamification often does not appeal to everyone equally, either. Consequently, the range of participation levels in your gamification can vary widely. It's often the case that a few of your players will quickly level up to elite status, while many others remain fairly stagnant on the ranking ladder. And, when that happens, your gamification is alienating a significant population of your players. Though this group probably doesn't contain your most valuable players (MVP), it is often a very large group that comprises more than 50 percent of your players.

The Don'ts

  • Don't gamify a behavior that doesn't actually provide value to your players.

Gamification is hyped and often touted as a magic bullet for getting consumers or employees to do what you want. Gamification can change human behavior, and it is effective, but your players aren't stupid. Regardless of the experience you are gamifying, it must eventually generate some real value.

  • Don't try to fix a broken product of service with gamification.

Another common misuse of gamification is to think that you can fix a broken product or service. Inexperienced gamification practitioners could argue that since gamification is so good at driving behavior change, we can use it to drive adoption and usage of a new product, service or an internal process that is not being used at a high level.

For example, many companies were convinced that if they have the magic technology that puts up some badges and leaderboards on their haphazardly designed website, this will automatically fix their poor user engagement problem. What's the result of such gamification when it's actually implemented? Immediately, the results will be positive.

  • Don't build a game on top of existing processes — gamification ? game.

Another common mistake that companies make stems from the misconception that gamification is about turning work into a game. This is not true. Gamification is not a game, and it's not about building a game on top of complex processes or systems to make them more fun and engaging. In some of the best implementations of gamification, the players don't realize that they are playing a game.