Ebb, flow and breathing time in gamification design

Each game has moments where all the action takes place and then there are moments where it looks as if nothing is happening and it allows for breathing space and reflection. I would say the analogy to life as a business owner is similar, sometimes you have a lot of things to juggle and then there are times where you sense it may all be a bit too slow for your liking but it allows you to catch up with the work that had less urgency or just simply a break.

In our gamification design, we also want to allow for this. Especially when creating designs that aim to achieve productivity or reaching of goals, we want deadline counters but at the same time we would also want to have reflection zones. Reflection zones can come in the form of analytics of your activity, benchmarks and also actively looking for a reflection on activity through learning points and what would you do differently next time requests.

Successful athletes would review competitions and analyse where they can gain and tweak actions for further improvement. In their situation, it may be the difference between winning a medal or being number 4, who works just as hard but goes home empty-handed. In my view, it should be part of all courses, projects and work in general to reflect what you are taking away as great working practices and what you will change and attempt in a different way next time. Incrementally setting yourself up for better levels of success.

What are you doing to build in breathing space in your gamification design?

What does success look like?

In all of our gamification design work, we ask the question to break down what will tell them that they have been successful with this project. I have rarely had a straight answer, it usually requires a bit of thought and reflection on what it truly is that people would consider as a successful outcome. Because we often work on the theme of increasing engagement, we will also ask to first define engagement and then to break it down into measurable steps.

It seems like an obvious question, yet very few people when embarking on a gamification project seem to start with the end in mind. Usually the conversation they have had is, wouldn’t it be great if we had the world of warcraft of business productivity or we want a formula 1 race style competition for sales. It may sound funny, but when people come with that kind of narrative, my first question is why? At that point the real reasons come out.

One thing to watch out for is that gamification is often thought of as a solution to poor or mediocre people management practices. I usually point out early on that if people management is not addressed in the process, then the investment may not succeed. Meaning that really where a manager should be speaking to his or her team or individuals within it, no game mechanic or dynamic will replace it.

What we encourage clients to do when coming up with the behaviour they want to encourage to achieve their vision of success, is to look at the highly productive or the highly successful already working for them. Examine what it is they do consistently and break that down into a process that could be transferred to others. We did it for a sales organisation, where there was a vast discrepancy between the consistently great and the hit and miss sales people. In fact analysing the behaviours found that the successful people were making more calls, asking more questions, spending more time understanding their client and asking for feedback on the potential solution as well as asking for the sale. You may think that this sounds obvious, but the behaviours of those that only hit their targets some of the time, displayed a different pattern typically starting with less calls, not many useful questions, etc.

So in order to gamify for success, we know we had to build in learning related quests to upskill the ones who were not yet consistent. For those that were already hitting targets, there were personal stretch goals or fine tuning of a specific skill. Each month you could qualify for a lunch club based on some specific metrics of the month, the lunch club included meeting people of importance from senior management to local success stories.

Defining success is an essential part for any gamification designer to be able to design win conditions around, you need them for the overall game purposes but also for all the levels and quests in between.

How to manage a gamification pilot test?

In our gamification design work we often recommend setting up a pilot test, to test that are design assumptions are indeed correct and appropriate for the audience. In our design process a pilot test comes after we have established objectives for the gamification design given the company culture and the environment it operates in. It also typically comes after our user research phase. The reason for this is that we want to make sure our design is taking into account the crucial factor of setting up for results and understanding your player.

When it comes to pilot tests, they are not the final roll-out. These often are mocking-ups of what the design will look like or tests of the functionality with really crude looking wire frames. We have also carried out pilot tests on paper, whiteboards and even powerpoint. The most important is that we choose a representative group of people to experience it and have a look at it. Representative of the majority of the workforce, a mix of gender typically speaking, a mix of seniority and a mix of how uses may differ among the target group. For example if we are working on a gamified learning scenario, we want a few learners, their managers and then a combination of HR and learning team members who may be the administrators for the tools.

