Learning from Games: Managing Expectations – Part 1

R4ywfvvwtq8 Learning from Games Managing Expectations 8211 Part 1

Every time I do a talk, I go on about how gamification is mostly about learning from games. Seeing how games manage certain situations and apply them to everyday life in some way.

Today, I want to briefly consider how games manage the player’s expectations, from how they introduce players to what they can expect from the game itself, to how they keep players informed throughout the game.

Attraction: What are you going to play?

When I was young, the video game playing experience often started with reading previews and reviews in magazines. This would get me interested at first, creating hype around what the game was going to be, hints as to what the gameplay would be like, peaks at the graphics and so on. Read More ...

The Danger of Unbalanced Incentives and Negative Expectations

I recently saw a news article that certain parts of America were trialling an incentive program to try and encourage more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The idea was that individuals could earn $100 by getting vaccinated.

If you have ever read any of my work, you will probably know that I am not a big fan of large incentives to do things that should be done for intrinsic reasons. To me staying safe and keeping people safe is reason enough to take the vaccine – but hey – we are not all the same.

Very quickly I started to see people on Twitter complaining. Not that this was a bad idea, but that they wished they had not taken the vaccine already and could be eligible to get the free money!

In isolation that may not seem an issue, however, it does have a potential knock as effect should anything like this ever happen again as a negative expectation has been set. Rather than people taking the vaccine early, they will wait until the Government gets desperate and starts to incentivise people to take it – after all, that is what happened the last time.

I accept that this probably seemed like a good idea at the time, I mean, when do politicians ever think about unintended consequences!?

How could this be prevented then?

Well, I’m glad you asked! If you think you will need to incentivise behaviour, do it at the start and reward positive and early action higher than late. This sets the expectation that being early is better than being late. For instance, a parking ticket encourages you to pay quickly or the fine doubles!

In our vaccination example, set the initial incentive as $100 if you get it in the first round and drop it to $50 if you are late.

However, even better than that, educate people more effectively. Provide simple, truthful and unsensationlaised information that explains the benefits and potential risks whilst shutting down conspiracies and silliness as early as possible.

In gamification, we know all of this. You only incentivise when you absolutely have to and you make sure that the most positive and constructive actions are highly rewarded compared to other behaviours and actions.

Why “undo” is critical to ludic design

Ludic, or playful design, involves designing products or experiences through the lens of play. How do you make people feel safe to explore, encourage experimentation and even add some fun?

A while back I introduced my Play Framework, so you can find out more there, but essentially it’s all about creating an environment that focuses on Trust, Safety, Autonomy, Dynamic Goals and Lusory Attitude (that is you approach the experience with a playful attitude).

So where does the undo function in a bit of software like Word come into this, how is that helping with ludic design? Feelin safe is all about not fearing failure. If something goes wrong, you need to feel that it is possible to recover. If you fall over, you should know you can get up and try again – see where this is going?

The undo feature does exactly this. If you make a mistake in Word, just undo it. Got the function wrong in Excel? Undo it. Messed up your image in Photoshop? Undo, undo, undo, undo!!!

Being able to undo your last action, or actions means that you get to feel safe to explore and to experiment as much as you like. Not being scared of making mistakes can really help to get the creative juices!

So when you are designing a solution, see how you can include a way to take back the last actions a user has made, make them feel safe and secure that failure is not a bad thing!

Free Printable Games

Hi all.

In this crazy time, I thought I would share a few games that I have made over the last couple of years to either entertain myself or the kids! They are all very simple but might help kill a few hours. Any feedback on them would be also greatly appreciated. They are all very simple looking btw, no fancy graphics!

There will be one more soon, once the kids have had a chance to play it. But head to the gamification hub on Facebook if you want to get a try now. It is a simple escape room type puzzle game.

Wraith King

This is the most complex. It is a solo or co-op tile-based dungeon crawl. I enjoy playing this from time to time when I am stuck for something to do. The world evolves as you play to try and defeat the Wraith King in his lair.

Download Wraith King


This is my favourite (and the kids). It was born on a napkin in a restaurant when my youngest was very board. I wanted something more interesting than snakes and ladders. I bought some drywipe pens and some drywipe sleeves to make the game reusable.

Pens: https://amzn.to/2XkkxEL

Sleeves: https://amzn.to/3bW1qoC

Download Shortcut


The simplest game, with 2 difficulty “settings”. Just race around the track!

Download Driver

Learning from Games: Escapism

As gamification practitioners, we are looking to utilise things that games do really well in areas that could desperately do with being more engaging in some way.

I read somewhere recently that “in games, we are trying to become our best selves” or something similar. I have to say, I only partially agree with that. In some games that is true, but most of the time I am trying to forget who I am and be someone totally different, be they better or worse than the real me. In reality, many games bring out the worst in people as a sort of catharsis! For me, I want to escape from reality, and that is the point. Games provide a way to escape the reality of life. That is why the concept of Uncanny Valley exists, where something that isn’t alive looks uncomfortably close to real. It makes us uneasy.

Don’t get me wrong, some games use reality for exactly that reason. Playing a game like “This War of Mine” is all about teaching people the reality of war as a civilian. There are no heroics, just tough decisions that almost never feel right. It is not about being your best self, it is about surviving. But it is about escaping your own reality and existing in someone else’s for a while.

In gamification, we don’t always have the luxury of creating a fully immersive experience that allows people to escape the reality of their day to day. In fact, very often, we are trying to teach people more about their reality in a way that is entertaining and informative.  But I think that we should always strive to include something that allows people to stretch their imagination a little. For instance, if you are creating some sort of mandatory training, it doesn’t have to be static pages or boring videos, it could be more akin to a choose your own adventure. Put people in realist situations and let them decide how to act. If they choose the correct course of action, celebrate it. If they choose wrong, explain why and help them understand what they did wrong. If there is no right or wrong answer, explain both sides of the coin! That way they are still dealing with reality, but in a way that feels slightly abstracted and safe.

Even points, badges and leaderboards offer a form of escapism, they are not part of standard reality of most day to day jobs, as long as they are implemented well and are not the core of a long term strategy.

So give people experiences that allow them to escape, even for a few moments, even in the most serious of apps, and you will find they engage far better.