Gamification, It’s Fun… Not Games!
Your attention is up for grabs. Your customers, your employer, your employees, the authorities, products, information, entertainment, all vie for a piece of it. Everyone wants a piece of your time. As the competition for attention intensified, what could have a been a better way to win than to get you to engage voluntarily? That is where gamification kicked in.
It seems that the enthusiasm has cooled down, even during the enforced digitalisation we just experienced. Because gamification has too often been reduced to a game.
As much as the Metaverse is not Zoom with avatars, or a web designer wire frame apartment, gamification is not necessarily about games. Gamification should be about creating an engaging experience, a playful, ludic engagement. And, so far, it often more cringe than play.
Is gamification alive and kicking? Yes.
Do YOU engage in gamified programs? Based on my personal observations, likely No.
How to bridge potential and execution? By decoupling gamification and games.
The purpose of gamification is to increase engagement through fun
Digital reality and levelling up are not new. Electronic games were born in the same breath as electronics.
Loyalty cards, training and education programs are also not new. Both on a theoretical and practical level, the rationale for gamification is straightforward: create or increase engagement by making the experience more fun.
To summarise, some salient points supporting the need and execution of gamified activities are:
1. to create or increase engagement; i.e., we want people to do more of something
2. by making the activity more fun
3. the key triggers of engagement in the gamified environment are: a) creation of need, motivation; b) satisfaction of mastery, skill; c) reliance on opportunities to win, recurrence or randomness of rewards; d) hook-in through recognition of gradual progress, effort made, …etc.
All seems straightforward enough. However, this is not necessarily what is actually happening. Why is that?
Gamification is too often narrowed down to “make it a game”
The word gamification unerringly evokes Call of Duty, Fortnite and GTA, and visual cues such as gaming levels, health bars, letter tick boxes…
This leads to the assumption that gamification revolves around a game.
You can see re-hashing of every successful game, from Second Life, Sims, Candy Crush up to Farmville. There are gamifications to reduce gas emissions, lose weight, HR and sales training programs, math education, etc.
This is not bad as such. It is not a failure, but creating a game is not the end in itself. You want engagement, hence an activity that takes place as much as possible in the environment you want your user to engage in. To reduce carbon, you want an activity that leads to actively reducing carbon usage, not something that happens at your desktop.
So far, none of the gamification attempts seem radically different from the 1970s coupons and sticker albums. In any type of game, reward is key – even if only bragging rights. All these gamifications work more like loyalty cards, with a printable certificate once you accomplish the task. None of this is very persuasive. The engagement is often minimal.
Take the students’ plummeting engagement during the covid crisis. Despite education gamification, the best we can say is that it did not work. Ever since the collapse of Club Nokia, it is an accepted fact that – fun or not – you can only create a digital experience with the support of the ecosystem, and of your users.
Gamification is a basic necessity today, not a “nice to have”
If you want your digital footprint to last, gamification is at the heart of the experience you create.
Making the engagement playful, fun, maybe even addictive, is a necessity, not a “nice to have” when everyone is trying to get a piece of attention. This blog post is one in 1.75 million created per day. We’d better make it engaging!
Just looking at the latest NFT news. NFTs are essentially persistent digital art. They change the way we look at the digital landscape as a whole. This new, different, digital reality will be more and more defined by the ability to cross-over between universes. Cross-overs between digital and analogue today. Tomorrow cross-over between franchises, media, formats…
Think Amazon, Disney or Netflix. Could we devise a system where the reward for a successful sales training would be 2 hours in Westworld… or Frozen Princess popping up on Facetime for your granddaughter birthday?
So, let’s reset expectations and have another look at what we do. Let’s begin with where it all starts: engagement.
Rule 1 of engagement: use only the latest engagement format for your gamified space
How do you know that engagement was successful?
In this world, getting data or KPIs is not the problem (attendance, views, time spent, even eye cameras, etc). However, you first have to continuously adapt to what is engagement today!
10s TikTok videos are successful – a format and duration unheard of a few years back. An optimal TED YouTube video is 10-15 minutes. Yet, a song is around 3 minutes. Joe Rogan’s interviews were sometimes over 3 hours.
So how to quantify the experience? Either you go by micro-targets, or your benchmark will simply fail. It is certainly not an absolute duration. This is why I would venture that forced ad breaks on YouTube miss the point. Duration in and by itself simply does not measure the engagement. For a successful gamified space, you have to carve the experience to your intended public.
For an HR program you may have to have a 20 PowerPoint slide shows for 40s+, 10min Training videos for 30+, and for 20+ 10-30s sequence and then swipe for the answer.
Going back to our observation on the non-attendance of students. Hours of Zoom or recorded classes did not do the job. Maybe a core mix of 3 times 10 minutes videos, interrupt with pop quiz with some form of non-school progress bar (with fun rewards attached, such as coffee breaks). One session no more than 40 minutes, followed by a Discord discussion of 10-15 minutes. Certainly not 58 minutes of pre-recorded material.
Rule 2 of engagement: your gamification premise must be credible
Second rule for a successful engagement is credibility, i.e., the premise of your gamification has to be believable and relatable.
Do you remember as a child when Big Bird was telling you that math is fun? Hmmm, at least for me, that did not work. Not even Big Bird could do that, and be credible. If you want to engage a program on maths, I think that we can safely avoid taking kids for stupid, and drop the “fun” or “cute” pictures. A competition of some kind would be more honest and probably better received.
