Gamification and Stuff: Presentation for the Gamifier Meetup

Well, as promised to those wonderful people who came to listen to me preach about Gamificaiton, here is the slide deck – all wrapped up in a pretty slide share thingy. Download the presentation to get the full notes – I have written the talk out long hand – well how it was meant to go!!!

Couple of Comments

A few great points made after the talk.

  1. Choice is great, but there has to be scope, boundaries and rules. Too many choices will overwhelm the user. However, choices do not always need to be big. It may just be that you give the user the choice of the background of a web page.
  2. Don’t be tempted to reset points systems to try and get people re-engaged. That will just annoy them!
  3. Even pumping new content into a purely extrinsic (PBL style) system will not keep people engaged indefinitely.

Transcript of the Slides

Slide 1

I am going to try and present you more of a look at what gamification actually is, some of the dangers and a few ideas you can take away to think about.

As is traditional now, I have started my slide deck with a picture of an Angry Bird. It would seem that this grumpy piece of wild life has come to encapsulate what far too many people think gamification is. However, this is the last time you will hear me mention that game! You may notice a few clichés and over the top moments in this presentation, for which I apologize in advance. I tried to have fun making this slide deck – not sure how fun that will be for you though – but I shall come to that later!

Slide 2 – Gamification n. Blah Blah Blah

So, let’s get started with the core question. What is Gamification?

Next a few taken from a survey I ran with a few industry leaders – just to see what they would say on the matter.

As you can see they all revolve around the same idea, well, except Jesse Schell. However, as comical as his description is – it is actually pretty accurate when you think about what many attempts at gamification have been like so far.

For me it is the use of behavioural psychology and game mechanics to influence desired behaviours or to enhance user experiences. Adding unusual things to usual things to create some kind of benefit.

Unless there are any questions about the first two slides, let’s look at some the standard tools that you will see used in Gamification today.

Slide 3 – The Tool Kit

Whilst there are many tools available to a gamifier, the ones you will most commonly see are Points, Badges and Leader boards. For me, that seems like a sensible place to start.

In many games and gamified systems, extrinsic (external physical or representations of physical) rewards are made heavy use of. There are several reasons for this. They are very visible. They are pretty easy to implement. They are also easy for the user to understand. Everybody understands the idea that if I do something, I will get a reward. If I belong to something for a long time, I get a reward. If I excel at something, I get a reward that has meaning to me and is a symbol to others of my achievement.

It is also easy to understand that if you are at the top of a ladder or leader board, you are the best. This gives you status and some degree of power, both things that humans like to have.

It seems so obvious that this will motivate people, just think how most businesses work. You work, you get paid. You work harder, potentially you get more money. Again, it is easy to see why this should motivate people to do better at work.

Isn’t it?

Slide 4 – PBL – Motivate Me!

Well, it turns out there is a funny thing about these kinds of obvious, extrinsic rewards. Done wrong, they have the exact opposite effect to what you may be expecting.

There has been a lot of research over the last 30 years or so on what actually motivates us.

One often cited experiment was to prove something called Over justification (Lepper et al ). This involved asking three groups of children to draw pictures. These groups had the following conditions.

Some were told they would get a reward at the end of the activity.

Some were not told about any rewards, but received it after the activity.

The final group got no reward at all.

This was repeated over several days. They found that the group who expected a reward, spent far less time drawing than the group who were getting no reward. The group that were getting the surprise reward, spent the most time drawing. It also transpired that the group who expected a reward actually produced less creative work. The fun, the intrinsic motivation, was removed for the children who were receiving expected rewards. They replaced the enjoyment they got from the drawing with this new extrinsic reward of a certificate.

These kinds of experiments have subsequently been repeated with many different groups of people. All of them had a similar result.

In the 90’s a group of researchers led by Deci did a meta analysis of 128 research papers and pulled together some very interesting conclusions about the effect of extrinsic rewards on motivation.

What all of the research found, was that for tasks that required even the slightest level of creativity, offering predictable extrinsic rewards (such as money), had a negative effect, or as Deci et al put it –

engagement-contingent, completion-contingent, and performance-contingent rewards significantly undermined free-choice intrinsic motivation”

I really recommend Daniel Pink’s TED Talk or his RSA presentation, The Surprising Science of Motivation, as it does a really good job of explaining it all.

