Activity Loops in Gamification

Many moons ago, I wrote a piece on Feedback Loops a system used in games to help balance or unbalance a system. Whilst I was designing the boards for my gamification inspiration cards I started playing around with the idea of activity loops. These are essentially the same idea as feedback loops, but rather than balancing or unbalancing a system, they are used to encourage a user along a desired path of activity. They do not make it easier or harder to achieve my goal, they encourage the user  to achieve a goal.

The user performs an action or undertakes an activity successfully and something happens in the system. This may be a direct reward, an unlock a change in the way the system behaves for them – anything that has a positive impact.

Activity Loops Example Activity Loops in Gamification
Activity Loops Example

The above example shows the basic activity loop required in a review site that unlocks new features based on activity. Initially the user is only allowed to rate reviews. After they have reached a certain level, access to commenting is opened for them. In this example, this would eventually unlock the ability to write their own reviews, the ultimate goal of the site.

The user journey would look a bit like this.

User Journey Example Activity Loops in Gamification
User Journey Example

I can feel the pent up feelings of many people now who are about to scream the words Operant Conditioning at me. For those who don’t know, this was a form of behaviour modification that was made famous by BF Skinner. He conducted experiments that rewarded or punished animals for types of behaviour.  Pull a lever, get a reward.  Pull a lever, maybe get a reward. Push the wrong button, get a shock. This was called reinforcement.

One of the big arguments we have in gamification is that it is just a new and shiny form of operant conditioning.  For the most part, this does seem to be true. Click like, get a point. Click like 10 times, get a badge etc. A big issue here is the lack of any kind of skill or effort needed to get the reward.

One of the things that I am trying to show with this activity loop example is the idea of earning the reward of access to new features. Rating reviews or products is not difficult to do, however it introduces the user to the idea that if they want to do more, they can if they are willing to put the work in. Once you get to adding comments, as long as those comments are reviewed by others for quality, the user will have to work hard to earn the next level access.  Once they are at the point where they can add their own reviews, they still have to work hard as they know others will now be rating and commenting on their work.  However, with this comes a sense of achievement, status and more.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”daverage” suffix=”#gamification”]If someone has to earn something, it will be more important to them[/inlinetweet]. Just giving people stuff for activity that requires no level of skill or personal investment is meaningless. Make them work for it and they will value it a great deal more.

Activity loops help drive the user through a journey, but they do not force them. In the end, they have to desire the end goal of the journey to put the effort in to get there. Gamification may just remove some of the friction from the journey.

One final thing, I created a new tool for my User Type Tool Suite. This one lets you chose various mechanics and ideas that you currently have in your system and will show you what user types are most likely to be interested. Combine this with the User Type Analysis tool to figure out ways to engage different types. Check it out here – I will be writing a post on getting the most out of these tools, once I am happy they are effective and working, so all feedback is welcome 🙂

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