The Science of Gamification

Gamification, game mechanics added upon behavioral mechanics, game design, however you want to talk about the “g” word, one thing is clear—we are entering a new era of gaming. Players are shifting away from zero-sum games, opting for more social gaming counterparts that include elements of collaboration, altruism, and meaning beyond the big “W” or just as big “L”. To study the behavior of gamers, we need more than just subjective accounts as to why the world is seeing a change in gamer demographics. By understanding the ebb and flow of gamer demographics, designers will be able to design better-engaging gamified apps for the digital native world.

Flipping the point of focus, designers need to know more than just the psyche of gamers to be able to build successful gamified solutions. Basing implementation off of science and iterative design, designers constantly refer back to academic textbooks and research publications to find new, cutting edge ideas that potentially could hook the entire world on games. The following is an example of what a designers’ cookbook of scientific ingredients used in gamification looks like today. These sciences range in focus on the end user to the designer, including topics such as anthropology to computer science.

Gamification Cookbook

1. Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of humanity and its interaction under many different social contexts. It is important to remember that play is a natural state of learning. From play, games are created from rule-based logic. Sports are a great example of great games that have stood the test of time because they incorporate both play and game elements. Studying humanity as a whole gives us insight as to how we globally like to play and game.

2. Sociology

Sociology is the study of a society. Similar to the study of humanity except this looks at a smaller subset of people, typically specific cultures, cities, etc. Great design principles come from understanding cultural gamification. Each culture views games differently in relation to their use, so it would be important to understand a culture before designing for its members. The cultural dimensions provide a great place to start.



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.


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