In a nut shell, he defines three main things that motivate us as humans. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In other words, humans are driven by feeling that they are in control, that they are improving at what they are doing and that what they are doing has some greater meaning or goal.

Slide 5– Introduction, user engagement, loyalty and retention

If you rely on nothing but PBL, like some have so far, there will come a point when you hit the engagement gap, or as Steve Bocska from Pug Pharm puts it– badge fatigue and loyalty backlash.

PBL systems we have looked at here are great at getting people involved, at introducing them to the “game”. However, over time, people begin to hit a lull. The “so what” factor begins to take over. After you have received the “Flushed the toilet again” badge, you know you are going to lose interest. You can keep pumping new challenges in to the system and that will certainly help. However, long term, it is doomed.

Slide 6 – Badges can be bad, but not always

What does that mean to us as gamifiers? Well, it would seem that some of our greatest weapons are actually not very great.

Looking at the quote from Deci a bit more closely;

Engagement-contingent rewards – That badge you give the user for coming to your website for the first time.

Completion-contingent rewards – The points and badges users get for doing stuff (foursquare check-ins for example).

Performance-contingent rewards – Leader boards? Bonuses for hitting targets at work?

Does that mean that everyone is getting it wrong and we need to rethink it all?

Well, not quite. You see there are a few important things to consider. The first is this bit about “free choice intrinsic motivation”. This can be seen as a rather round about way of describing creativity. What if your task is not creative? Take the example of data entry. You have to do it, most don’t enjoy it, but it has to be accurate every time. Applying a few game mechanics from the PBL range, may actually help to keep those people a little more engaged. More importantly, it won’t have a negative effect – as long as they are willing participants in the “game”.

The other thing to consider is the place that points, badges and ladders have in a gamified system. If you have a single use campaign, say a marketing campaign where you want people to like facebook pages. Adding the basics of gamification can improve initial engagement, because it is a bit of fun. For the short term, it can be a laugh to be involved in a leader board and to collect badges.

But, for anything long term, points, badges and ladders are just one part of the engagement model and only a fraction of what you should be using for motivation.

It is imperative that you consider this in any gamified system. To retain users, you must continue to engage them. Once the shine of the badges has faded, you need something else. Very often this is some kind of social element. You look at systems like Stack Exchange or Giff Gaff and you have great examples of how important social interactions are. Foursquare give us another example. Now that the badges have helped to onboard millions of users, they are beginning to push the next phase of their engagement model – the bit they came up with originally with Dodge Ball – social recommendations.

Once you have that extra bit, the badges and the awards then become nice and unexpected pats on the back. They become a bit of fun. They are used to recognize achievement rather than become the achievement. Get this right and you can secure the most vital part of any system. Loyalty.

Slide 7 – The Tool Kit – Into the Intrinsic

So, what other things should we be trying to make use of in out toolkit – now that we have put Points and Badges in their correct place?

I offer a small selection of the most common and in my mind some of the best mechanics.

Pride / ego: People like to be told they have achieved something. They love a pat on the back. Call this pride or call ego, it is something that badges and the like can tap in too. It gives them the ability to say – look what I did. This is part of the reason that most PBL based systems have some kind of trophy cabinet! However, feeling proud of an achievement, whether or not it has some kind of extrinsic representation can be a very powerful intrinsic motivator – I take great pride in my work…

Meaning / Purpose: As I spoke about earlier, people love to feel that what they are doing has some kind of meaning, either to themselves to others. It is why players of WoW have created one of the biggest Wikis ever, because it not only helps them achieve their goals, it also adds to the over all pool of knowledge and meaning for others.

Altruism / Charity: People give to charities or help others, not because it benefit them, but because they feel it is the right thing to do. This makes them feel good. People add content to Wikipedia, because they like to feel that what they are adding will have some greater or meaning. They also like to feel that if they are giving something. At times this can be an indirectly selfish thing. People may give freely with the understanding that that act may be paid back to them by others.

