Gamification, some might call it a buzzword, and some might call it a thriving industry. The thing is that Gamification is something so new (The first someone googled the word was in August 2009) that we all keep discussing what Gamification really is.
After spending almost one year working as a full time Game Designer and Gamification consultant I feel it is time to add my voice to the conversation.
Lucky for me It was two months ago that I found a great Facebook group where I can discuss with my peers about this subject and I have come to realize that the discussion is actually divided between two opinions.
Some people that just adding progress bars, trophies and points is enough to Gamify your system and some others believe that anything that adds a playful activity is enough two Gamify a system.
Sad thing is that those who believe trophies and points are all you need to Gamify the system quickly dismiss the other group, and the same thing happens with the other guys.
It is my opinion that both ideas are right, we don´t have to dismiss one definition for the other, all we have to do is realize that just like there exist different types of videogames there can be different types of Gamification.
In my experience I have come to identify this two types of Gamified systems, but hey if you have identified some other type please feel free to add it in the comments and I´ll follow this post with another one that includes your additions.
I will do my best to summarize these two types of Gamification as briefly as possible.
The first type of Gamification is known as the LBP framework, LBP standing for Leaderboards, Badges and Points. This is the most widely used way to gamify a system.
The basis of this type of Gamification is Operant Conditoning, the LBP framework exploits our brains inherent need for recognition and progress.
This type of gamification is the more scalable one and the one most used by apps like Foursquare, among others.
Leaderboards here cover many functions, first they work as a feedback mechanism because you can measure your progress through them, they also work as a motivational mechanism for players that are not on the top can aspire to get on the top 10 or top 5 of your leaderboard, lastly they work as a way to incentivize competition between users, and competition works as a mechanism to get more engagement from your users.
But leaderboards are a double edged sword, if you have a user base of more than 500 users and most of them are late adopter’s leaderboards can demotivate your users. This happens when the top 10 users have a million points and the late adopters can feel that they will never get to that many points, this demotivates your players and they stop playing your system.
When leaderboards are an essential part of your system you need to find a way to balance this out, for example Nike + only shows the user the next two users that are above him and the next two users that are below him, this is a great way of balancing a leaderboard.
When leaderboards are just a cute extra you should not worry that much about balancing, for example in Catalysts for Change the main drive for the players is the inherent motivation of being part of a pro-social game, even though a Positive Feedback Loop emerged for the players that where first in the game motivation was not diminished.
Badges work as a motivational mechanism, by giving the player clear consistent goals your system motivates him to take action towards achieving that goal.
Last but not least Points work as a feedback mechanism, every time the player succeeds of fails at getting some points he receives a clear feedback for his actions. By getting some points the player understands that his actions are the right ones and are leading him towards the end goal, by failing to get points the player understands that he must correct his actions if he wants to achieve the end goal.
Using points in your system might be tricky, first because they have a direct correlation with the leaderboards and second because you must be very careful to design a system that cannot be exploited by point hoarders, you must also take great care of not accidentally creating some positive feedback loops that can (And will) be exploited by the point hoarders.
Some might call the LBP Framework unethical, for it exploits inherent weaknesses of the human brain to generate addiction and drive behavioral change; Ian Bogost even called it “Exploitaitionware”.
But I´m not here to talk about the ethical implications of Gamification, at the end of the day Gamification is a tool and just like a hammer it can be used to build or to destroy.
The reason of this discussion is to make a distinction between the two types of Gamification I have identified so far.
This second type of Gamification which for a lack of a better term I will call experience design is not based on operant conditioning but rather on immersive experiences.
My field of study lies not within gamification but rather on video game design, what we Game Designers do is the design of coherent, immersive experiences.
The hardest part of designing a videogame is having all of its elements working together in coherence, even if one of those elements is out of coherence with the whole of the experience it can take the player out of it.
So, experience design applied to gamification is the use of game mechanics and dynamics to reinforce the experience you want your user to have.
All the elements of the system must be working in coordination to reinforce this experience; the first question you need to ask yourself is this one: How much control do I have on the experience of the end user?
Because experience design is mainly a physical activity rather than a digital one you must always take into account all the factors that are out of your control and maybe use them in your favor.
ARG´s like World without Oil, I love Bees or Audi´s The art of the Heist are great examples of experience design. Most of these games do not use any element of the LBP Framework to provide a gamified experience and yet they use many game mechanics that the LBP framework does not account for.
For example in those three examples the feedback system that the designers used is a collective narrative, this is a fictional story set in the real world that the players must collectively uncover.
The players receive feedback from the system when they realize how many pieces of the story they have uncovered and so they can realize how much they have progressed since the game started.
Also, most of these games rely on collaboration rather than competition to keep the players motivated. It is a wide known fact that we as humans feel more motivated to achieve results when we have to prove those results to someone else, this motivation increases when that person is a peer and it increases even more when we have the pressure of being the ones responsible for the failure of a whole team in case we fail to do our part.
For example in I Love Bees the players had to work together to decipher a sound sample, in the art of the heist the players had to work together to find the location of the missing Audi.
Another mechanic that most of these games use is the appointment mechanic, by implementing these mechanic the players must be (Or log in) at a certain time and place and this will have a positive impact within the game, this works just like badges. The appointment gives the player a quick clear goal that he has to achieve and so this small achievable goal works as a motivational mechanism for the player.
The most important element of the “Experience Design Gamification Framework” (We really need to find a shorter, cooler name for this) is that is always accessible.
Because this type of gamification relies on a lot of players being engaged with the game it must be accessible for late adopters and for users who cannot invest as much time as the hardcore players, to put it simply: In this games the player always has the final word on how deep he wants to go on the rabbit hole.
In The art of the heist the player could choose to be hardcore a player and be part of the quests and the puzzles, the most hardcore of the players where even invited to events sponsored by Audi in which the players would engage on a Treasure Hunt like game that would help get the Audi back from the guys who stole it.
One of the essentials characters on this story was Virgil Tatum, a blogger that day to day was updating his site with the latest news on the case. Virgil Tatum worked as an accessible first stop into this fictional world, and just as Virgil Tatum played that role on the art of the heist there was also a character like that one I Love Bees and in World Without Oil all the players fulfilled this role.
Experience Design does not rely on the digital world for the majority of the experience, but the Internet works to reinforce the narrative or fictional world that your gamified experience wants to share with the player.
Both the LBP Framework and the ED Framework have their strength and their weaknesses, the LBP framework can support thousands or more users at the same time, it easily be scaled up but the ED Framework optimally works with a limited number of highly engaged users.
This takes me to an interesting conclusion; the LBP Framework is better used to have a big number of users that have low engagement, while the ED Framework is best used to have a low number of users that are highly engaged.
Please note that I´m not saying one Framework is better than the other, the point of this article is to make an argument saying that both of these frameworks are gamification, based on your need and your personal biases you will choose which one works the best for your project.
Also, remember that the use of one Framework does not exclude the other framework, it is my opinion that gamification is at its best when this two frameworks work together to create the best possible experience for your user.