Gamification verses Games

The response to my gamification talk was positive. Among our team, particularly the young single guys who still play big-budget titles, there was much excitement. A series of rapid conversations then ensued about implementation. Unfortunately, I had to be the wet blanket, despite having broached the topic.

"Let's add quizzes and give people some points for gathering some marketing data! Let's embed games in our site's logo, like Google! We'll add an arcade area and we will crush our time-on-site metrics!"

First, a game is not the same as a gamified system. A game can stand alone. It can be played for its own sake. In gamification we're taking a process that already exists and buttress it with mechanisms to amplify the fun (the "ings" I mention in the preso: collecting, competing, discovering, etc.). If you take away the gamification, that business process still exists.

Second, one doesn't just jump to adding points and rewards for any action taken on a site. In designing a gamified system (not just a game) its important to go through a six step process:

  1. define the business objectives
  2. delineate target behavior
  3. describe the players
  4. devise activity loops
  5. check reality - is this still fun?
  6. execute with the appropriate tools

"Oh course, any new initiative should be goal driven! Duh! Our goal is #winning™!"

For a media site, a realistic business objective might be more page views, increased user signups, or longer sustained activity per visit. From those goals player activities and stimuli can be derived. Those stimuli may be points, badges, and leaderboards (the PBL triad). However, it is important to consider that that may not be appropriate for everybody. While points and rewards appeal to competitive achievement types, your audience's mileage may vary.

This extra rigor is for the purpose of defining the player journey to provide meaningful, long-term engagement. Any site can add an PBL system and experience a temporary lift. However, the fun of collecting quickly wears off without a progression to somewhere (and I'm not talking redeeming points for some prize). Defining the onboarding process, providing the incremental reasons for excitement and engagement during the grind, and providing the demonstration of system mastery by the best players are all parts of a well conceived whole.