Productivity / Momentum / Flow: As humans, we tend to have very active minds. An unusual side effect of this is that very often we will enjoy doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is not very exciting. How many millions of people play games like Farmville in the down time? It is not an exciting game. You are basically just managing numbers. It can be hard work as well. However, people will spend as many hours playing that as they do at work. If a task is well balanced between being easy and making them think a bit, they just get into the groove, keep on doing it and end up enjoying the task (to some level).

Feedback: This is a really powerful and important tool we have learned from games. Instant feed back gives users better understanding of what they are doing and of their progress. Linked in use this in a very simple and effective way with their progress bar for profile completion. Trophies etc. can also be considered feedback.

Choice: Last on my list is choice. This is something that gets overlooked, but as I showed earlier, is very important. We like to feel we have some control of the outcome of our actions. One definition of games is actually “A series of meaningful choices”. If we feel that we have no choices, we begin to feel manipulated. These choices don’t have to be huge – it could just be the colour of a screen, but it is psychologically very important to us.

These are just a few examples of game mechanics that are used every day in gamification. There are many, many more and the wiki is a fantastic resource to get an idea of more of them.

Slide 8 – Fun n. Enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure

So, nearly there. I thought I would end on a little bit about fun. Fun is defined (loosely) as Enjoyment, Amusement or Light-hearted pleasure. In gamification there is a big divide on what fun is and if we should talk about it. Some say that fun is not predictable enough to make effective use of; some (like me) think that is irrelevant. Fun is subjective, what you find fun, I may not. I found hiding silly things and using as any daft effects as possible in this presentation fun, you may not have! You can’t force people to have fun. Putting a badge system on a data entry job is not going to make it suddenly fun. So, does that mean we should not design things to be fun or playful.

You have to walk the fine line between playful design and patronizing design. You have to understand your target audience as well. Just making a user interface look cute for the sake of it will not help in a business situation! You also have to remember that gamification in any form is meant to improve the experience.

As a quick example, I will tell you a tale. A company wants to gamify a mandatory online learning module. They ask the developer to design and implement this asap. The developer takes things from the games they love. They add cute animations, as they will make people smile. They add an “innovative interface”. They add a short story line. Then they release it. Time and money are of the essence after all!

The end users have a different experience. The user has been told that they have to do the course. They log in and are confronted with a confusing and totally un-intuitive new system. Between each video, there is some animation that they can’t skip, before they can answer the quiz. What should have taken them 15 minutes out of a busy day has now taken them 30. They feel patronized and very frustrated. #FAIL

Does this mean that we should not at least try to make things more fun? That is down to how you feel about it. Personally, I think you should at least try, but you have to try from the lens of a games designer rather than a games player. A games designer understands what mechanics will achieve what emotions with the player. The player just sees the result of all of this. More importantly than all of this, test it on the target audience and react to their feedback!

As Mary Poppins said “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”

Slide 9 – A simple framework

I want to finish by giving you a simple set of guides and questions to ask yourself as you embark on your gamification adventures. I have it printed on my wall in the office.

•You need to know what you are actually trying to gamify.
•You need to know what your goals are.
•You need to know who the players are going to be
•You need to decide what elements and game mechanics will work best
•You need to set up metrics and analytics to that you can understand everything about the system
•You must test with the target audience – beta testing
•Act on the feedback
•Then test again – repeat as often as needed
•When you are confident you have a system that will work for the target audience – release it
•Then go back to the metrics and evolve the system as often as needed


•Like it or not, you are now part games designer. As Jesse Schell says, to be a games designer just say to yourself “I am a games designer”
•Volunteers make much better players than those forced!
•Intrinsic motivation is always more powerful than extrinsic. That said, at times extrinsic motivation may be all you have to get a system kick-started – but you can not rely on it for long.
•Plan for cheaters, it is in some humans nature to try and cheat the system – especially if there is an extrinsic reward at stake
•Don’t be evil. This is not your opportunity to use the people in your new gamified system – they will catch you out and reject the system.
•Try to remember that a bit of fun (however you wish to describe it) can make almost anything a little more bearable.

I think it is worth noting something that Jane McGonigal said “Lots of things have the bells and whistles, but not the heart of a game”



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