Getting Past Go With Gamification

go space on Monopoly board

Getting motivated can sometimes be hard. As technology continues to evolve it makes our lives and work easier, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re any more motivated. I may have a to-do list app that synchronizes across all my devices using cloud technology, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any more motivated to finish those tasks. Enter gamification, a design strategy that has gained popularity over the last few years as a way to engage and motivate people.

Gamification is the use of game design thinking in non-game contexts in order to create engaging and motivating experiences. Video games are an immensely popular, interactive medium that can create incredibly engaging experiences (did you know we’ve collectively spent nearly 6 million years in World of Warcraft?). The idea behind gamification is that if games are so engaging then maybe we could use similar design elements in non-game contexts to motivate people.

For example, progress bars were integrated into the professional portfolio website LinkedIn to encourage users to enter profile details by giving them a goal and clear feedback. Game elements such as experience points, levels, and characters have been used in the to-do list application Epic Win! to make it more like a role-playing game. You can even find a chore tracker called Chore Wars that turns the task of completing chores into a Dungeons and Dragons style game.

The term gamification has only been a recent addition to our vocabulary. However, there’s a long history of using game-like elements to try to motivate people and make work more enjoyable. Scouts could obtain the Eagle rank back in 1911, and even Mary Poppins had cottoned on to this, as evident from the first words from the famous song “A Spoonful of Sugar“. Designers and researchers started to explore the role of play and fun in computer applications in the early 1980s. At this time, Malone created heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces, then Draper in the late 90s looked at analyzing fun as a candidate software requirement. In the past decade, the role of play in user experience design was taken further, with concepts such as Funology and the Playful Experience Framework being proposed.

More recently, though, we’re seeing more and more applications that are using elements directly translated from video games. Foursquare in particular is a popular example. Released in 2009, Foursquare is a location sharing social network that used game-like elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards to encourage users to ‘check-in’ to physical locations with their service.

Gamification has continued to gain much more notice in both industry and the academia. Although there are still debates about the definition of gamification, the concept is nonetheless maturing. We’re now seeing more of a focus on the importance of design in gamified systems. There’s even a Loyalty and Gamification World Championships being run for the first time this year. It’s a free online competition for students and professionals to test and develop their skills and understanding of Gamification and Loyalty Marketing. There are great prizes up for grabs and you can find out more information about it on their website, The Loyalty Games. I’ll be helping out with some of the question design, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results from the contestants involved!

Zac Fitz-Walter (@zefcan) is a user experience researcher and associate lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology. He runs the Gamification Weekly newsletter and is also a massive board game nerd.

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