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Mastering the Game: Successful Gamification
By Makan
Sep. 28, 2016

The correct use of gamification can be the difference between someone loathing their experience with a task and someone being motivated to carry on doing it. In the consumer world, gamification has seen huge success in changing the way we learn, keep fit and healthy, and engage with other people on both a social and competitive level. In business, it has helped motivate workforces at a time where almost three quarters of the workforce are disengaged.

So how do we use gamification successfully to improve behaviours to everyone’s benefit? Let’s take a look at what gamification is and how it can be implemented in a product or service.

What is Gamification?

Coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, the term 'gamification' only became popular around 2010 when it became a buzzword among business reformists and the media alike. It holds different meaning to different people, however its principles are generally the same: introducing game elements and mechanics to enhance a product, service or process. Examples include points systems for Air Miles and regular shoppers, positive feedback and level architecture for learning and fitness apps, as well as leaderboards for internal sales teams.

Gamification is not about turning everything into a game, nor is it a golden ticket to success, but instead a method by which we can attempt to change people’s behaviours to improve experiences. There have been many attempts to gamify tasks which have failed to make any improvement, and in some cases have actually made experiences worse. Gartner estimated that "80% of gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design".

The concept of gamification has been around a while, and despite seeing some successful adoption it has struggled to ingrain itself as a core requirement in application and process design. It’s name and connotations paint a picture of an unproductive and unprofessional environment despite it’s sole purpose being the opposite. It's also one of many user experience design instruments deemed risky and non-essential, however as attitudes towards the importance of good user experience are changing for the better, it's likely that we will see the emergence of gamification across a broad range of functions across all industries.

Successful Gamification

Taking a look at some gamified systems, we can see examples of where gamification has been successfully implemented across various physical and digital platforms to enhance user/customer experience.

Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs comes in many shapes and sizes, and some of them have been around for decades. The most prevalent of them are frequent flyer rewards and store cards.

Airlines began rewarding customers who flew with their planes in the early 80s, and these rewards came in the form of a virtual currency, which would eventually total enough to spend on another flight. This form of reward encourages users to make repeat visits to a particular company, and stimulates loyalty by displaying this different currency as a spendable asset that they own. Later, as with supermarket loyalty programs, these programs began to allow users to spend their points on other related services such as hotels and hire cars, and even partner airline brands. 

Stores of varying sizes have found different approaches better suited for their loyalty program needs. Larger supermarkets and pharmaceuticals use complex algorithms to calculate what a consumer might want based on their previous purchases and profile. Then they can entice customers back to their store over others by offering free vouchers, either simply monetary or product discounts, giving them a feeling that they will save money having earned the discount.

Stores and service providers with smaller product ranges tend to simplify their rewards programs by providing levels of rewards and member benefits, earned from frequent visits and purchases. One such franchise is Starbucks, who use a loyalty card scheme also available as a mobile phone app, which not only entitles customers to 'stars' which can earn free drinks, but also free extra shots of coffee and syrups to add to their drink.

Nike+

Nike+ is an ecosystem from Nike, a sports clothing and equipment manufacturer, created to encourage it’s users to exercise more through monitoring fitness progress and social features. With the emergence of more powerful mobile devices and accessories, Nike was able to track athletes and sports enthusiasts alike with relative accuracy and provide feedback, such as running distances and speed, mapped routes and calories burnt. Nike provides this service for free to anyone, and whilst the company does not profit from the ecosystem directly, it serves as a useful platform for brand awareness and product advertising.

Although many sports are games by definition, Nike managed to gamify elements of training and exercise which were previously a chore, or even impossible to do, without the use of modern technology. Daily and weekly targets of distances moved or calories burnt could be easily tracked across multiple activities, from running to weightlifting, and awards were presented for successfully reaching these targets.

As part of the Nike+ Running app which was released for iPhone and Android devices free of charge, Nike sponsored celebrities and sports personalities to create voice messages of encouragement which would be played to users during their runs to motivate them. The messages, including some from Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods and Paula Radcliffe, included lines like "You’re half way there, keep going" and "Only one more minute to go".

A social element was also available in their apps, where users could share their recent activity on social media, and challenge them there or in the app’s built in 'friends' interface which also serves as a way to encourage friendly competition.

Duolingo

Duolingo is one of the best examples of gamification being used in new ways to enhance a traditionally mundane task of learning a language into a rewarding and encouraging experience. Whilst traditional methods of teaching linguistics also encourage following set courses, Duolingo builds on this foundation by using a level-based approach, where users must unlock the next parts of the course by proving their competence in previous sections. This sets a challenge to the user by showing them which sections they are yet to unlock, and displaying their current progress so that they can feel a sense of advancement.

Users are also presented with a simple grading system at the end of each set of challenges which, upon scoring top marks or completing all section challenges, presents a golden badge with a pleasant animation as a reward. The points earned from the completion of challenges also count towards a daily target and 'streak' statuses, which Duolingo uses as motivation to encourage the user to learn/play more often. Combined with an incredibly simple, clean and colourful user interface these interactions with the application make learning languages fun and engaging.

The last but most important aspect of Duolingo’s teaching method is the conversion of the whole learning process into challenges. There is not one part of the learning process where the user is required to study by themselves without motivation, guidance or feedback. In doing so, Duolingo took a radical new approach which not even the industry leaders (Rosetta Stone) had risked at the time. This required detailed research, planning and testing with users to find the right balance of interaction and learning to ensure the best user experience possible without sacrificing the productivity of the process.

Implementing Gamification

The most important step of gamification is recognising where (if any) the problems lie in a task. As we have seen from the examples above, there are many different ways to gamify a product or service, but that doesn’t mean that they are all appropriate.

For example, in a notes app on a smartphone, the note editing screen has very basic functionality requirements, and introducing any additional game elements onto the main interface would only serve to distract the user. However, the management of notes has always been a laborious and sometimes challenging task given their abstract structure, so creating a more enjoyable experience for organizing and deleting notes may improve the experience enough that users are encouraged to do them.

To gamify these basic interactions, simplicity is key, and something even as small as pleasant animations for action transitions can improve user experience. Creating a meaningful and enjoyable animation when a user deletes a note will provide enough positive feedback to encourage that user to keep deleting and organizing their notes, and in doing so will be motivated to carry on using the app.

Another example would be e-commerce websites that run on very low margins, and cannot afford to implement reward schemes whilst staying competitive. In these cases, customers may need motivation in the form of entitlement and social interaction. Implementing levels and statuses that users can earn for rating and reviewing products on a website, is all the encouragement users need to become part of a helpful community and advocates of your service and products.

The most important thing to note about gamification is that it all comes down to the emotion that a user feels towards your products. If they have a bad time, they will let others know and not want to be repeat customers. Anything to improve their experience, whether it is smooth and pleasant animations, helpful and non-threatening error messages, or a fully-featured reward system, keeping the customer happy is the number one priority.

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