Social Web Apps Design
Online Community Development

Gamification: Motivation and Engagement

by Andrzej on January 18, 2012

What’s Game Good For?

Before we can talk about applying game mechanics to anything, we need to understand what a game actually us. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a game as “a form or spell of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength or luck.”

That’s pretty hard to digest as a something you can say to a decision maker! However, if we break it down further we can start to get at some core ideas that should help. Play and sport are all activities or tasks. Played is not a strong word in the corporate world. It conjures images of nerds playing quake after hours on the corporate network. So instead, how about we use completed.

Rules Can Be Starting Points

Next, rules. We all have rules, but it is not something you hear people talking about in businesses. Instead, we could say parameters or guidelines. All projects have parameters or guidelines. That leaves us with a new definition, that really does mean the same as before, but one that is easier to apply to day-to-day activities. “A task that is completed according to a set of parameters or guidelines.”

Give Us Tasks / Call to Action

Sounds familiar, but doesn’t sound much fun now, does it? You have to look deeper into what games are, beyond the words on a page. Games are fun, but why?

Throw Me Something

Rewards. Every game you play, from childhood and onwards is based around a simple principal. Complete a task, get some kind of reward, enjoy the process and repeat. The last bit of the definition gives us more; “decided by skill, strength or luck”. To complete these tasks and to get the rewards, you need to demonstrate some kind of skill.

How do you make a task fun?

The task can be anything from jumping over barrels in Donkey Kong to learning the basics. In the case of Donkey Kong, there are two rewards for the task. The first is the fun of the challenge. It is fun to jump those barrels, you enjoy perfecting the skills needed to achieve the task. The second is the satisfaction of completing a level and being rewarded with a virtual kiss from the damsel. Task and reward.

Learning your ABC’s is not intrinsically fun if it is just done through repetition. There is very little joy to be had from the task its self. However, add some word association to it, add a reward or two – such as merit marks or extra playtime – and suddenly we have a game. The task has been made more enjoyable with the addition of a reward for completing it.

This means we need to add back two important ideas to the new definition: competition and skill: “A task that is completed according to a set of parameters or guidelines in a fun, competitive and skilful way.”

Where is gamification in the real world?

It is at this point that you should start to see what we mean by gamification and how it can work. Let’s look at a couple of examples of how these simple ideas have been used in the real world.

First, a very simple concept that has been used a lot in the last few years are Badges or Awards. I have personally used them on my Games Review Site recently, to quite a bit of success. The idea is that for tasks that have been achieved on the website, badges and experience points are awarded. So on the site; if a user has a review published, they get some points. If it is their first, then they will also get a badge on their profile. If they have 10 published, they get another badge and so on. Editors get points and badges for adding news, publishing articles and editing reviews. League tables are then available to show how well each team member is doing each month. A little bit of competition builds between the editors and suddenly we are getting more news, reviews and articles published than ever before.

Daverage Profile

Another great example of this task and reward system being used in the real world is with a GPS system called Waze. You install an app on your mobile device and start to use it in just the same way as GPS. However, the game is in helping other drivers become more aware of what is happening on the roads around them. If you are stuck in traffic, you can get your passenger (safety first) to report the jam to other users. This then appears on all the other drivers’ maps and alerts them to the problem. It also earns you some points and badges. Again, the simple task of reporting traffic or road issues becomes a game.

Just recently, I read about these game mechanics being applied to Accounts Payable!. The company in question had a system in place that awarded points to individuals and teams for every line of data that was entered. At the end of each month, the team with the most points chooses a charity that the company then would donate money to. This is a great example of how adding a little bit of game theory to a very, very mundane task can make it a whole lot more interesting and rewarding.

Motivation, Engagement and Game Mechanics

At the end of the day this all boils down to one thing. Motivation. If a person is motivated, they will be more productive. Most motivation is negative. You are motivated to do your job because you need the money and don’t want to get fired. Gamification gives you the opportunity to motivate people in a much more positive way. Imagine a group of workers who are competing to be the best at even the most mundane of tasks, just because at the end of the month they may get to put a trophy on their desk. Happy workers leads to increased productivity and retention.

