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Creating Better Gamification Experiences
A straightforward and quick framework to giving your users a seamless experience
Gamification is simply a way of making the boring, mundane or even hard aspects of life, fun.
The "scientific" definition would be "the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service."
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In the first edition of exploring gamification, “Designing Better Game Economies”, I wrote about the foundational approach to designing an in-game economy and examined the broad failure of P2E crypto games and NFTs executing sustainable game economy design.
When gamification experiences are executed well, they can provide catalysts to enact meaningful change. P2E games and NFT collections would be wise to study proper gamification mechanisms of the past and apply their successful incentive design.
One recent example would be “Guardians of Steel and Concrete”. Created by a Japanese NGO, the premise is a simple one; gamers are asked to rate a manhole cover by quality and the reports are sent to city engineers for maintenance. Why? If left entirely to the city engineers, it would’ve taken years to document. But, in making this into a gamified experience they documented 10,500 manholes in 3 days.
In 2010, a game designer by the name of Jesse Schell forecasted a future that he termed "Gamepocalypse". In this future, nearly every aspect of daily life would be turned into a game. From brushing your teeth to getting enough sleep.
Looking back at his forecast 12 years onwards, that statement has pretty much played out how he said it would. To know so, virtually every coffee store offers you a free coffee for doing certain things (whether that's a loyalty card or navigating the Starbucks app). In this day and age, Gamification is embraced by consumers as a way to earn discounts, track progress towards a goal or incentivize certain actions, from startups to multi-billion dollar conglomerates, to engage and ultimately retain users.
However, there is a deeper issue at play here. Gamification is only as good as the designer utilizing them. This largely means that without understanding the deeper psychology of why the proposed design would work the way it does, it's a recipe to alienate the exact user base you're trying to engage.
As it stands, there are a plethora of product developers and UX designers that focus on mechanisms like badges, points and scorecards which ultimately end up looking like a spike in the early stages but don’t translate to long-term engagement.
Funnily enough, unlike Pavlov's Dogs, humans aren't as easily conditioned to salivate at the sound of the dinner bell. The opposite has in fact been tested: extrinsic rewards may actually have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation. Delia O’Hara, writing for the American Psychological Association, explained the curious results of an influential 1971 study. Two psychologists at the University of Rochester, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, asked two groups of college students to play a cube puzzle called Soma. One group was paid to play; the other wasn’t. At the end of the timed session, those who were paid often quit assembling the puzzles to read magazines while those who weren’t, remained focused on the puzzles.
The Connecticut-based research firm Gartner, as reported in Fast Company, estimated that 80% of workplace gamification efforts fail because they don’t make gaming experiences meaningful to users.
An “easy” way to get past this would be to satisfy users via a compelling narrative. Good apps take users on a curated tour. Great apps take users on a journey in which they conceive of themselves as the protagonist and the product as a path leading them toward greater competency and, even if vicariously, personal transformation.
Mechanics (or Gamification) alone can only boost user metrics for a short time as they’re often novel user experiences that can lull the developers into a false sense of “what we’re doing is right” mentality. In the longer term, you don’t see that same lift. And sometimes, it even backfires.
So if gamification isn’t the end-all know-all solution, what is? This isn’t to say that gamification isn’t a credible tool, it is. Gamification implemented without any thought is. It’s a mixture of game design and Behavioral Science. The difference is, gamification is primarily a “mechanics first” principle and would like “let’s add scoreboards for which points can be earned via certain actions”. The better approach is to actually think about the user journey first and foremost and then decide which mechanics best serve that purpose.
How do we go and design optimal user journeys? The first step would be to think about the journey in time increments. It can be as small as the first ten minutes to an onboarding cycle lasting fourteen days.
The goal should be to start by building a core learning feedback loop and refining that in a manner which makes sense with the previously designated time increments. A great example of this design work in practice is to look at what Duolingo has achieved.
First, it’s important to note that Duolingo didn’t start with mechanics. Those mechanics came much later to support the core journey. Duolingo started off building something very narrow for a very specific group of people. They started with superfans, and created a journey by having short, engaging activities that get harder as people’s language skills improve.
The simple fact is that people thrive when they’re first given very few choices which get them up to speed, but still feel like they have autonomy. And then, as they get better and go deeper into a system or a product, they’re ready for a wider variety of choices.
Now, if we discuss what goes into designing the choices that the users will make, it helps to think of them as missions or objectives like you would get in a normal game. The biggest (and simplest) rule here is to not give the user too much choice. If the users have too many choices, they are more likely to not make any decision; they get decision fatigue.
It’s also important to design a good onboarding process in which you ask specific questions. Coming back to the Duolingo example, when you load the app with the “let’s get on with the next thing”, Duolingo is going to serve up just the right lesson; it knows your skill level. How? It does this through some simple tests. Every time you hit the *optimal zone*, you’re likely to be challenged just enough that you’re learning, but not so much that you’re like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” One such test would be before you begin to learn a language. It can be “Do you have any experience with the language you’ve chosen?”
This establishes two onboarding processes: one where you are a complete beginner (start of lessons) and the other where it tests how much you know to match your skill level.
After the user finishes learning the language to the level that they’re happy with (or they’ve figured out that this language may not be for them), then being presented with multiple options is fine as they aren’t a new user anymore. An option can be presented with something along the lines of “As you’ve tried french, a lot of the students here also learnt X, Y and Z”. Along with a community bias of not wanting to be different from all the other users, this then allows for a somewhat intuitive bridge from one language to another.
Hopefully, this exploration gives you enough guidance to start figuring out how to “Gamify” the experience you want to give to your users. This can apply to a purely crypto-solution, or it can be more web2; that’s up to you.
As we’re all acutely aware, most “gamification” mechanisms across various crypto verticals have failed so far. “GameFi” follows some of these principles but the main difference is that trading is mainly motivated by profit (remember DFK?). Becoming aware of proper gamification and mechanisms design ideally benefits market participants in avoiding the next unsustainable, hyped “GameFi” token as well as informs developers and product designers of sustainable incentive mechanisms.
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