The 5 core tenets of highly engaging gamification
Does the placement of leader boards, badges, points, levels and rewards onto an existing business process boost performance for the long-term? The answer is absolutely and unequivocally no!
Early gamification platforms promised that the addition of simple game mechanics (e.g. points, badges and leader boards) to websites and applications would create a sustained increase in motivation and engagement, drive behavioral change and subsequently boost business performance.
However, this approach does not create long-term user engagement, not does it drive the adoption of best practice habits. At best, this approach creates a short-term spike in engagement that rapidly tails and those behaviors that you were attempting to change soon returning.
To create a sustained level of engagement requires you to delve into the science of ‘behavioral motivation’. There is much that can be learnt from the world of consumer gamification, where users are being successfully engaged and motivated to participate in problem solving en masse and in virtual worlds.
Many businesses are already applying this approach in the workplace and are seeing great results. These leaders have proven gamification to be a considerably more powerful approach than current motivational techniques, using it to tap into the very core of what really motivates employees.
To harness this new approach requires a solid understanding of human behavior. It is a very different approach from the existing methods of workplace motivation and it requires us to open our minds to concepts that might at first feel counter intuitive.
Outlined in this chapter are the 5 core tenets that require careful consideration when implementing gamification.
Tenet 1 – Understand the profile of your audience
Any audience is likely to possess fundamentally different motivational characteristics within it. You need to consider these differences when thinking about the engagement dynamics for your business applications. It is vital that you understand each aspect of these characteristics if you want to entice your user’s involvement.
Early game researcher, Professor Richard A. Bartle created the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology. A series of questions and scoring that classifies players into categories of behavioural profiles (you might recognize these):
Who play games for the social aspect, rather than the actual game itself, gaining enjoyment from interaction with others or achieving as a team
Who prefer discovering and learning about new areas
Who prefer to accumulate points, levels, badges and other measurements of success in a game
Who thrive on competition with other players and prefer competing directly with them to the be the winner
To create long-term engagement, you need to think about how to successfully communicate with all your users. It is vital to establish a common language, starting with a list of verbs that describe motivations for the audience profile that we are attempting to engage. For example:
Might summon ‘collaborate’, ‘share’, ‘help’ or ‘exchange’
`might evoke ‘search’, ‘read’, ‘view’, ‘collect’ or ‘complete’
Bring to mind verbs such as ‘win’, ‘top’, ‘challenge’ or ‘pass’
Bring forth verbs such as ‘beat’, ‘brag’, ‘fight’ or ‘taunt’
- Identify your audience’s behavioural profile(s).
- List out the words that your audience will identify most strongly with and will best describe their motivations.
- Ensure these words are reflected in:
i. Every communication you use, across all channels
ii. The challenges and contests that you issue
iii. The rewards that you offer
- Make it personal:
i. Make challenges relevant to the individual, their role and the tasks they are performing
ii. Nudge users at the point they are actually taking action. This includes the ability to nudge on mobile devices, making it even more relevant to the user in terms of the timing of the delivery of the challenge
- Baseline your users current behaviours and create a data point from which progress can be measured.
Design every interaction to match your users specific behavioural characteristics.
Tenet 2 – Make it easy to learn and difficult to master
Consumer games have taught us that ‘learning’ is a key motivator that keeps people hooked and coming back for more. Think of this as the difference between a loyalty program and an engaging game. At no point are you leaning anything by participating in a loyalty program, you are just simply collecting points and rewards for your actions which in itself is not particularly engaging. A truly engaging experience increases your cognitive learning, the outcome that we crave the most; a sense of personal achievement.
Consumer games have taught us that ‘learning’ is a key motivator that keeps people hooked and coming back for more. Think of this as the difference between a loyalty program and an engaging game. At no point are you leaning anything by participating in a loyalty program, you are just simply collecting points and rewards for your actions which in itself is not particularly engaging. A truly engaging experience increases your cognitive learning, the outcome that we crave the most; a sense of personal achievement
i. This stage requires participants to learn the ropes; to understand what is required and expected of them.
ii. Expect this to require a number of weeks. Clear progression and easy to consume steps that lead to fast rewards are key.
i. By this stage users have learnt the ropes, understand the boundaries and crave fresh content, activities and challenges in order to maintain their attention.
ii. Levels and points will of course help, but you need fresh and deeper challenges to keep engagement high.
i. By this stage you created ‘enthusiasts’ or ‘masters’.
ii. This profile requires exclusivity, recognition and impact.
iii. Consider separating them into a winner’s circle or into guilds that demonstrate their understanding to peers.
iv. Consider mechanisms by which you can harness their energy, feeding it back into the system to help elevate others.
