Learning from Games: Managing Expectations – Part 2

By tzimt0ms Learning from Games Managing Expectations 8211 Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, as is the tradition, where we looked at how they manage your expectations right up to learning how to play, now we are now going to look at how games manage expectations during gameplay. If you have not read Part 1 – head there now! Learning from Games: Managing Expectations – Part 1

Difficulty – Setting the Skill Expectations

Many games, before or during play, allow you to change the difficulty settings. I remember Doom doing this particularly well, using rather grim terminology to set the scene for what to expect! Where Doom chose negative language, making you feel like you are probably going to get destroyed in moments – Duke Nuk’em went for slightly more bravado filled options. “I’m too young to die” became “Piece of Cake” for instance! Read More ...

But What If They Get Addicted To Your Gamified System?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation But What If They Get Addicted To Your Gamified System

Amazingly the question “But what if people get addicted to the solution and stop working” has come up in more than one conversation with clients over the years.

It’s an interesting question, that is worth thinking about. At first, it is easy to dismiss this as silly. When you think about it, thousands of games are released each year – about 9000 just on Steam in 2019 – the majority of them are totally unknown or fail. So how on earth is your gamified system going to become more important to people than the games they want to play or their work?

Then when you start to think about it, there is an element to consider. Your gamified system is likely more interesting than their day job. If you are good at gamification design, you will know how to do that – that’s the point, making stuff more interesting! So if you have a system where you can collect points and convert them into prizes, as a simple example, then that may well be more interesting than doing real work! We call this Overjustification Effect. Very simply, this is when the rewards are more important to you than the work. It can be seen when you apply rewards to games. The game should be intrinsically enjoyable, but if you add an unbalanced reward, many people will stop playing because they enjoy the game and only play to get the reward.

If you design your system to heavily rely on extrinsic rewards to motivate activity, then  Overjustification effect can be an issue. People start to only do the work for the rewards, which can, in turn, lead to a decrease in quality of work.

How to Address This

  • The first solution is to not rely as heavily on extrinsic rewards! Build the system to encourage activity with feedback and nudges rather than overt bribery.
  • Don’t worry too much about the potential issues. After all, if you make a solution that is so enjoyable that people want to do it rather than their work, you should probably be making “real” games for entertainment!
  • Reduce the availability of the solution. If you have to use extrinsic rewards, then only allow access in short burst. For instance, there are some games that I will load up on the morning to get my daily streak reward but then will close until there is a convenient time to play. You could set your system to only allow a set number of actions per day, to reduce the risk of people overusing it.
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    Introduction to Gamification Part 7: Rewards and Reward Schedules

    Intro to Gamification Part 7 Introduction to Gamification Part 7 Rewards and Reward Schedules

    In the last chapter, I briefly touched on reward schedules. The most basic way to define reward schedules is that they are a set of rules that define when a reward (or any kind of feedback) is given to the user. I am going to discuss three core types of reward schedule, Random Rewards, Fixed Rewards and Time Dependent. I’m also going to introduce some ideas on how to balance the release of rewards and their perceived value.

    Random Rewards

    These tough to explain, and really hard to implement well! A random reward is one that the user is not expecting and should probably have no reason to expect. For instance, a badge for their forty-second achievement in a system. There is no obvious reason for it but done with a little Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy humour, it may make someone smile at least!

    Random rewards are not the same as gambling, I hasten to add. They should not require the user to “bet” or place anything at stake. These are just little surprises from the system to the user or player, to “surprise and delight” them.

    Now, the difficulty is working out when to use them. That is up to you, but overuse leads to the surprise element being diluted.

    Fixed Rewards

    Fixed rewards are given to users based on predefined actions that they complete. Click “Like” 10 times. Complete 10 modules. First activity, level up, beat the boss level etc. As we will see later, these are the cornerstone of reinforcing progression and achievement in a gamified system but need to be well planned to create a balanced experience. Other examples include rewards for daily logins to a system, bonuses for finding secrets (a bit like Easter eggs), certificates for course completion.

    Time-Dependent Rewards

    Similar to Fixed Regards, but rather than being triggered they are either triggered by a time-based event or limited by time. For instance, a discount code that is only available on a user’s birthday or Halloween would be considered time-dependent.

    The flip side would be time-limited events. So, a reward that could only be gained at a specific time of day (Log in a 12 pm to get the reward), or ones that run out after a set time period (Only available for the next 10 hours). It could also be limited by the number of rewards available, for instance, log in now to get one of ten free gifts.

