Over the past several years, gamification, the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people, has found its way into the corporate lexicon, with companies scrambling to ‘gamify’ elements of their business—both internally and externally. As with many new technology platforms and tools, however, the rush to adopt gamification led to many poor use cases and a misinterpretation of what the tool can really offer. Clearly, this hasn’t hindered investment—according to M2 Research, ‘the size of the gamification market, currently estimated at around $100 million, will grow to more than $2.8 billion by 2016.”
To date, the majority of companies have viewed gamification as a way to retain staff and hopefully motivate teams and departments—by simply bolting on a gaming element to existing systems and processes. Yet true gamification extends far beyond simply rewarding a user with a virtual badge or points—and then pitting users against each other in a race to accumulate these online rewards. Sometimes, the word ‘game’ also deters companies from applying the concept in more impactful ways.
Indeed, to leverage and explore the full potential of this tool, companies and developers need to work together to add meaningful layers to the gamified experience—which not only enhance the experience, but also result in tangible (and measurable) changes in behaviour. Essentially, this is the great promise of gamification: influence and ultimately modify human behaviour to drive favourable business outcomes. These outcomes can include more successful loyalty programmes, higher engagement with internal communications and e-learning tools, or wider adoption of internal systems and processes.
Gamification is certainly a way to not only engage employees, but consumers/clients as well. Indeed, as some prominent insurers have already proven, gamification can be used to influence consumer behaviour for better social—and business—outcomes.
Ultimately, the use cases are infinite—but the fundamental approach has to be sound.
Identifying the core loop
We approach the development of gamification tools—and indeed, games and apps—using the same underlying principle as a Skinner box. Also known as an operant conditioning chamber, it is an enclosed apparatus that contains a bar or key that an animal can press or manipulate in order to obtain food or water as a type of reinforcement. This concept has enabled researchers to find out which schedule of reinforcement will lead to the highest response rates.
In the gaming world, we explore which levers or elements within the game design or app can potentially influence behaviour—so, it’s a process of discovering the Skinner box within the virtual universe or app we have created. Once these levers have been identified, you can then start modifying and adding layers to guide users in the discovery of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ outcomes.
A critical part of this process lies in identifying the ‘core loop’, to borrow another term from the gaming sphere. The core loop is the single most important element of a video game—it’s how players will describe the game to their peers. As developers, we understand that making this core loop easy to comprehend and repeat goes a long way towards engaging and retaining players and users. So when developing a gamified tool or app, the key is to link this core loop with the key behaviours or outcomes you are seeking. This inevitably requires a deep understanding of the psychological drivers behind behavioural patterns. As developers, we integrate this type of understanding and insight into what we do—making it integral to our offering.
An interesting insight that we have gained is that planned unpredictability can increase users’ engagement. Again, game loops are the key tool here—in that the first loop is the basic task/reward, the next loop is what you do with that in the medium term, and then the next loop is what you do with that in the longer term. Each loop needs to ‘surprise’ the user in that they are excited to see something new open up—either as a task or a reward. This, in turn, creates further engagement in the first loop as now there is a bigger picture to the task. Revealing the much bigger loop then surprises people again, giving them an incentive to perform the medium loop, which in turn drives the first loop.
This ‘holistic’ view can really drive and impact behaviour, and while it can appear random, truly well-designed systems are anything but random. For example, we like to add unexpected elements into the game/system, which can then obscure the task loops by introducing surprising elements that even disappear at times. These layers are what make games addictive, as you’re always finding new things (people are explorers at heart!).
For example, a major financial institution was looking to develop a tool that blended both gamification and augmented reality in order to improve the onboarding/training process with new employees. We developed an app in which new staff members start with an image, and this becomes a seedling plant. The adjudicator from Training Room Online asks questions and awards points throughout the training period and these points are used to grow a virtual tree. As the days—and training—progress, the seasons will move from autumn, summer, winter and spring, each with corresponding visual designs, allowing the players to see their progression in relation to other trainees. Teams doing well might have a luscious tree going into winter, while others might have a sapling and have a lot to catch up on!
A constant feedback loop
In the spirit of much of today’s software development, we adopt the agile approach to developing gamification solutions, and constantly user test to make incremental adjustments
This approach applies to any development project—not just gamified solutions, particularly as data becomes more readily available. The data can lead to critical insights into both employees and customers. As a result, we view these projects as an ongoing feedback loop, using data to guide our decisions and ultimately add value to the business or platform in question. So while virtual badges and titles remain useful and compelling tools, there is undoubtedly a far more layered and nuanced approach behind the most successful gamification strategies.