The Art of Gamification

As gamification’s practice and theory are derived from design principles such as game design thinking and user-centered design, we discover that it is an art to implement clever gamified solutions. The art places a strong focus on end users and how they interact with user interfaces. On the other end of the spectrum, gamification theory is a mass integration of multiple scientific disciplines. The science places a strong focus on designers and how they can use academic results to help determine best behavioral models. It is important to note that the art and science coexist to co-create best gamified solutions between end users and designer. However, the art is only truly experienced by the end user while the science is fully understood only by the designer. This discord between perspectives is what makes gamification design hard, especially when the target audience are digital natives—people who use technology as a sixth sense. Experiences need to seamlessly appear smooth and natural for people to “get hooked” on one gamified environment over another. In this two part series, we break down the art and science of gamification with the hopes to provide practical insight.

The art of gamification focuses on the core principles of identity, onboarding, scaffolding, and mastery. These principles are formed around the end users’ experiences and perspectives. Identity is manifested in the form of account creation. When users are creating an account for their gamified experience, what are the ways in which data is represented to describe you? Does the application make the user feel like a unique individual or a generic one? In RPGs such as World of Warcraft, we see identity take upon the form of multiple skills, guilds, clans, and character customization (physical features, clothes, etc.). The plethora of ways a user can create a character allows people to take on their own unique identity in the World of Warcraft realm. This uniqueness aspect to identity is what keeps people addicted to a game, and also helps for the next core principle, onboarding.

The process of onboarding gets users to go from home plate to first base. When someone first uses an application or service, what are the key features that get someone to use it more than a few times?  This answer is too open-ended for the scope of this blog post, but some answers could include gamification elements such as engagement loops, progression loops, motivational triggers, the “impossible to fail first time” element, and various others. However, the key feature is iteration. Crucial to successful onboarding comes from the idea that people learn in iterations. By offering a wide range of abilities and choices at the start, users will feel overwhelmed and lose interest. Offering meaningful choices and actions for the user in small, baby steps will keep people eager for more as long as the content is great.

Scaffolding is the process of these many iterations. Think of scaffolds as onboarding processes for different stages of a user’s experience with a service. Each stage requires new knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully get them on the last principle, the path to mastery. Scaffolding gives users more choices, actions, abilities, and motivation to want to become a master.

The end user’s perspective is focused on being and meaning rather than locations and measures. The designer is focused on locations and measures so that the end user can have a natural experience with a service. The being and meaning is manifested in art, while locations and measures are brought to surface through science. Next week, we will explore how academic advances in HCI, Big Data, Anthropology, and Psychology provide the skeletal frame for gamification designers.

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