This nicely leads us into one of the key benefits for you, the person who first wanted to delve into gamification, engagement. Imagine people coming back to your site, over and over again, because they want to get enough visits, or actions on your site, to get the title of Chief News Monkey. This kind of engagement would be much less likely to happen if there was not something in it for the user. Humans will invariably look at all tasks with a little bit of “What’s in it for me?”. Once the user is engaged in the task, you will get more from them. On a website this would be seen in the length of time they stay on the site. Rather than just looking at the page they came for, an engaged user will maybe look at two or three extra pages, especially if they were getting rewarded for doing so. Within a company, engaged workers will be more productive. Name me one company that is seeking to reduce productivity! Employing simple game mechanics can help achieve all of this and more, if done properly.

Video games have been using this trick to achieve high retention for years now. Do you think people would continue to play Call of Duty or World of Warcraft for all this time if there was not some kind of reward for playing for longer? Of course not. Many play so that they can unlock the best weapons, or get to level 70 or unlock a particular badge they want to display on their profile. These awards motivate them to play more and more and buy new addons when they are released. Again, motivated and engaged by simple rewards.

You may not yet understand how this can help you. That’s fine. It is a hard concept to apply to work. It is even harder to sell the concept to the holders of the purse strings.

However, if motivation, engagement or productivity are things that interest you – Gamification is definitely something you will want to probe into further.

About Andrzej Marczewski

A web developer since 2000. A huge advocate of all things social media related. A dedicated life long gamer who believes that game mechanics, technology and gamification can be used to help almost anyone. size it!

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  • FOUNDUPS® Michael J Trout, CEO

    I am a Gamer. I have beta tested the greats (UO, EQ, AC, SB, DAoC, WOW etc…) and in 2001 even envisioned the gamification of education using autonomous environments to make learning free and accessible to all.

    • Saul Fleischman

      Well yes @Foundups:twitter it is essential in working with children to gamify. Reward, as Andrzej suggested (the train moving forward – see his comment way above), and kids get hooked on learning. It need not even cost you Oreo cookies!

    • Stan Faryna

      Dod you have a blog, Michael?

      • Saul Fleischman

        Michael @foundups:twitter does have a blog, @faryna:twitter but the Foundups Youtube channel will tell you far more, or our LinkedIn company page. Right, Mike? You’ll find my service listed, as well, and position in Foundups.

  • FOUNDUPS® Michael J Trout, CEO

    Great post! As a Vet Gamer. I have beta tested the greats (UO, EQ, AC, SB, Eve, DAoC, WOW etc…) I have spent hrs, weeks, years living in other worlds. And in 2001 even envisioned the gamification of education using autonomous environments to make learning free and accessible to all. In reality what we see in social media is kids play that is coming. We are gamifying being an entrepreneur and offering free fun passive, autonomous crowdfunding solution. Andrzej, I’d love to show it you! skype:foundup — again great post mate!

    • Saul Fleischman

      Thanks Michael @foundups:twitter for introducing the open startups initiative we are working on. I know @daverage:twitter Andrzej is busy with work at Capgemini and the young family, but we’ll see…

  • Jeff Bullas

    Great post! I think the role of games in education and learning is only set to increase. As you said that games creates a real deep level of engagement. Jeff

    • Saul Fleischman

      Yes, @jeffbullas its about rewarding engagement – not just in games (not my thing either), but if life, in social networks, too.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great feedback.
    It’s funny, I remember when I was 5 or 6 playing a math game on the school BBC Micro. Every correct answer moved a little train. Even then I though that this was a much better way to learn or achieve something.

    A few years ago I was working in education in elearning. There was so much going on with using games and game mechanics. From the simple stuff to second life and modified versions of neverwinter nights!

    The trouble business has had is the stigma attached to games. The reserve of the spotty teenager. Now though, games are main stream. The spotty teenagers are now business leaders, so finally we can start to reap the benefits. And to think, all they had to do, was wrap the same ideas up in a new buzz word. Gamification. It sounds sciencey. Much easier to digest than plain old games!

    Michael, I’ll definitely be on touch, thanks!!

  • Ken Hong

    I’ll be honest, I am not much of a gamer myself. I have plenty of friends who are though and it never ceases to astound me, the level of time and dedication some people put into just the playing of a game. I grew up with Atari, Commodore 64, and Intelivision. Yes, I feel old and slow when I see the graphics and advancement of the modern video game, but it fascinates me at the same time. I found your blog to be incredibly incisive and like the fact you delved a little deeper into the psychology of it.

