Relatedness: The Often Ignored Glue of Gamification

Another great conversation with my friend Scott Sinclair and another batch of inspiration for a blog. This time about why social is really the key to gamification.

Let us look at one of my favourite video games of all time, Batman: Arkham City. Without going into too much detail, you are Batman and you have to uncover a plot to take over Gotham. For me, this is one of the most complete single player experiences I have ever had.

How Does a Game Progress?

The way the game works is exactly what you would expect from a player journey. You start with very little in the way of skills and abilities. You are taught how to play the game with “on the job” nudges, hints and tutorials. Once you have the basics nailed, you are thrown into your first “boss battle”. This gives you a chance to test your new skills against a proper challenge. Once this is over, you start up the path again. New skills are added, abilities are enhanced, the story progresses and it steadily gets harder and harder. This pattern repeats – learn skills, master them, boss fight, and repeat. This continues until you have achieved a high level of mastery in the game. Then it is all about the narrative, using your new mastery to get to the end of the game and defeat the final boss.

So let’s break this down a little. Amy Jo Kim in her blog wrote about player journey a while back. Amy used the following image to describe the basic journey.

Screen shot 2012 09 12 at 11 31 43 am Relatedness The Often Ignored Glue of Gamification

As you can see, it has a distinct pattern. On-boarding, Habit building, Mastery. Each of these is an upward journey of learning. Imagine the peak of each step is a boss battle and that on-boarding and habit building loop a bit more and you have the basic journey of a player through Arkham City.

How Does the Game Motivate the Player?

Now let’s look at some of the basics of motivation that I keep talking about. Starting with Dan Pinks Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose model. In Arkham City, whilst there is a linear narrative, to complete the game there is a set path you must take, there are plenty of side missions and secrets to be found. These give you a little bit of choice about how you play the game. If you just want to fly around the city beating up thugs, that’s your choice. Want to find all the secrets? Go for it. Autonomy – check.

We have already seen that there is a level of mastery in the game, you get more skills, master them, get more skills and abilities, master them etc. Mastery – check.

The basic idea of the game is to defeat hundreds lesser bad guys and bosses, building up to a single final battle that will take down the dark overlord of the game – sounds like purpose to me!

So all of Dan Pinks motivational requirements checked. So why is Arkham City now sat in my draw whilst I am still playing Battlefield 3 – a game I bought long before Arkham City?

What Now?

What happens when the final boss is dead in Arkham City, when you have completed all of the side missions, found all of the secrets and got all the trophies? What does the game give you that will make you want to come back? Well, to keep things going a little longer, add on packs can be released. In Arkham City, they did just that. This added an extra couple of hours or so to the game. The problem is, that is short term and expensive to keep doing at that level. There is still something missing for true longevity.

Let’s Get Social

Let us turn to my other favourite people to reference, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. In the 80’s they gave us Self Determination Theory. This revolved around three intrinsic needs. Competency, Autonomy and Relatedness. We have already seen two of these, competency (mastery) and autonomy, but it is the third need that seems new. Relatedness. What is relatedness? At its most basic, it can be described as social connections.

This need for social interaction is what keeps Arkham City in my desk draw and keeps Battlefield 3 in my Xbox. Whilst the single player campaign is much less engaging than that of Arkham city, the multiplayer aspect is where the true joy can be found. From a gamification perspective, it covers quite a lot of familiar ground. You have points and badges and ladders. You have new items that can be unlocked as you become more skilful, new things to master and play with. Whilst the on-boarding can be a little steep – i.e. it is kill or be killed, you do learn fast and it does reward your efforts very quickly. You get purpose as well; there are things you have to do. You have to keep you and your teammates alive. You have missions to do together.

What really makes it so sticky though, is the ability to play with friends. Like most things, it is more fun with friends. Social communities and clans pop up all the time. Friendships are formed that can last for a lifetime – all through a joint love of a game. Just look at World of Warcraft. Over a decade old and still people who played from day one are involved – not because they have anything left to master, but because they have strong social connections to others in the game.

With this in mind, we need to always consider this fourth motivator when we are looking at any kind of gamification – if we want to be more than a quick fix. Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose and Relatedness. Forget relatedness and you can kiss longevity goodbye – unless you are willing to spend serious time and money on constant updates to the system.

Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose – Relatedness

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6 thoughts on “Relatedness: The Often Ignored Glue of Gamification”

  1. Pingback: Brock Atkinson |
  2. I am so happy to see these four aspects of motivation discussed, as they are still not being discussed enough. I always emphasize the exact same four things.

    One direction where this analysis could be taken further is that the motivational factors are not on/off things. Simply because Arkham City features three of them, it may not feature them in sufficient amounts to top other options, such as Battlefield. I haven’t yet figured out the relative weights of each, and how well the absence of some of them can be compensated – if you have, let me know. 🙂

    The significance of the absence of some of these factors depends on the general purpose, that much is clear. Sometimes you want to use gamification for a short, intensive journey that was never meant to last. Relatedness does not necessarily play a key role there (incidentally, this may imply that Arkham City just isn’t good enough, or that this interpretation of relatedness is incorrect).

    There are also many types of relatedness, and not all of them involve playing together: they can also be about the community around the game.

    Just thinking out loud here, the aspects of motivation are present in different ways in many of the games that have displayed the most longevity. Let’s think of a few of them:

    Competitive team-based games, such as Battlefield 3: Playing together in a team against other teams (relatedness). Usually easy to learn and hard to master (long journey to mastery, human opponents constantly improving as well). Ladder or tournament play (purpose is to do well in competition against other teams).

    Competitive one-on-one games, such as Starcraft: While there are no teammates ingame, there is a vibrant community around the game (relatedness). Usually easy to learn and hard to master (long journey to mastery, human opponents constantly improving as well). Ladder or tournament play (purpose is to do well in competition against other individuals).

    Cooperative team-based games, such as WoW PvE: Playing together in a team against the environment (relatedness). Usually easy to learn and moderately hard to master (environment is a limited obstacle). Indirect competition through leaderboards may be included, or the purpose can be just to overcome the obstacles with your friends.

    Community role-playing games, such as UO RP: Playing together through a self-created story. Emphasis on autonomy, relatedness, and purpose, not so much on mastery.

    As can be seen from these hastily thought of examples, relatedness comes in many forms. Can these forms be intentionally used for different purposes? What kinds of different forms are there overall? Now those would make for some intriguing further development of the idea of relatedness in gamification.

    • Some great things for me to think on there.

      Not sure I am saying that by having the right amounts of each ingredient you get a perfect experience. Sim city is a well and truly solo experience, but you keep coming back. The difference is that the challenge is designed to keep mastery just out of your reach. There is always a way to do it better and as there is no direct narrative, there is less feeling of – I’ve seen this before.
      Lots to think on, but as you say, there is no black and white answer, I just feel that the social aspect of motivation is often overlooked!


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