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Despite its recent popularity, gamification is not quite new. The term – that refers to the usage of game mechanics in non-gaming contexts – appeared in the mid-2000s, benefiting from those years’ technological development and from the appearance of platforms that used game dynamics to leverage engagement.
Old school developers will probably remember when Stack Overflow first introduced the reputation score, a mechanism that rewarded them by merely participating in the platform and sharing their expertise. Doing so, Stack Overflow rewarded developers with a sense of feeling part of the community and boosting their egos.
Many articles, blog posts, and even books can be written about how gamification takes advantage of psychological effects. This blog post, however, will focus on why, to me, gamification is one of the trickiest fields of study. I will also share with you one of my recent discoveries: the Gamification Canvas.
What makes gamification so difficult, and still so interesting
My interest in this topic started when I was challenged to design and deploy a gamification strategy for an app. The briefing I received was quite clear: all I had to do was to figure out a game to achieve a specific, business-oriented goal.
I had two options: I could create some generic game and hope people would like it. Or, I could start testing and possibly make something appealing to customers. Taking the second option forced me to dig deeper, and that was when I realized I was entering muddy waters.
First, the lack of guidelines contrasted with the number of mechanisms and fields in which gamification can be applied. A leaderboard is not the same as a reputation score. And, a similar reputation score will produce different results in different contexts.
To ease up the task of choosing the game design mechanism, I found an article from Garm Lucassen and Slinger Janesen. The authors interviewed executives from different fields and realized that some mechanisms present positive results improving engagement, loyalty or awareness.
|Variable rewards||48,62||36,11|| 5,26|
|Free goods|| 27,27||40,91||31,85|
|Virtual rewards||40,91|| 50|| 9,09|
|Cooperate with friends||43,07||9,68||47,25|
|Rate community submissions||39,4||39,4||21,2|
|Help a friend||50||22,73||27,27|
|Feel part of a group||54,17||37,5|| 8,33|
|Differentiate from peers||59,09||40,91||0|
|Control over peers||63,64||36,36||0|
|Punishment for not participating||44,44||44,44||11,11|
Useful table, right? The problem is that, as it was said, the same mechanism can produce entirely different effects depending on the contexts.
Such a conclusion took the emphasis out of the mechanisms, highlighting the need for considering different combinations. These combinations, inside a specific context, are called dynamics and – unlike mechanisms – they are unique and differ from an app to the other.
Finally, there is another thing that must be considered, which is the human willingness to challenge the system. In fact, it is common for players to behave as they were not supposed to, regardless of all the user journeys you created.
What is known and the Gamification Canvas as a visual guideline
As a somewhat new and cunning field, gamification is currently being explored by companies and researchers. Despite all there is still to explore, articles point out that there are some factors behind good examples of gamification initiatives.
Two of these factors – usefulness and enjoyment – lead us to the Gamification Canvas, a framework that guides strategists towards creating effective gamified environments. Like the Business Model Canvas, the Gamification Canvas contains nine fields. The right side refers to players’ behavior and game design, while the left concerns the technological requirements needed to develop the initiative.
When designing your strategy, the first thing to focus on is the core benefit your gamification dynamic will have. You then move to what, in my opinion, are the steps to which you must pay more attention: players and behavior.
By discerning what the players need and how he behaves, you can adapt the way you’ll deliver the benefits and, therefore, choose the aesthetics and dynamics. Firstly, if your player only uses simple apps, you can’t go for something too complex. Secondly, if he values social media and is constantly sharing content, you may invest in social mechanisms. Lastly, if he enjoys luck games and typically already uses other apps with these mechanisms, maybe you can incorporate similar dynamics.
As in any framework, there are a million ways you can adapt it to your project. What matters the most is that each step you take must be based on data that goes beyond simple guesses. Instead, it listens to what the player needs and is already familiarized. Subsequently, all you need to do is to keep incorporating feedback until you achieve something that works and effectively reaches its purpose.
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