Engaging your Audience with “Gamification”

Overview of Gamification

Your user base is growing complacent. You have difficulty getting them to complete mundane tasks. They are spending less and less time interacting with your product. Sound familiar? Perhaps your product is a candidate for “gamification.”

“Gamification” involves applying game mechanics to non-game applications in order to increase engagement and promote desired behaviors in users. The logic of implementing these elements is that if you are able to capitalize on humans’ predisposition to engage in gaming, you can encourage them to perform and complete those tasks they would not ordinarily… at least not for free, that is.

Incorporating these elements into product design can be helpful to, among other things, encourage users to complete surveys, read content, offer personal data, give feedback, and generate content and ideas (crowd-sourcing).

A popular early example of this technology can be found in location-based platforms (e.g., Foursquare), who having recognized that the utility of their products are a function of both the size and level of engagement (measured by instances of providing location data—i.e., “checking in”) of their audience, implemented game elements (e.g., achievement badges and leader boards) into their systems.

In addition to social applications (e.g., Foursquare), gamification has been successful in task-based platforms like DevHub, which saw an increase in task completion on the part of its users rise from a lowly 10% to an enviable 80% after adding game elements to its site.

Implementation Examples

The success of the aforementioned companies has demonstrated the potential of gamification, spurring a number of companies (across many industries) to implement gamification in their products. Some prominent examples are as follows:

Wellness and health: Nike+ (www.nikeplus.com), Striiv (www.striiv.com), FitBit (www.fitbit.com)

Entertainment: NBC’s The Office (www.nbc.com/the-office), Telemundo (www.msnlatino.telemundo.com/clubdenoveleras)

Non-profit: One Love Foundation (www.1love.org)

Online shopping: Bluefly (www.bluefly.com)

Education: Beat the GMAT (www.beatthegmat.com), Livemocha (www.livemocha.com)

Associated Business Models

Clearly, all of this interest on the part of companies wanting to use gamification techniques was bound to create a need for implementation experts, and it did—a number of these experts have built businesses around developing platforms (Gamify: www.gamify.it, Badgeville: www.badgeville.com, Bunchball: www.bunchball.com) and services devoted to helping companies build gamification into their products.

How to Implement Gamification in your Product</h2>

It’s easy for managers and developers to get excited about implementing gamification and subsequently haphazardly slap game elements (e.g., progress bars) onto existing products. However, without proper design and implementation, these efforts can prove ineffective or worse, sometimes creating confusion or otherwise adding unnecessary complexity to products.

In order to guide managers and developers in developing gamification strategy and implementation, Gartner identified four principal means of driving engagement using gamification:

1. Accelerated feedback cycles: In the real world, feedback loops are slow (e.g., annual performance appraisals) with long periods between milestones. Gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops to maintain engagement.

2. Clear goals and rules of play: In the real world, where goals are fuzzy and rules selectively applied, gamification provides clear goals and well-defined rules of play to ensure players feel empowered to achieve goals.

3. A compelling narrative: While real-world activities are rarely compelling, gamification builds a narrative that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity.

4. Tasks that are challenging but achievable: While there is no shortage of challenges in the real world, they tend to be large and long-term. Gamification provides many short-term, achievable goals to maintain engagement.

Criticisms of gamification

Some experts note that so-called “gamification” is neither new nor novel as it has been around in many forms (e.g., loyalty programs) for years. Additionally, many critics point out that gamification misses many important elements of effective game structure by glossing over storytelling and oversimplifying user experiences. Further, and most important in my view, is the very real risk that users will become so accustomed to these “games” that they will develop even more reluctance to complete mundane tasks—many of which are critical to learning and daily functioning—that do not incorporate game mechanics. The effects of this disenchantment would likely be more pronounced in children and could potentially increase an already apparent trend in children avoiding less engaging activities—especially involving learning.

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