Gamification In Application Design
I would like to introduce an interesting concept on how to tackle different business problems - Gamification. First of all, don’t get confused with the name Gamification. It is not about turning everything into games and converting every website to Tetris. To avoid confusion and misunderstanding of the idea, some leading experts like to use alternative names such as “motivational design” or “human-focused design”.
Most of the systems are designed to get the job done as fast as possible. Best User Experience practices teach us that we should simplify the process by reducing necessary steps to perform some action. Amazon’s 1-Click© is a great example of this. Once a customer fills in their payment details, it takes only one press of the button to buy merchandise. It’s very important to have this kind of simplicity and efficiency in our systems, but we should never forget that customers are humans. Human-Focused Design remembers that people in the system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.
The games industry mastered the Human-Focused design long ago and created games that are like guided missiles to the motivational heart of the human psyche . From a business perspective, , we can learn from games and use this knowledge to increase user, customer and employee engagement. We should help them achieve their goals as well as the goals of companies that serve or employ them. Most importantly gamification is not about the games, it’s about the players.
To help exemplify this concept, I want to share a quote from a great book “For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business”, by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter:
“Think about a time when you were engrossed in a game. For some of you it might have been golf; for others, chess or Scrabble; for others, FarmVille or World of Warcraft. Wouldn’t you like to feel that same sense of accomplishment and flow in your work? Organizations whose employees, communities, and customers are deeply engaged will outperform those that cannot engender authentic motivation.” 
Why learn from games?
Photo by Ian Dick
Nowadays almost everyone plays games. Entertainment Software Association, in their 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry study, found that the average player’s age is 30 years old, 47% of the players are women and (s)he has been playing games for 12 years.
According to game designer Jane McGonigal, there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing computer games at least an hour a day. And the younger the person is, the more likely they’re a gamer - 97 percent of 12 to 17 year old Americans play video games. Within that group, 5 million spend more than 40 hours a week playing video games.
A lot of people think that playing games is a waste of time, but others argue that good games can build up our problem-solving resilience, improve visual attention, produce positive emotions, build stronger social relationships and simply improve quality of life .
Games are not easy; they challenge and test us to the very limit. I cannot find better words than this quote from a book “Reality is broken” by Jane McGonigal:
“In a good computer or video game you’re always playing on the very edge of your skill level, always on the brink of falling off. When you do fall off, you feel the urge to climb back on. That’s because there is virtually nothing as engaging as this state of working at the very limits of your ability.”
I want to highlight that the younger generation is a gamer generation. And they are already our customers and employees. They are used to instant feedback, want to be rewarded, track their progress and just have more fun. These trends should be accounted for when designing our systems.
Games and business?
Photo by Chris Miller
Although it might be more clear why gamification should be taken seriously, the question remains: how does it relate to your business objectives? I don’t want to expand much with this post so I will provide several great examples where gamification is applied well.
As a developer I have thanked this website millions of times for its resources. This site is probably one of the most used websites for me and other fellow programmers. It is basically a Q&A website for software developers where programmers ask questions and other programmers answer them. It’s so efficient that over 92% of Stack Overflow questions are answered — in a median time of 11 minutes.
So what makes it special?
The website has such a strong and helpful community because it has very simple game elements such as points, leaderboards, statuses and badges. Because these elements are very well aligned with the purpose of the system, everything works extremely well. As Jeff Atwood has expressed - “The game” is people teaching (and learning from) each other.
I highly recommend watching this video and learning directly from the co-founder of the website about how they came where they are and what they have learned Stack Overflow & Stack Exchange: Programming Programmers from Gamification Co on FORA.tv
As most of you know, LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. On this website you have to fill in your profile, which includes a description of your job experience, your skills, education and other work related information. For LinkedIn, it is very important that you fill in your information and complete your profile. Because you invest your time in building a great profile you will probably stick to the website and maybe even subscribe to their paid services. Since your profile will have all the necessary information about your professional life it will be very useful for other users when they search and analyze your resume.
Filling in information about yourself, remembering exact dates when you finished school or changed job is not fun at all. So most of the users started filling out their profile, got bored and decided that they have enough information. LinkedIn saw that there were many unfinished profiles and decided that they needed to somehow encourage users to finish what they started. After all, it’s beneficial for both LinkedIn and the users themselves to have a full profile.
The team came up with a progress bar which is called “percentage complete”. It reminds and encourages users to fill in their LinkedIn profile by showing how much is left to complete the profile. Because it gives you tips on how to progress and instant feedback after you fill in details, it’s very simple to take action and “play” this simple “game”. This implementation helped to increase profile completeness by about 20%. Now that does not mean we should put progress bars everywhere, but it teaches us how important it is to recognize the crucial parts of your system and how we can help make these parts simple, easier and just a little more fun. In the current version, the simple “percentage complete” progress bar has changed to a more sophisticated feature with increased functionality.
Picture from superbetter.com
Superbetter was designed by Jane McGonigal, a game designer, who suffered a head trauma and developed severe depression. As her depression worsened, she decided to design herself a game that would be a helpful coping mechanism for her illness. The game consisted of fighting the “bad guys” that made her feel depressed, using power ups (cuddling with her dog, calling a best friend, etc.) to boost her energy when she was feeling down or needing a little push. Jane created a secret identity and went on quests together with her allies: people that supported her on the mission to defeat depression. You can read more about her personal story in her blog post or watch this TED talk.
Superbetter is a tool to tackle any challenge you are faced with. It helps you build personal resilience: the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult challenges. You will create a game for yourself and it will help you track progress. Watch this video for more info:
The coolest part of this project is science behind it. It’s backed up by positive psychology, neuroscience, rehabilitation and health sciences. When you start playing, the system explains how and why it works. The system builds up confidence about itself and this motivates you to trust it and use it more.
Even though Superbetter has similar game mechanics to most of the gamified platforms, its sharp focus on what matters for the user defines it as one of the best executed platforms seen in the market. It functions by dividing your goal into smaller quests, finding out what those “bad guys” are that are preventing you from achieving those quests and using the support of people that care about you and want to help you. Gamification in this sense works really well as it helps users stay motivated, track their progress and have more fun.
In this post I wanted to look briefly into the deep and interesting field of Gamification and its several examples. It is a basic introduction and I encourage you to learn more. I highly recommend taking an online course at Coursera or reading one of the many books dedicated to Gamification. You can find a lot of useful material at gamification wiki. Of course, you can always contact us or leave a comment and we can discuss how to apply gamification for your own projects.
I want to leave you with an inspiring initiative from Volkswagen - “We believe that the easiest way to change people's behavior for the better is by making it fun to do.”
 - For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business, Kevin Werbach, Dan Hunter, 2012, http://wdp.wharton.upenn.edu/books/for-the-win/
 - Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal, 2011, http://janemcgonigal.com/my-book/