What is gamification and how to design it

16 September 2020

Gamification definition

Gamification is the application of elements specific to games in non-game contexts. You can also define gamification as a way of solving problems by using elements known from games. I’ll give you two examples.

Gamification examples

Firstly, you have probably heard of Duolingo. This is an extremely popular language learning platform used by people all around the world. One of the reasons why it is so popular is that it mimics the structure of video games which helps to engage its users. Players are rewarded for their language achievements with lingots, an in-game currency which they can exchange for character customizations or bonus levels. Players can compete with one another as well as earn special badges that reflect their accomplishments.

Secondly, imagine you have a five-year-old kid. It’s morning, you are going to kindergarten and it’s late. How do you encourage them to change from their pajamas into their clothes and to do it quickly? Explaining to your kid that it’s important to follow the kindergarten rules and be on time probably won’t work. Instead of this, you can do something else: Announce a race.  The person who changes their clothes first, wins. You have just increased the chances that your kid will do the task much quicker.

These two examples are extremely different. Duolingo is a huge, long lasting project the creation of which required lots of time, money and other resources. Learners who use Duolingo do it on regular basis over a longer time. Playing a race with your kid who will get changed first is a single, short experience that lots of parents do. But both of them are examples of gamification, because they have something in common. Both learning and changing clothes are (or could be) perceived as mundane activities. They are ordinary, done regularly and not exciting. And they are not games. Gamification add a flavor to these ordinary activities changing them into something rewarding and highly engaging. In both cases mechanisms known from games are implemented: competition, collecting stuff, mastering etc.

And this is the power of gamification. By designing it thoughtfully you can change boring or even unpleasant activities into engaging ones. That’s why gamification can be successfully implemented in areas like education, workflow, crowdsourcing, healthcare, human resources and others.

Read also: Developing design system – patterns

How not to spoil gamification

I’ve got some bad news: Most gamification fails. Many people believe that there is nothing easier than making gamification: Create a plot, set some points to collect and stages to accomplish. Give badges to the active players, make people to compete with one another and they will engage. But this conviction is completely wrong. Gamification design is a difficult process that requires knowledge, experience and lots of time to prepare, lead and evaluate. We live in a world where everything competes to grab our attention and engagement. And our attention and engagement has limited capacity. To be honest, making successful gamification which engages people is a very challenging task and doing it right demands mastery.

Gamification principles

If you want your gamification to be successful and end up in the list of best gamification examples you should be aware that good gamification needs to be thoughtfully designed. And good design requires good design process. In essence – gamification design is very similar to user experience design. This post is too brief to be a comprehensive guide for gamification designers, but I’ll try to give you some tips which are useful before you start any gamification project.

Define the problem and try to understand it

Gamification is means to change reality, a tool to solve problems. So, before you start, you should ask yourself what problem you would like to find a solution to. The problem may be related to business, social issues, education or any other area. Analysis of the problem should include defining the group which it applies to and the sources of the problem. Try to think what the external roots are (law, social circumstances, material situation etc.) as well as the internal ones (views, habits, desires etc.) Figuring the problem out is necessary for choosing appropriate gamification strategy and for assessing if your gamification brings the results you want.

Specify desirable behaviors

How could gamification help you in achieving the goal you have set? The answer is: By motivating people to do what you want them to do. Actually, this is what gamification is about. You identify the problem and you try to smartly encourage people to adopt certain behaviors which will lead to the required change.

Read also: What is a digital customer journey?

Determine who are your players and what motivates them

As with good UX, you need to know to whom you are addressing your service. Create personas which describe participants of your gamification. Who they are? How old are they? What do they like? What life goals do they have? In which contexts they will use the game? And also find out what motivates your players. The last point is key. If you want to succeed in encouraging someone to do something, you should know what can trigger this action. Think not only about external motivation but also about internal. In fact, internal motivation is much stronger and can last longer.

Add fun and gamification elements

In every game there are elements that bring joy to the players. This is the essence of every game. People like to win, role-play, discover, collect things and solve brain teasers. They also like to share, cooperate and be appreciated. Try to inspire yourself from the games you like the most. Think about why they are so catchy for you. Different games implement various gamification techniques. Some of them are based on sensory impressions, some of them take place in unrealistic made-up worlds. Others are built on social interactions or on discovering. Think what suits your goals and your users best! Gamification should also consist of gamification elements like a plot, emotions, challenges, transactions, cooperation or competition, gifts, badges, quest teams and so on.

Maintain the game

When you get to the moment the game is launched it doesn’t mean the job is done. It means everything has just started. Good maintenance and administration of the game is a crucial success factor, especially for larger projects. You need a person or a team to organize the process and maintain the users’ engagement. Many gamifications failed because not enough attention and resources were put into this issue.

Prototype, research and iterate

As in good UX design you need to evaluate your job. From the very beginning of the project think how you would want to get feedback from your players and how to measure the effects of your gamification. Don’t wait with your ideas till the moment when lots of resources were already invested in projects. Make prototypes and validate them with your users as soon as possible. This will help you not waste time, money and engagement. Research should be an integral part of the design process. You should follow the design cycle: Research – ideate – plan – prototype – test and improve – launch – research – repeat.

Do you want to learn how we design and develop solutions at Efigence? Take a look at our Product Design.

Read also: What is dark UX?

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