Presenting your prototype to the pilot group can be via weblink to tools such as Invisio, sometimes we use learning authoring viewers, other times we are present in person to elicit responses especially if we have gone for paper or whiteboard solutions. We tend to have a survey set-up to capture the likes and dislikes and the obvious stumbling blocks or niceties as perceived by the pilot testers. We aim for an 80% or above approval rate and when feedback came back several times from users then we will also tweak the design to ensure the go-live version has an optimal structure based on the feedback.

The size of the pilot group can vary, if we are working on a multinational scale, we want people in all location to be represented. If it is a secret roll-out, where the majority is kept out of the information loop, then we work with the project team and a small selection of fresh eyes, who need to sign confidentiality agreements. In any case always ask at user research, whether people want to be part of the pilot test group who get’s to see everything. That way you set yourself up for a good sample size for your pilot group. It is rare if the ones giving input into user research totally opt out in further parts of the roll-out other than time constraints, it’s the lovely curiosity motivation that wants us to find out what our input is influencing.

When you complete the pilot test, look at the data collected objectively and then decide on your strategy of what you will change, what you will keep and how to go about your roll-out in practical terms for the whole organisation.

If you want us to run your gamification design scenarios, by all means get in touch, we would love to assist!


Defining success

In all our gamification projects we look for a definition of success for the project, but also for a definition of what success looks like for the end-user. As most of our work is enterprise based, it is surprising how few employees know what they need to do to complete a ‘good days’ work.

Most employees are faced with the vast unknown and the dreaded annual or twice per year annual review. In some cases this includes performance from earlier in the year. Very often only most recent work is recorded. With changing demands and requirements, fear and uncertainty regarding job security and perception of performance by bosses can rule the day. Communication is obviously key first and foremost. Systems can be reminders or enablers to spot when someone needs help or further input.

If you ask different people for their definition of success, you will probably have as many definitions as you have people. Yet in each project we aim to understand what is considered good or bad. A lot of the time this is the first time this is openly discussed. We then tend to work towards a common denominator with some playroom for each manager of a team to increase or decrease standards based on the kind of work that needs to be done. Often the definition includes completion and then standards for the work. For example accuracy may be negotiable in some functions, but not in others.

What we basically want to promote is for any individual to know whether their effort was directed in a way that will be respected by their respective manager or whether they are not hitting the mark. Most people do want to give our best work and be proud of it. One of the core problems with lack of employee engagement is uncertainty and lack of feedback.

The tools we work with and out gamification design will look at ways to specify what constitutes positive or negative feedback. We actively encourage positive behaviour and we don’t reinforce negative behaviour.


Gamification Mechanic Monday: Trophy Cabinet

Gamification Mechanic Monday: Trophy Cabinet

Some games have a trophy wall where you can display your items, others allow you to carry a special avatar to display your special achievements and others just show the level. In real life if you have done sports or other competitive adventures, there typically are nice trophies to be won, which most people will put on display in a prominent place in their home. I sure remember all my little trophies found a home on a shelf in my bedroom. They were special to me and a reminder of an achievement. In sailing racing, some of the helmsmen I sailed with made seriously special cabinets for also handcrafted and good-looking trophies.

In schools we often find a trophy cabinet in the principal’s area or main entrance to display how good the school is at encouraging achievement. In businesses you will often see trophies displayed in the reception area, the CEO’s office or the office of the winners, many businesses also use them on their websites as third party endorsements of their achievement.

The key with trophies is that they need to be meaningful and a result of effort. When you just won a race over a long-standing opponent, you may treasure the prize more than for example the race you won in the first minutes. I came home from the New York marathon with my finisher’s medal and although it was my slowest race ever, it took massive effort to get to the line and that medal signifies all the sweat and hard work I left on the streets of New York as well as the support from 2 fellow runners, who I teamed up with to get us all across the line. I have completed other marathons and earned the medal, but that one is special. Maybe followed closely by my first ever marathon.

