Balancing a gamification design is no easy feat at the best of times. Keeping your end-user in mind at every given time is however essential. I actually recommend having the persona description somewhere in plain sight when you are working on the design. It will subliminally remind you of what they can and can’t do.
We are working on a gamification design aimed at a student audience for future quite technical recruitment into engineering roles. The student actually doesn’t have any technical knowledge, yet we do want to test their ability and appetite for it. It led to an interesting discussion with the client as to what we should be able to expect from someone without in-depth role knowledge.
If we forgot about the end-user, we would have come up with something amazing for the people fully skilled in the highly technical role, but a bit unfair to someone without full training. Sometimes the temptation to build something more advanced is there. It is where user testing also plays an important role. Considering it before you start prototyping means you can limit pre-working.
From a learning or recruitment gamification design perspective, knowing what you expect people to have in terms of knowledge, ability and skills before they engage with the design is part and parcel of user-research. Having a clear profile on their motivation is the first step, but assumed pre-qualification will also add the fairness factor for your design.
Making it too easy will get boring quickly, but having an early win does work to build confidence. If in doubt of the level, I would say choose slightly harder than it needs to be. My thinking here is that games such as Flappy Bird were so hard people just kept trying to beat it. Having insight into the behaviour profiles of your target audience will obviously help in setting this challenge.
When you are dealing with scientists and problem-solving professions, making a gamification design too easy, is a sure way to turn them away. They would prefer the harder puzzle or the more complex gameplay to stay engaged. For more social butterflies, easy fun is much more important and they will give up if it is too hard.
The ultimate fairness test is to observe how a group of your intended target audience engages with your design. Seeing what they figure out quickly and what they get stuck on is really quite interesting to see and you may choose to adapt your design accordingly or not.
In any gamification design, you want your player to feel that they have a chance to win and do well. Making that process fair based on their skills, ability and knowledge goes without saying but can easily be overlooked. Excitement and expectations can get the better of both the designer and the client, so ensuring you have checkpoints in place to tap back into who this is for, is important.