Engagement – What are we talking about?

Engagement. A word that is thrown about in gamification with all the abandon of a child dancing and singing to Frozen…

The thing is, what exactly are we talking about? What is engagement.

As ever, I took to the dictionaries to see what the word on the street is. Looking up engagement is a fruitless task as you get such gems as

A formal agreement to get married


The action of engaging or being engaged

However, looking up engage is a far more satisfying experience.

[with object] Occupy or attract (someone’s interest or attention)

[no object] (engage in or be engaged in) Participate or become involved in


From this we can get an idea of what people are talking about when they say they are using gamification to engage people, or increase engagement. They are generally looking to get people to participate in activities. That tends to be the key goal for most gamification, participation.

So here is the thing. When people play a game, they play because they want to play. They participate because it is their desire to participate and be involved.  When people use a gamified system, it is very often not their desire that drives entry, but the desire of whoever set the system up. This is a really important distinction.

20140501 205118 300x197 Engagement 8211 What are we talking aboutIs participation enough though? When I was doing my workshop at Gamification World Congress (GWC). this came up. We were looking at the difference in my 4 phase EEEE user journey. Enrol was fairly simple. This could just be as simple as an invite. All you are looking for there is participation! Enthuse is a little different. This is the part where you want people to get excited and to play with the system (if that is possible). It could be part of the enrol phase, but it is where you tend to see the most activity and participation. However, is this really being engaged? Does participation mean they are engaging with the system. They are certainly using it, but is that just because they are getting rewards for it – are they essentially being bribed to participate?

When I talk about the Engage phase, I am talking about a part of the user journey beyond mere bribed participation. This is the part where (as the initial definition eludes) they are interested. Their involvement is due to something that they want to do and want to continue to do – it is intrinsic.

The final phase, Endear (or End Game), may be the same as the engage phase, people stay for their own reasons. it may just be a great ending to a great narrative and people go on to tell others how amazing it was. But again, it is because they were interested and intrinsically motivated to stay involved.

Engagement is something beyond mere participation,. Engagement is intrinsic to the person who you want to involved. You have to use the opening phases of their journey to help them find their reason to stay. It may be that you teach them why it is important for them to be involved (not just why it is important to you). It may be that they find it enjoyable or beneficial. It may be they just get into the habit of doing it, but for you to get true engagement – make it their reason to stay, not yours.

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