It is the psychological booster from seeing achievement, that will build you up for more. When you know it took work to earn it and then see it on a regular basis, your subconscious mind will also remember you can achieve and win again in future. Most businesses buyers will look for third party evidence that you are worth buying from and a trophy wall or cabinet or display of achievement on your site will generate this. It also provides potential great stories that can build empathy and understanding.

Where do you have your trophies?

Gamification Mechanic Monday: progress loss

Gamification Mechanic Monday: progress loss

In a few apps I use to track progress on my fitness, language learning, drinking water amongst other things (I do love tracking stuff in general) some include a progress loss game mechanic to indicate when you fell off the track. It is feedback on how you do no more no less. Typically progress loss happens for not checking in on a regular basis or not tracking progress. In some games you may even lose skills or levels if you no longer play or log in on a regular basis.

Although it is good to have consequences for not being consistent with progress, it can also cause a level of added demotivation. I always feel there should be an option to pause or freeze progress loss when you know you have a pretty hectic work period ahead and games or apps are not the highest priority not best use of your time at that point. I prefer the simply tracking the positives such as a 21 day consistency streak in my water balance app or a day streak from duolingo when I am on top of my learning. Inherently I know that being a regular learner will increase my chances of learning and retaining the knowledge, but sometimes other life events take priority.

Where have you experienced progress loss and found it helpful?

Gamification Mechanic Monday: Win conditions

Gamification Mechanic Monday: Win conditions

In order to win in computer games, you often have to master the level and play it a few times before you actually achieve the win conditions necessary to win and move forward. In sports lots of training and taking part in competitions will have an impact on your chances to win. All things being equal, you don’t know how the competition is preparing but the best you can do is create ideal win conditions for yourself.

I am not sure if mental state plays as much a part or maybe not as consciously in computer games as it does in real life and sports. Maybe that is exactly the differentiator that in computer games failure is part and parcel of moving forward in the game and the opportunity to win again presents itself every time you have a life left. In reality we may invest a lot more attachment to the actual outcome and maybe that in itself may not be an ideal win condition. However I would say with confidence that those who win in sports and life do come with an ‘I deserve to win’ mental state, because they know they have done the ground work and put in place win conditions.

The majority of players gives up before the big win, because they are not prepared to do the necessary grunt work in order to achieve the higher echelons. Even in computer games, only .1% of players tends to keep moving forward when new levels come out and they put in the work despite losing more than winning so they can fine-tune their game play strategies and ultimately win more.

What will it take to create your win conditions for your goal?


Gamification Mechanic Monday: option to quit

Gamification Mechanic Monday: option to quit

At the weekend I was playing a game of Candy Crush Soda and I knew part of the way through that I wouldn’t make it. At that point I wondered if there was a quit button, in order to shortcut the further waste of time and lack of chance of finishing successfully. Ironically I hadn’t used it before up until then, so I had to look for the quit option. I had the feedback from having played the level before that if I hadn’t enough moves left, I wouldn’t clear the 4 elements required to win.

In an enterprise situation we may not have the full visual feedback a game gives us, but we may see tell-tale signs that a project is going south. In some cases a quit and restart or a quit and abandon may be the best way forward. In a game we do this automatically without losing sleep or worry over it. When it comes to a work project however, the higher the stakes the more emotional attachment goes in to the need for the project to succeed.

It is easy to quite writing a document and start again, but when you have started a project and the feedback is starting to send a very strong message that what you are trying to do is not working, then the stakes are higher. In a lot of organisations failing at a large project would be considered career suicide and may follow someone for some time, even when you did everything possible to steer the project towards good health and you mitigated risks as much as viably possible. In open-minded and risk tolerant organisations however, the chance to quit and re-start is encouraged, just like you would in a game.

In the games industry the majority of game releases fail or don’t reach enough of an audience to make them viable. Success stories are rare gems if put in contrast to the vast numbers of games released every day. You can do your best, create the best possible game, yet for whatever reason it doesn’t capture the imagination of players, you may still have to let the game go.

What would you be allowed to quit and restart in your organisation?