    Reward Density and Perceived Value

    However you apply rewards and feedback, especially fixed rewards, you need to have a plan for what you are giving, why you are giving it, how much it is “virtually” worth and when it is going to be given.

    If you think back to the User Journey model I proposed in the last chapter, you will remember that the journey can be split into a few different parts. The ones we are interested in now are OnBoarding, Immersion and Mastery.

    But first….


    So, there is a theory that we talk about in-game and gamification design called Flow Theory1 created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. At a very (very very very) basic level, Flow is a state of optimum engagement and immersion, where the perceived challenge perfectly matches the perceived level of effort. It is a strange experience that feels as though time has no meaning and there is nothing but you and the challenge at hand. Games often achieve this. For our purposes, we are interested in the concept of balancing challenge and skill. If something is too challenging for your current skill level, it becomes frustrating. If it is too easy, you get bored.

    No real user journey will be perfectly smooth, no matter how well you design it. From time to time users will feel overwhelmed or bored. Feedback and rewards can help with this, especially early on.

    If we think of rewards as tools for reinforcing success, or pats on the back even, then you want to use them to keep the momentum going.

    We can layer the User Journey onto Flow, to help us get a picture of how it sits with the concept of Skill vs Challenge.

    Reward Density

    Early on in their journey, users need more reassurance that they are doing the right thing, they are learning. As their journey progresses, they need less encouragement until eventually, they should not require any at all (they either find an intrinsic motivation to continue or are accepting of the importance of continuing.) Think about teaching a child how to ride a bike. You start off very hands-on, helping every step of the way. Frequent congratulations for relatively small achievements, hugs and cuddles when they bash their knee etc. As the child becomes more adept at riding the bike, they may just require verbal reassurance and praise. Every now and then they will start to struggle or get frustrated, so more praise and cuddles are needed. However, eventually, they forget you are even there as they cycle joyously off into the sunset, whooping and laughing, enjoying their new found skills and freedom!

    And so it is with gamification and the use of rewards and feedback. During the first stages, the onboarding, people need more feedback, reassurance that they are on the right track and doing the right thing. In an ideal world, they will start to get immersed in the experience and gradually require fewer and fewer rewards. Once they have “mastered” the skills needed, they should require little to no reinforcement. The reward density decreases over time as they learn the required skills. Perhaps the perceived value of the rewards will increase as the perceived effort increases, but the frequency should decrease.

    Now, as I have said, not all journey will be smooth, so as things become frustrating for a user, we may need to increase the reward density or value, just to give the user that virtual “cuddle” and reassurance that they are doing fine. The other way to use a reward when a user is frustrated is to make sure it has a high perceived value to the user, to really give them the incentive to push on.


    Perceived Value

    A final, but very important note on rewards and feedback, perceived value. The more effort or personal investment a user has to make, the larger the reward should be. If you are just asking them to tick a box, you don’t need to give them a billion points! However, if you want them to write a 10,000-word essay, maybe a billion points would be nice. Set expectations early on by rewarding low skill and effort activities with small value rewards and increase the value of them as more effort is required. If you get the balance of reward value vs perceived effort wrong, you can confuse the user, frustrate them and just plain insult them!

    In my view, this is where many people go wrong (not just in gamification), placing too high a value on things that are really meaningless and then not rewarding meaningful actions. I’m not saying doctors and nurses should be paid more than footballers….

    Key Learning Points

  • There are 3 basic reward schedules; Random, Fixed and Time Dependant
  • Rewards and reinforcement should be relied on less and less over the course of the user’s journey
  • Reward density should be balanced to skill and challenge to smooth out the flow of the user’s journey
  • Balance your rewards based on the perceived effort to the user, not just the perceived value to you.
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    Introduction to Gamification Part 6: The User Journey

    Intro to Gamification Part 6 Introduction to Gamification Part 6 The User Journey

    In the last chapter, we looked at goals and feedback. To follow on from this, I wanted to look at how you should plan feedback and rewards, based on the user’s expectations. However, to start, we need to look at the User Journey, which is a chapter on its own!

    What is a User Journey?

