Why Gamification “Doesn’t Exist”

5:13 PM Melinda 1 Comments

I can imagine this isn’t a post you would expect to see on a gamification blog, let alone a post written by one of the organizers of a gamification networking group, a professional who has worked on “gamification” projects with clients, or a researcher who at one point even provided her own definition for the term.

But it’s true, I, as “gamification” associated as I am, am telling you today that gamification doesn’t exist. At least not in the way we’re using it now. Currently we’re using gamification as a term for a practice. Many definitions refer to it as a “process”, something you “apply”, or a concept you “use”. But no one can really seem to agree on what exactly this practice is. Is it about adding feedback systems? Is about identifying and expanding upon intrinsic and extrinsic motivations? Is it about picking and choosing from a magical set of mechanics games use to fuel engagement? Is it even more about play than about games?

The more I’ve thought about this the more I’ve come to the conclusion that a “best practice” of gamification should be to let go of the thought that gamification exists as a practice and embrace gamification as an observation. Yes, I’m saying that the best way you can use gamification is to understand that you can’t use it at all!

We need to start seeing gamification as a conclusion our industry has come to that games do an amazing job at engaging their players. Based on this observation, we believe it is important to delve deeper into the way games are designed so that we can create stronger designs ourselves in other situations. Basically, what we’re all saying when we talk about gamification, is that games have helped us realize exactly how important the design of an experience is.

Before gamification is completely dismissed, I want to mention that this use of gamification is powerful within itself. It has led to observations and discussions and rapid innovations in the past few years. It brings together a wide mix of people - who otherwise wouldn’t have met - to events like Gamification World. It’s still going to be a useful term in bringing together ideas and people, but to continue to innovate and grow we need to stop trying to advance the practice, and instead delve deeper into design as a whole. We should pay more attention to structure - which games are well known for - not just the extras, the shiny lights, the badges. We need to let go of the idea that “gamifying” something will lead to better engagement instead of just creating a strong, well structured, design for it.

Whether the term will last or not, it’s anybody’s guess. What I do know is the movement around it, the focus on design, the emphasis on experience, will continue.


Pay what you want! - using gamification to decide how much it will be

10:25 AM Unknown 0 Comments

Anyone that thinks that gamification is something that made an appearance in the last few years is very wrong. Gamification has been around for a very long time indeed, though we've been using different names to describe it. I won’t go into detail about this matter in this article, but what I’m getting at is that you can find gamification in many different places and in many different ways. So, I usually keep my eyes open for interesting applications and last week I found something worth writing about.

A friend of mine studies IT and posts some interesting things from time to time. He recently he posted on Facebook a link to an ‘Incredible iOS 9 developer bundle’. The best part about this bundle? Pay what you want. ‘So no fixed price?’, you might wonder? Indeed! You can pay anything you like. At least, that is what they have you think. With clever use of gamification, UX/UI and marketing techniques they continually drive up the price with every single sale they do! I’ll break it down step by step with references to Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis. (I consider this model the easiest one to make gamification ‘visible’).

Lets start with some marketing (for fun). The title and tagline: ‘Pay what you want: Incredible iOS 9 Developer Bundle’ - Master all things iOS 9, Swift, Xcode & tvOS with 96+ Hours of Training and 100+ App Templates. This sounds amazing right? It’s a bundle, and an incredible one at that, that let’s you ‘master’ all things iOS9. They make it sound easy, they make it sound affordable and they make it sound comprehensive. Below that is the list of all the products contained in the bundle. They add up the value to $2044,-. Thats a lot of value! And you can get it for as little as a single dollar! Great marketing ;)

Now on to gamification. First of, we see a counter at the top right of the page telling you how many people have gone to this site before you. Not only does this give the product credibility (because so many people have already bought it), but it also gives you the feeling it would be silly not to buy. Both of these relate to ‘Social Influence’. (Note though that this can also work against you, if no one actually buys your product and the counter stays at 0!)

Below the counter we see the option to buy the bundle and you are given the options to ‘beat the average price’ or to ‘pay what you want’. Now this is where it gets interesting. If you choose to pay what you want, you can start as low as 1$, but you find out you only get 2 out of the 8 apps for this price! So, in truth you can only get the full bundle when you pay more than the average payer before you. This is combined with great UX/UI. If you suggest a payment lower than the average, 6 out of the 8 apps get locked and grey out. This visual cue immediately shows you that you are missing out. Here, they make use of something called the ‘FOMO punch’, basically aimed to make you feel like you would be missing out if you don’t beat the average. This is something you feel you want to ‘avoid’. Furthermore, by indicating that you’d be willing to pay ‘less’ than all these other people for such a great deal, they once again leverage social influence. If you combine these elements you get a system that slowly drives up the price, even though you can ‘choose what to pay’. When I myself bought the package the average was about $7 and I was buyer number 92. Now they are up to nearly 2000 buyers and the average price has gone up to nearly $10.

They utilize another great way to drive up the average price by using a leaderboard. In sales? Yes! This is how they do it: The leaderboard shows the 8 people who paid the most for the bundle. If you get into the top 8, at any point during the sale/offer, you get 1 entry to win a special giveaway. If by the time the sale ends, you are still in the top 8, you get 5 entries to the giveaway! This giveaway is presented as a great product to have, and only one person can win it. So, they make the reward scarce, and make it a competition. People who are interested in this will pay more for their bundle, far above the average price, and this really drives up the average price for all other buyers. (The current highest buyer paid $50) 

As a last push they use a countdown showing you how many days are left before the offer ends. It’s the same element used by sites as Kickstarter. By placing a time-limit you increase the strength of the FOMO-punch. No time to think. You either buy the bundle now or you’re out of time and have missed out on this great offer!

