This is a guest post from Clarice Meilak, an alumna of the first batch of I Am Not My Pixels interns! Each intern writes 2 blog posts as part of their internship, on UX and Design subjects that particularly interest them. Thanks Clarice!

For many, the differences between gamification and game design are not clear. In this article, we’ll look at what gamification is, different strategies for employing gamification in your design work, and how gamification can translate into different sectors successfully.

What is gamification?

Gamification concerns incorporating game-like mechanics into different types of environments. Using gamification techniques can help to influence behaviour and motivate users to interact more with your application, website or system and to reach their own goals.

Before you can successfully implement gamification into your app or website, first you’ll need to dive into human motivation, so that you can choose the right motivational techniques for your gamification strategy to work.

Types of motivators

There are two general types of motivators: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivators are internal motivations that come from within such as finding meaning in what you’re doing, mastery of a skill, or belonging to something, while extrinsic motivators refer to external drivers like incentives, money, points and competition.

Types of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators
Courtesy of Janaki Kumar and Mario Herger. Copyright: CC-Att-ND (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported).

 

Depending on what motivates you in a particular scenario, your needs and goals may be very different. To dig deeper into what those differences may be, Richard Allan Bartle, a British professor and game researcher, studied and analyzed different players and categorised them into four simple categories – the Achiever, the Explorer, the Socializer and the Killer. Each of these player types shapes their approach to games and game-like scenarios differently, thanks to the underlying intrinsic or extrinsic motivators that power them.

The Achiever

The first player type – the Achiever – gets its name because the motivation to continue playing comes from achieving points, badges and different types of incentives. The more incentives and milestones there are, the better. They like to show off their progress and achievements to others. For example, the Achiever would play three more games just to collect more points and to level up because that’s where the fun and motivation is. Around 10% of players are Achievers, according to Bartle.

Example of gamification in Duolingo
Example: DuoLingo App

DuoLingo teaches you to learn and practice a new language in a fun way. Achievers will love this product because there are a lot of badges and points to earn, and they are able to track their progress with the progress bars in each stage.

Questions to think about when designing for Achiever-like qualities:
  • How can you incentivise your users to continue to interact with your product?
  • What are some natural milestones that you may able to build into your product to help your users build a sense of achievement?
  • What will give your users the greatest sense of satisfaction?

The Explorer

Another 10% of players are Explorers. They strive to unlock rewards, levels or new areas of the game. Their pride and satisfaction from playing games to uncover the next ‘mystery’ sometimes requires doing repetitive tasks but they are quite happy to do them as long as they know that eventually it will lead to unlocking something.

SuperMario game screenshot
Example: SuperMario

Many games have an element of exploration, one of the most famous examples being SuperMario, where there are many obstacles and challenges players have to go through to unlock new levels.

One way that some websites take advantage of this player type is by encouraging users to explore and use their features to unlock some added benefit. An example of this is Dropbox, who allow you to unlock more space if you interact with certain areas of Dropbox.

Example of gamification in Dropbox
Example: Dropbox
Questions to think about when designing for Explorer-like qualities:
  • How can you encourage exploring your product? What can you offer in return for exploration?
  • What areas or features would you really like people to come across that may not be part of their natural primary journey?
  • If your product is quite linear, are there any places that you could surprise your users into discovering something unexpected and delightful?

The Socializer

The majority of players, estimated to be around 80% of players, are Socializers. These players are happy to collaborate and help others so that they can together gain bigger achievements. This doesn’t mean that they are not competitive, but rather that they enjoy interacting with other players and playing together.

Farmville game screenshot
Example: FarmVille

The FarmVille era saw a lot of players engaging and helping each other out whether it was sending them a gift or watering their crops. The more people you helped out, the more people help back and your farm was able to expand and get richer.

Outside of gaming, a good example of utilising collaboration and cooperation can be found in the Waze app. Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation app that relies on drivers in your area sharing real time road and traffic information to help the rest of the community.

Example of gamification in Waze
Example: Waze
Questions to think about when designing for Socializer-like qualities:
  • How can you encourage interaction with others that is meaningful and authentically useful?
  • How can you ensure safety and privacy for your users?
  • How can you design for those users that may abuse your system – flags and reporting, opt-outs, community support etc

The Killer

Less than 1% of player types are Killers. Despite their menacing name, Killer player types are very much like the Achievers. They get exhilarated by achieving different types of badges and points. The great difference is that they are highly competitive, they want to be the best at the game but at the same time they want to see other people lose.

Minecraft leaderboard screenshot
Example: Minecraft Leaderboard

By having a leaderboard, people can more and more competitive with each other. A Killer may be constantly competing for the top spot and won’t rest until he sees that he is the winner and others have less points than him.

Questions to think about when designing for Killer-like qualities:
  • How can you allow users to easily compare their performance, where appropriate?
  • How can you recognise fantastic achievements in a way that users feel appreciated, as well as encouraging users who aren’t necessarily the top of the pack?
  • How can you design for competitiveness as well as respect for all users?

What player type are you?

Whilst some may identify clearly with one type of player, a person can be a mixture of multiple types. A gamified environment can also attract all of the player types or types in different combinations. Thorough and careful research must be done to identify the types of player in that particular environment to understand what motivates them as it will vary depending on your particular digital experience.

 

Applying gamification outside of gaming

One of the most popular environments that has really embraced applying gamification techniques to its products is in education, especially in e-learning.

Studies have shown that students can have better learning experiences and learning environments when gamification is used – instant feedback, engaging with tutors and other students, progress trackers, milestones, badges and points all motivate and encourage students to continue studying. A better learning experience challenges learners and thus can result in better knowledge recall and retention.

Coursera screenshot
Example: Coursera

Another area where gamification is being used more often is the workplace.

Employers have found that by rethinking the traditional workplace, and by experimenting making mundane tasks more fun and game-like, employees are likely to be more productive. Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Microsoft and Deloitte, have started to exploit gamification techniques to keep their employees more focused, better-trained and more connected. 

For example, Google uses an internal prediction system like a stock market that was built by Google employees themselves. It allows employees to self-express by betting anonymously on probable outcomes with “Goobles” instead of real currency. They can bet on several things that are both company-related or on current events like “How many new users will Gmail have? Will this particular Google project be ready on time? Who will win the World Series?” Then, at the end of each quarter, those employees which have the most successful bets, win cash prizes or T-shirts. The results from these predictions can give valuable insights on how employees are feeling about company projects and if the outcome is negative, managers can investigate the issues.

Similarly, L’Oreal has made games solely for recruitment purposes to help their HR team gauge the skills of prospective employees so they can better place promising candidates within the company.

Where next?

When used just right, gamification can be a powerful tool. Although gamification has been a part of our product and design consciousness for a while, there is still much more scope to push the boundaries of how we can use gamification to improve our products and services for our users. As Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner suggests:

“Most attempts at gamification currently miss the mark, but successful and sustainable gamification can convert customers into fans, turn work into fun, or make learning a joy. The potential is enormous.”

Author

Clarice Meilak, living on the small island of Malta, working hard and hustling to being a superb UI/UX designer. Favourite design quote: If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design – Ralf Speth.

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