    In our world, the user journey is the series of steps that a user takes whilst engaged with your solutions. I break it down into four key stages. Discovery, OnBoarding, Immersion and Mastery/Replay. Ok, so that is more like 4 1/2 steps…

    =&0=&There has to be a discovery phase, like the attract screen in the arcades, because without it – how will people start to use the system? It may just be an email to tell you to do some mandatory training, it may be subtle posters that hint at something new. However you decide to do it, it is essential and has to fit with the overall theme of the programme.

    =&1=&Nothing new here, this is the scaffolding of the whole show. If you get this wrong, people will not get any further in their journey! It has the potential to be a massive drop off phase of the journey. You have to balance it just right, to hold the user’s hand enough to keep them going, but not so much they feel babied and foolish. Measured use of rewards can be of great benefit in this stage as digital “pats on the back”.

    =&2=&Once they are in the system and know what they are doing, they can immerse themselves in the activities – be it learning, day to day sales entry or any other activity. This is where good activity and feedback loops are essential to keep people engaged. It is also the stage of the journey where you will need to stop relying on rewards and start helping the users find their intrinsic reason to be there.

    =&3=&This is the phase where a couple of things may happen. This may be the point where the journey ends, the user has finished and has met the end-game requirements, game over man… However, it may also be the start of the next phase of the journey, a bit like the Black belt in martial arts. You have mastered the first journey, now you must move on to the second and third etc. Achievers aim for this level and will work hard to get it. Make sure they feel rewarded for their efforts (and I don’t mean points and badges!!!)

    =&4=&If there is no specific moment where the journey ends, you need to include replayability. This can come in several forms. It could be an opportunity for the ones who have completed, to try and ace it. Think about casual games where you can finish a level with 1, 2 or 3 stars. The replay value comes from trying to get through levels you didn’t score 3 on again, trying to attain the maximum. It may be that they get to play again at a high difficulty – remember the Nightmare mode from Doom? It may be that they can play again with a different role. In the case of a learning-related system, they could go back with the role of master, rather than apprentice, acting as a guide and mentor to those who are yet to master the earlier phases. You can really leverage the Philanthropist User Types here.

    Rewarding the Journey

    As I said at the start, I will cover this in detail in Part 7, however, it is worth touching on it here.

    The key is to balance the types and intensity of the rewards based on the perceived value of the actions and the perceived effort needed from the end user.

    At the start of their journey, they may need more rewards and feedback to help them keep moving, to reassure them that they are on the right track. Once they have started to immerse themselves in the solution, the frequency of rewards can start to reduce as they move towards mastery.

    When there is a larger than average challenge (a Boss Battle if you will) then the level of reward may need to be increased as the effort for the end user has increased.

    Eventually, you want to be in a position where the user is using the solution without the need for rewards, but feedback will still be essential if it is applied appropriately (I.E. when it is needed).

    Key Learning Points

    1. The user journey can be split into Discovery, OnBoarding, Immersion and Mastery/Replay
    2. Rewards need to be used appropriately to support that journey over time
    3. I like pretty pictures….

    What You Want vs What You Need

    Jujitsu What You Want vs What You Need

    My JuJitsu instructor always used to say,

    “I’ll teach you what you need, not what you want”

    This always struck me as a fabulous way to look at teaching in general and one that I used myself as a JuJitsu instructor, mentor and everything else I have done that involved passing information to others.

    Getting what you want is very rarely as important as getting what you need. In fact, getting what you need more often that not allows you to then earn what you want. In martial arts, like most things, you need the foundations, the boring things. The form work, the katas, the hours and hours of repetitive grind. The same is true in games. You need to get the basics before you can do the interesting things. You may not want to do them, the tutorial level is often not the most exciting, but you need them to be able to then go on and do what you want to do in the rest of the game.

    Think about Minecraft. You need to learn the rules of the world, what blocks to combine, what animals provide what resources, what pick axes need to mine what rocks. Until you have those basic essentials, you cant go and build those amazing structures you want to build or create working Babbage difference engines!

    Another thought occurs that relates to gamification around want vs need. Often we don’t want to use extrinsic rewards, we know the research and we don’t want to fall foul of the consequences. But sometimes, that is exactly what we need! If you have limited time and budget and are tasked with creating an increase in activity, especially around simple repetitive asks, extrinsic rewards are exactly what is needed. Once that is working, you can, of course, look at expanding this to more intrinsic methods.

    I might change my old mentor’s quote slightly now,

    “I’ll provide what you need so you can discover and earn what you want for yourself”