Most of these techniques are considered to be on the bottom of the Octalysis framework. They are aimed at marketing and at making you want to buy. These type of techniques are considered ‘black hat’ gamification, which in some cases can leave a bad taste in your mouth afterwards. They compensate this by adding a game element close to ‘humanity hero’. Though it could be argued that besides a sense of ‘meaning’ it also gives a sense of ‘accomplishment’. For every sale they make 10% is donated to charity. What better way to make someone feel good than to help others? Up till now nearly $2000 has been raised.

This type of gamification goes beyond simple ‘badges and points’ and taps into core human drives and motivations. The leaderboard is easy to call out, but the other elements are harder to place a ‘label’ on. In my personal opinion, however, this is what it’s all about. Gamification is a lens through which to view your product and service. If combined with things such as great marketing and UX/UI you create a great cocktail to improve what you offer!


Iterating designs in classroom gamification: a case study

3:06 PM Unknown 0 Comments

The nice thing about using gamification in a classroom setting is that you have a comparatively short feedback loop. Most concepts you want to try take a lesson or so to execute and evaluate, or, if you gamify a chapter, a couple of weeks at most. At the same time, the drawback about using gamification in a classroom is that it is difficult to prototype and iterate.

You take an idea and prepare the materials, and off you go into the classroom. If it works: great! If it doesn’t work: the same subject comes back around the same time next year. Hope you still remember what went wrong and what went right when you revisit your materials ;)

But then again, it isn’t all that bad. Usually, you can generalize knowledge gained from a lesson design for one subject, and apply it to the next design. In line with this, in this article I will take a certain design and look at the effect on the students. From this I will distill the lessons learned and show how they affected the next iterations. 

The initial design: an exercise in autonomy
This design was for a chapter on magnetism, given for a group of vwo 5 students (about 16 years old). It was designed to be the backbone of the chapter, to which I would then add the individual lessons. The main idea was to offer students a structured choice in how to engage with the subject matter, and recognize them for it. This way, the students could approach the topic on their level and work on it using their particular strengths.

The design consisted of two elements, which I handed out at the beginning of the chapter:
1. The skilltree
2. The list of quests

The skilltree is something I have worked with for a long time, and the ideas behind it are described in this article (available in Dutch). So here, I mainly want to focus on the list of quests. There were fourteen quests in total, each belonging to a different specialty: curator, scientist, engineer, educator or expert. Students could choose which and how many of these quests they wanted to do, and received Quest Points (QP) for completing them. Completing tasks really well also yielded specialty points, such as Engineer Points. I kept track of these points and regularly updated the leaderboard. At the end of the chapter, the students with the most QP and the students with the most specialty points in their specialty received small prizes.

Results and lessons learned
This was for me a specific experiment in giving the students a large amount of freedom, combined with incentives for effort. These were my findings: 1. For a fair number of students this worked really well. They both appreciated the chance to do things their way, and they were motivated by the competition and the recognition for effort. Some did up to six quests in addition to the regular work.
2. A sizeable group of students decided that the ideal amount of quests to do was none at all. While this wasn’t exactly unforeseen, this group was too large to leave the rules unchanged in a further iteration.
3. All quests were chosen at least once. This indicates to me that there is indeed quite a diversity in students and the ways in which they like to engage with the subject matter. Students also indicated they liked the ability to choose.
4. The administration of the quests and the different types of points was a bit of a hassle. I didn’t like it, and when I had to do it in class it took valuable time which I could have spent engaging with the students.

Iterating on the design
A year after first using the quests, I had the opportunity to iterate on the design. I updated the skilltree to match the new textbook, and changed some of the rules of the quests. First, I removed all points and leaderboards, and just asked all students to do at least two of the quests. Because I couldn’t make more difficult quests give more points anymore, I had to change and combine some quests to make them roughly equal in size. These changes removed a large part of the administration, and made sure no one could get away with doing nothing. Students appreciated the choice given, and different quests were chosen. However, there was a negative effect of no one going beyond the call of duty by doing more than two quests.

In a week I will again start the chapter of magnetism for the new vwo 5. Here I will keep the rules of the previous year mostly intact, with one addition. I would like for students to go beyond the minimum requirements. And while I have become way more judicious with rewards and prizes, this is a place where I find it actually fitting.
Students who finish at least 4 of the quests will receive a joker at their final test. This is a sticker they can put on their answer sheet at one of the questions. Doing so means they will receive at least half of the points of that particular question. This will never add more than a couple of tenths to their grade (on a scale of 1 to 10), and really good students won’t even need it. Still, the certainty it provides is something students actually value.
I hope this will solve most of the main issues I encountered when first doing this chapter, while keeping the benefits of autonomy and differentiation.

So what can you take away from this article? First and foremost: if your first design doesn’t work as intended, you don’t necessarily have to throw it away. Especially in education, with long times between uses, designs are too often seen as "fire-and-forget".

Secondly, I want to stress the importance of evaluating your design. That means of course observing the classroom and the behavior your design evokes in both your students and yourself. But also talking with the students about how they experienced the lessons. In addition to this, I recommend handing out the occasional questionnaire or even asking some students to sit down with you in a focus group. Students, even quite young ones, can usually tell you a lot about what they need and want.

Finally, I hope you can learn from the designs themselves, as well as from the motivations behind some of the decisions.

Good luck with gamifying your own environment!