    • OsakaSaul

      Thanks, Ken, I’m not a gamer either. Having talked with Andrzej about his work, experience, his game review site and game theory, I was glad to take this guest article from him, though. Many thanks for stopping by!

    • Saul Fleischman

      Thanks @papawu2:twitter No gamer myself, either – but after a long talk with @daverage:twitter (Andrzej), I realized what he suggested for a guest post was on game theory – for social networks, review sites – and life in general. Thanks for the visit!

    • Andrzej Marczewski

      Hi Ken, thanks for that. You are never to old to game. I just fitted a new graphics card into my fathers pc so he can better enjoy call of duty. He is 72!!
      Must admit, I go misty eyed at your mention of the C64. The first computer my parents bought me!

  • Brian D. Hawkins

    Great article and explanation. I was just reading about Gamification on Website Magazine. It’s something worth looking into and even smaller sites can take advantage of it.

    • Saul Fleischman

      Thanks Brian @hotblogtips:twitter funny thing, I was just going through what you were kind enough to share with me in StumbleUpon, to SU-like, Digg, etc. For anyone who does not know Brian, he’s quite the SU kingpin (and supportive as HELL!) You are always appreciated, buddy!

    • Andrzej Marczewski

      Hi. Thanks for the feedback!

      It is a really interesting field. Like I say in the article, I have implemented the absolute basics of achievements on my review site and it proved to be quite successful. I was reading that one company has gamified on of their data entry processes in pay roll. The employees are all put into teams. Completing data entry earns points for the team. At the end of the month the team with the most points is given a reward. Simple, but comes into the competitive part of play as well as promoting teamwork.

  • Sandor Benko

    Ah, engagement. That’s a very good explanation. I wonder how to “gamify” a blog for viewer engagement.

    • Saul Fleischman

      Thanks @SandorBenko:twitter I’d suggest, to gamify your blog, look into encouraging interaction.

      1. Show off your top commenters
      See the widget on the right side of mine, showing appreciation of top commenters? That’s easy to set up. Search the plugin directory.
      2. Let commenters promote their own blog to your readers, if you like – they love that! Look at blogs using Commentsluv for their comment system; they reward commenters by allowing them to leave a link to one of their recent blog posts. Several free and paid versions of Commentsluv to choose from.
      3. When you comment on a blog, SHARE the comment. Tweet it, Facebook-share it. As for myself, when I reply to commenters, I look up your Twitter handle, and be sure to start the comment as I have above, to share it with you (and my whole following). This shows a great many people this comment, and your original one – and what’s more, how I treat commenters on my blog.

      Its all in the recognition, thus. There are many ways to do so, study blogs, look at what’s getting heaps of interaction, and take your choice as for tactics to employ.


      • Sandor Benko

        Thanks, great! Would have never thought of 1 and 3.

      • Stan Faryna

        Saul is awesome at giving recognition. Just sayin’

    • Anonymous

      Another simple, but fun sort of activity is to create Blog Treasure hunts. Hide a few daft images on the site and offer some sort of prize or recognition to people who find them. At Christmas you could go all out, with a series of posts that act as clues.

      More obvious ways are to introduce karma. Points for commenting, points for sharing, that sort of thing. I know I say here that it is not all about awards and points, but it can be an effective first step into Gamification.

  • Stan Faryna

    I enjoyed your explanation. It’s a great start. But I have to say that the rabbit hole does go deeper. Much deeper.

    One of the immediate challenges of gamification is engagement. Does the game engage the player? A lot of aspiring GMs get it wrong – especially in the work place. But also at multi-billion dollar game companies like Zynga and Playdom even if they have wooed away the brains and ideas from EA and elsewhere with big money.

    • Andrzej Marczewski

      Hi @faryna:twitter , yes I have barely scratch the surface of what is available. Often the simple ideas are the best, but some environments just need a much more complex system to get any benefit from it. It is of those things that we are just beginning to re-invent and with luck this time we can get it right!

      • Saul Fleischman

        To add, Stan @faryna:twitter is an important man to know, @daverage:twitter and tome on game design (one of the knowledge bases that I regard him highly for), so be sure to find his blog, ideas, and you might even show him your game review site.
        And thank you very much for stopping by, Stan.

