5 Common Mistakes in Gamification and How to Fix Them – The Science of Gamification

Pbb5rpegpda 5 Common Mistakes in Gamification and How to Fix Them 8211 The Science of Gamification

Gamification is becoming more and more prevalent in the software industry. Many businesses are integrating game mechanics into their customer loyalty programs, websites, and other digital products to drive engagement and increase the adoption of various features. However, while gamification has become commonplace as a trend, it’s not that easy to implement correctly. Many organizations make mistakes when incorporating gaming elements into their products. Let’s take a look at some common pitfalls and how you can avoid them when implementing gamification strategies in your own organization. Read More ...

The “Less Bad” Lens – Making a Small Difference with Gamification

How big a difference does gamification have to make to be of value to an organisation?

When I first started, I used to see some staggering statistics of how gamification had improved a process. 200% increase in productivity, 300% more users registered and so on. The issue was, when you asked who to see the real data, it was much less impressive. Sample groups would be 7 0r 8 people. The 300% increase could just have been  3 people registering compared to 0 people the week before!

However, many did not ask those questions, they just saw the big numbers and had unrealistic expectations of what gamification could deliver – expectations that some companies were happy to perpetuate to their own gain. The issue with this was obvious to the rest, if the expectation was that high and we honest few knew full well it could not realistically be delivered upon, people would lose faith in gamification – which is what happened.

What expectations should we be setting? Well, realistic ones. Small percentage increase that is backed by data is much more valuable than large made up ones! Small, incremental changes are easier to sustain and all add up. If you have 10,000 employees and you can create a system that engages 10% of them, that is still 1000 employees who are more engaged than before and improving your company. If you create multiple programs that all have 10% increases, you start to engage more and more and in a way that can be replicated and sustained for longer than single-use adrenaline shots that engage everyone for 10 minutes.

One of the things I tell people now when talking about gamification is that often our mission is just to make something “Less Bad” than it was before. Not to promise a system that is so engaging it will have your employees jumping for joy every 5 minutes fist-pumping. It is more realistic to offer a system that will have employees saying “Oh, that was easier than before” or “That was less horrible than I expected” or maybe, just maybe “I enjoyed that, thanks”.

So, the next time you are looking at a problem that needs solving and you feel a games-based solution is the way forward, look at it through the “Less Bad” lense to get a realistic view on what may be achievable.

Emotions and Gamification

Emotions Emotions and Gamification

You may have noticed in my newest design framework that I mention emotions for the first time (I think) as a full consideration in my design process. I am by no means the first to think about it in a design framework. If you look at the MDA framework 1 the authors describe the aesthetics as:

the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when she interacts with the game system.

Later a more gamification focused framework, the MDE framework 2, dropped aesthetics and replaced them directly with emotions.

There are many theories and papers written about emotions and what core emotions are etc. I did some research and it is pretty diverse! Aristotle’s De Anima 3 is credited as one of the first sources to mention some sort of formalised core emotions of human beings. Since then many other formalisations have been created 4,5,6,7 with differing views of what form these core emotions. I have chosen a few that I have personally worked with in gamification design, as well as their opposites, which I will come to. But first, what did I choose?

The Emotions

On the positive side of the emotional scale, I went with Hope, Gratitude, Joy, Pride, Suprise, Love and Desire. Their negative counterparts are Fear, Anger, Sadness, Shame, Alarm, Hate and Disgust.

These all sound rather extreme and they are, but they are hand for us from a design perspective.

For instance, you would hope that a gamification solution that relied on a reciprocal economy, elicited feelings of gratitude. However, if you get it wrong, it is handy to know what the opposite could be, anger. People may be angry that there is limited value to them on their side of the deal, for instance.

You would hope that people felt a desire to be involved in the system, but if they don’t they may feel some level of disgust at the thought of being manipulated by it.

People fear the unknown, but with good on-boarding, they may begin to experience hope that the experience will be a good one and they will benefit from it.

Play and games often give players moments of great joy and happiness, gamification should be no different. However, sadness here may not always be negative. If you play a game such as That Dragon Cancer, sadness is part of the experience.

Pride and Shame are both very strong emotions and also key motivators in many gamified experiences. Often, shame is used to push people to act. This can be done in a positive way, if I have not done my steps that day I may feel a stab of shame! However, if I achieve my steps that day or better still, break my record – I will feel great pride in my achievements The key is to not use shame as a weapon – shameification is not cool!

Surprise is something I have spoken about here at some depth in the form of random rewards, easter eggs and the like. Surprises are often nice little bonuses that just make a player smile and feel a little bit of joy as well. However, get things wrong and they can feel alarmed by things happening that they don’t have control over. Unexpected events that have no explanation and no obvious benefits can be unsettling.

Love and hate are fairly self-explanatory and are both extremes of the emotions people are likely to have around your gamified experience. You are more likely to see like and dislike. Either way, it is best o aim for them loving your system over hating it!

In Your Design

In the design process, I put emotions in the BMEM section; Behaviours, Motivations, Emotions and Mechanics. The idea is to understand what behaviours you are seeking from the user, what their motivations might be to behave that way (or not) and then what emotions you want them to experience. This is easier in a game as you are creating true virtual worlds for them to play in. In gamification, you are often limited by how you can communicate your vision to the user, but this should not stop you considering emotions anyway! Well worded messages, meaningful rewards, narrative streams and mini games can all go to build strong emotional responses.

We trade in Human-Centric design, so we have to treat the users of our systems as people. People have feelings and emotions, so we should include them in our designs!


  • Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M. & Zubek, R. MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research. Work. Challenges Game AI 1–4 (2004). doi:
  • Robson, K., Plangger, K., Kietzmann, J. H., Mccarthy, I. & Pitt, L. Is it all a game? Understanding the principles of gamification. Bus. Horiz. 58, 411–420 (2015).
  • Aristotle On the Soul c.350 B.C.E, translation: J. A. Smith, The Internet Classics Archive, MIT, Retrieved 2 February 2016
  • Izard, C. E., Libero, D. Z., Putnam, P. & Haynes, O. M. Stability of emotion experiences and their relations to traits of personality. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 64, 847–860 (1993).
  • Ekman, P. An argument for basic emotions. Cogn. Emot. 6, 169–200 (1992).
  • Nathanson, D. L. Shame and pride : affect, sex, and the birth of the self. (Norton, 1992).
  • Robinson, D. L. Brain function, emotional experience and personality. Neth. J. Psychol. 64, 152–168 (2008).
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