There are (at least) 3 stages in any audience’s lifecycle. You will need to make sure that your engagement dynamics are sympathetic to your user’s needs as they progress through these stages.
- Make it easy to learn: create an ‘on boarding’ experience that fosters a fast sense of achievement by creating an initial set of challenges and rewards that are easy to engage with and that deliver rapid rewards.
- Make it hard to master: as the user engagement progresses and deepens, the complexity of challenges should also increase. As a result, the delivery of rewards, points and badges should decelerate making it harder to achieve mastery but increasing the sense of achievement as a result.
Tenet 3 – Make it a pleasurable learning experience by creating a balanced flow
Games are highly engaging because the player’s experience and expertise change over time in meaningful ways. Such games give just the right amount of challenge and learning to keep the player engaged on the edge of their ability. In short, games are compelling because they are a pleasurable learning experience – they offer up skills to master, and reward you with greater challenges and opportunities.
It is essential to increase the degree of challenge as a user increases their skill and confidence. This is knows as creating a balanced ‘flow’.
If you make the challenges too easy (or simply repeat the same challenges) the user will experience boredom and disengage. If you make the challenges too hard the user will experience anxiety and again, disengage.
The diagram above shows how, from active participation over time, the user gains experience and skills. However, the degree of challenge issued to them must keep pace and increase over time to avoid the user disengaging and slipping out of the ‘flow channel’.
The trick to creating sustained engagement is:
- For complex challenges, consider breaking them down into a series of steps which allow the users to reach the end outcome without it appearing too daunting at the outset.
- Keep it tightly focused, don’t be tempted to motivate lots of different behaviours at once. Pick 2 or 3 and introduce more over time as the skill and confidence levels increase.
- Lastly, consider introducing additional game mechanics (as well as additional challenges) over time. Avoid giving everything away up-front.
Tenet 4 – Build positive emotions into your user engagement
In this context think of ‘user engagement’ as the series of steps that you need to take to create the sustained engagement levels that will drive the outcomes you seek.
- Design different engagement loops for each of the three stages of player lifecycle previously mentioned (novice, expert and master), as the engagement requirements at each stage are very different.
- Carefully prepare all communications in advance, design them to convey a positive experience, one that is about learning and progression as this will drive enhanced results.
- Ensure participants are rewarded in an appropriate way and at the appropriate time that reflects both their behavioural profile and is proportionate to the actions they have taken. (Download our ebook to see 115 ways to reward your sales team and thrill a winner)
- Participants should be regularly reminded about what they have learnt and why. Opportunities to apply recently learned cognitive skills should be made readily available, with additional rewards provided for extending these newly acquired skills.
Tenet 5 – Embrace intrinsic motivators – autonomy, mastery and purpose
This again is an area where we need to break down traditional thinking that financial rewards are the best and only motivator. As demonstrated by Dan Pink in his book, Drive, in the case of complex cognitive tasks the reverse can actually be true.
Pink asserts that there are in fact 3 main behavioural motivation drivers:
- Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives
- Mastery: the urge to get better at something that matters to us
- Purpose (or belonging): the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves
If you can design your user engagement to tap into these intrinsic motivational drivers you will discover that they are in fact FAR more powerful than extrinsic drivers such as points, levels or financial rewards.
- Extrinsic motivators are great for simple cognitive tasks, but they alone will not allow you to achieve sustained motivation. This only comes when something (e.g. learning new skills) is so important to you that it acts as the motivator to keep you coming back.
- Intrinsic motivators are by far the most powerful. For example, ‘meaning’ may motivate you. As such, it is likely that insight into how your actions are contributing to the success of a greater team or corporate goal will be highly motivational to you. Designing user interactions to tap into intrinsic motivations is therefore an imperative for long-term success.
A successful gamification approach in sales and customer service requires that we learn what has happened in consumer gaming. Simply adding game mechanics such as points, badges and leader boards will not drive enduring engagement or best practice processes and in turn will not drive sustained increase in business performance.
Success requires all of the following factors:
- A good understanding of your audience’s motivation profile and how you will tap into their key intrinsic motivations.
- The carefully considered use of game mechanics, dynamics and content that caters for an engagement journey spanning at least 12 months out.
- Marketing communication content that highlights the positive emotions and is well tuned to the audience profile.
- The discipline to regularly review, tune and refresh the behavioural engagement content to make sure it continually taps into people’s natural design for autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Only then will you see success and deliver a sustained increase in business performance.