        • Andrzej Marczewski

          Thanks @osakasaul:twitter I will make sure to connect with @faryna:twitter and check out his blog – sounds very interesting :)

  • Ross Quintana

    Hey @Daverage , I enjoyed your article. Bridging the gap between gamification and business application requires a certain skill set, but businesses are slowly going to see the light. Gamification is a lot like social media. It is catching the eye of big business but they aren’t quite sure how they would integrate it into their business yet. Good opportunity for those who can show them how.

    • Andrzej Marczewski

      @Ross_Quintana:twitter thanks for the comment! I think the danger at the moment is that businesses are just going to jump on the band wagon and stick badges on stuff! Bit like when they all moved to web 2.0 (How I hate that term). Suddenly we had big bold sites, with colourful badges and social media plugins stuck everywhere! If this post helps even one person see the light even just a little bit, I will be a happy man!!

  • Candice Ross

    I am a part time gamer. (I have a baby so playing full time is not an option) My husband is a gamer. I believe gaming is good for anyone. There have been studies that show kids who play games are smart. Yes there should be a balance between games and getting some outdoor time. I believe it teaches you to work for something. Let’s face it, getting the achievements is not an easy task!

  • Christina Majaski

    Nice article. Interesting how gamification can be applied to so many different topics.

    • Andrzej Marczewski

      Hi @cmajaski:twitter and thanks. It is a great topic that I think has a lot of uses. It is also one that could easily become very abused!,

  • Andrzej Marczewski

    Thanks @aadedc825b35bd06d2fae3ff67d050e6:disqus Really all boils down to one thing. Games are fun!

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I’m afraid you’re jumping to a wrong conclusion here. The extrinsic reward structure (points badges etc) does not alter behavior nor reinforce behavior we want to reinforce. It only reinforces intrinsic rewards.

    Ex: if you win a game (chess) getting a prize will make that win feel Better, but without that win against rules you understand the prize would lose value almost immediately for you. This problem with the take-away from games is rampant in the Gamification biz today but in Game Design it’s one of the most established problems for educating new designers. Getting them to understand that rewards are only secondary to achievement. That’s why in Game Design we call them “feedback” not “rewards”. Because that’s what they really are.

    Other than that, excellent post!

    • Andrzej Marczewski

      Hi. As you say, a reward is not always the pay off. If you go to my blog and read some of my other posts on Gamification, I actually talk about the fact the reward can be the completion of the task – not always a shiny badge. If you look at this post, I do touch on this;

      The first is the fun of the challenge. It is fun to jump those barrels, you enjoy perfecting the skills needed to achieve the task .

      This post was really meant to be a very entry level look. If you think it is hard to get games designers to get this idea into their heads, try explaining to non gaming executives when you say you want to gamify their processes! At the moment, real world examples of gamification mostly revolve around the idea of achieving something tangible. It is early days though :)

  • Saul Fleischman

    Thanks, Lauri @saltarsolutions:twitter yes, Robert and I are friends. And I did see you at the very top in points in that game. Best of luck! Glad to be connected in StumbleUpon, where I see you are far more active than Robert – like me. Let’s support each other in there. Share, but your own stuff, please (I gest Robert’s via Triberr.) Thanks again!

  • Saul Fleischman

    Thanks so much Alan @afirmin:twitter and I will be happy to give @daverage Andrzej a tour of Sqrall. Of course, I’m in there. Perhaps we should talk on how Sqrall could be stickier…? Hit me up some time. BTW, Andrzej in in the UK.

  • Andrzej Marczewski

    Hi Lauri @saltarsolutions:twitter , that sounds like a great idea. I remember Orange doing a Balloon race. All websites that agreed to participate could be travelled as part of a massive race course! It was very addictive and drove some great traffic my way at the time! Glad you liked the post :)

  • Andrzej Marczewski

    Hi Alan @afirmin:twitter That sounds really interesting and thanks for the feedback! And it is interesting that you are trying to merge real world events with online events to build rewards!

  • Janet Abercrombie

    The History Tech blog referred to an online game that teaches about slavery and the Underground Railroad. It made SUCH a difference in student engagement and learning.


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