You can’t have cognitively dissonant associations.
You won’t artificially create engagement based on a false premise. People will go through the effort of losing weight if they see this first as vested personal interest. It is not because they should see it that they will.
With the right message and “tone”, you can be more engaging.
Rule 3 of engagement: the tone depends on the environment and the user persona
Based on my personal experience – after format and credibility – you must aim for a non-cringey, natural and non-intrusive tone. It must feel natural. The user needs to feel at home within this environment.
Air-kisses are the tone and engagement you may expect for a fashion or luxury house, not in an IT service company. On the contrary, the wrong tone (invert the propositions above) will create cringe, resistance and disengagement. Same goes for cultural references: think of how many “mission impossible” briefings you had in sales trainings. Yeah, it really felt like an adventure.
The experience has to be non-intrusive. That is the most difficult to achieve.
Rule 4 of engagement: don’t try and dictate fun
Have a look at the YouTube programs on gamification. Most will tell you about this cute/fun/funny game they created to gamify their particular problem. My issue with it? Most don’t look fun. Regardless whether you are 10 or 70.
It is not that I think that I am funny. Having tried it, I just know than humour and fun are the most difficult activities to transfer, to translate. So, No. No-one will decide what is “fun” for you. You propose an activity, and it is within this activity that the user come and create his own fun – not because of the jolly tone and puns. That there is levity within the program is highly culture, age group and gender dependent. After all, I had to drop any (excellent) joke from this article to pass muster with my editor (Ed: too true).
We have moved from a nice to have to a must have engagement. Providing a playful and fun engagement is a condition for success. Fun does not mean “funny”. It has to respect the relation between the environment and its user, to be topical.
Set up an environment as a host to your guests
Ultimately, it all boils down to one of the greatest challenges in this future digital world: privacy.
How much AND how little does the game/App have to know to keep everyone safe yet entertained? On the one hand, if you know too much, you trespass. Do you really care to share your location to the meter with every stranger around for a couple more stars? On the other hand, if you engage in the activity, you would rather be recognised for it.
In a way, this is a return to the view that the digital and physical realities are split between Guests and Hosts. Like a good host, a good gamification invites, proposes, suggests and anticipates, but never imposes. The sanction is very simple. No game, the guest goes. Imposed activity? The guest bolts or simply shortcuts it, defeating the initial purpose.
Gamification does not need to be a “game”
Gamification. The very word does evoke games. It relates to the experience of gaming. It does not have to be about a game, nor even an App. Gamification is about creating the same engagement, focus, creativity and experience that you have in a game.
It is not about l337 speak, Fortnite or GTA, but about playful engagement on the user’s terms. It is actually being a host to your guests, and create memorable moments that will trigger a voluntary interaction. Ultimately, you want your guests to forget they are spending their limited time resources with you.
Because of the digital progresses, it is now some years that we have also gamification without a game in itself. In Pokémon Go, you get rewarded for walking x amounts. No need to click, swipe or press anything. Within that world however, you have some specific and traditional games activities (raids, captures, etc.). The addictive effect is equally shared, and the non-gamer effect is one of the core reasons why I have seen it used by over 70s in Singapore.
Putting it together: an example of gamification for a Garden Centre
Let’s start with an environment that is fundamentally gamers’ adverse both in demographics, culture or activity: gardening!
As a garden centre, your goal to become a brand that is more than just selling bags of seeds or plants. You want to be, say, a voice for sustainable gardening. A real Green Hand.
A typical gamified engagement model for a gardening centre would be to get a Plan versus Zombies format gamification, where you win online seeds to graduate into free online courses.
Instead, why not provide an overlay of Added Reality (cf. Pokémon Go for example) with stations in your garden centres themselves that optimise the visit. As the visitor walks and picks up elements, the game measures the carbon footprint of your gardening and compares it to other gardens mixes in the area. The game even suggests for you some ideal garden looks. After you completed your visit, why not invite the visitor to an onsite demo or guide him/her to a secret nature beauty spot less than 30 minutes away by bike. Maybe throw in some title that opens up priority invites for some new hyped-up restaurant? And don’t call it a game. Call it a discovery! A Walk in the Garden maybe?
Of course, this relies on investment and may even sound very futuristic. However, all of these techs exist today and are deployed. Just not in garden centres, as far as I know.
Gamification, a playful bridge to the metaverse
One environment, what you could call legitimately a multiverse in itself is Reddit. Reddit has created a near perfect experience for their users. Obviously, it comes easier and more naturally to them due to their context. It has most of the perfect features in engagement, tone, non-intrusiveness, features and possibilities. The users themselves can actually vote awards to their favourite articles, apart from the usual up and down vote. Ultimately, once a year you will get a summary of your activity but actually with a title and a specific avatar.
The new digital opportunities and the will to create the necessary bridges between realities, systems, media, environments, groups and individuals, creates an opportunity to engage better with the users.
So far, gamification has fallen short of its potential, as it often tried to shoehorn solutions and cultures where they were not needed, welcomed or understood. It is too often missing its mark.
Readjustment of the tone, tools, format to the user targets will enhance the experience. It will also be a large part of the brand identity in the metaverse.
Ready. Get Set. Go.
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