Using powerful game design techniques for a successful enterprise gamification design

The biggest worry in the field of enterprise gamification is the prediction made by Gartner saying that 80% of the gamified applications would fail. It is important to look beyond the traditional approaches of game design to understand what drives player motivation. This will allow us to dig deeper to decide how to really make well-designed, fun and engaging games.

The reason to fail – Expecting more than what it could deliver
The most important thing to understand is the fact that gamification is not a magic solution for every business problem. It’s just a facilitator to drive engagement and fun in traditional business applications. The biggest failure in a gamification design is to use bunch of common gamification techniques for an application that does not need them.

PBL is not everything
People often misunderstand game design as just the use of badges, points and leaderboards. This can lead to a situation where the company ends up introducing 100s of badges that nobody is able to unlock and another dozens of leaderboards nobody takes the time to look at. Points can be a motivator but if you end up giving points without directing them towards specific rewards, it also can create active disengagement in the community. The idea is that PBL (points, badges and leaderboards) is just another set of game mechanics among 100s of others. There are certain applications where the use of badges and points create better game environments, but there can be successful game design without the use of any of these as well. The fundamental point is that PBL is not the ultimate, end-all-be all to game design. Every gamification design should be initiated with an understanding of the business objectives to achieve and the behaviors to be driven. Once these are in place, then it’s time for design engagement.

Understanding flow of the game – Keep the player motivated
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian psychology professor introduced “Flow” which covers vital aspects of successful game design. According to Mihaly’s research, every game player has a status between anxiety and boredom. When a player gains higher skills in a given game, he feels bored if the game doesn’t become challenging enough, or on the other hand if the game is too hard to play he become anxious and frustrated with it. In both the cases, the player disengages with the system. Hence the ideal design would keep the player within the “flow”. 

 Flow – Where the player ideally should stay

 Mihaly went on to describe that if the player is within the flow, he would be intrinsically motivated to play and the rewards become secondary. In other words, a successful enterprise gamification design involves creating a smooth flow for the players who will face smaller, easily achievable tasks at the inception and the challenges become high when the player progresses further. In gamification, this process is known as Scaffolding and starts once the player is onboarded and takes him or her to the mastery. Scaffolding is a must in every successful game design.

Below are a few key techniques to make game design even better:

Tell them what to do, make the initial tasks motivating and rewarding
The first technique is to have a good onboarding session for the game. The father of the self-efficacy theory, Albert Bandura explains that the players will start the game if they perceive it to be within their grasp to compete and win. Likewise when the player starts the game, it should prompt a couple of easy tasks that will help them to understand the game rules. For example, in the foursquare app, a newbie badge is awarded to those who join the game for the first time. This helps the player to understand the badge structure and also see the available badge types. Additionally, the new players are awarded with something that can be shared with friends, which. leads the player to have self-confidence to progress in the game without being anxious or frustrated.

Keep telling stories – be a personal assistance.
Why does the corporate leadership have secretaries or personal assistants? It’s not because they can’t keep themselves organized, but they would like someone to keep them informed about their meetings, appointments and help them to prioritize their work schedules. Similarly in a gaming environment, players would like someone to advise them on progressing through the game fast. The game itself should tell the players of any incoming challenges, help them to prepare for those and also help to prioritize action items. Every good game has a smooth story from inception to the final goal with specific set of tasks. The player doesn’t know it but the game designer does. A successful game design keeps the player informed about the task and takes maximum effort to “complete the task,” whereas a bad design keeps the player wondering what to do next. As an extension, it’s better to keep the assistant personalized so that the assistant can keep informing about how others are performing in the game and what the best practices they use to progress faster.

Let the player to choose, but make the options limited – go with the flow
Most people prefer having multiple options to choose from. But in a tensed environment where decision making required, it’s harder to choose from dozens of option. On the other hand, having multiple options can make the player stressed. Behavioral psychology explains that giving too many choices can increase the probability of quitting as well as it can take the player mindset off from the goal target. The ideal enterprise gamification design will provide choices that are different from each other and would not take the player off from the goal, but it helps the player to do some additional tasks to earn bonus points. As described earlier, the assistant can always advise the player on his time and effort availability in going after those bonus points. When the player progresses higher in the game, the choices can also increase since the game becomes familiar and the player knows the work patterns and outcome. But it’s always advisable not to provide too many options or any option at all at the beginning of the game since it creates confusion and frustration.

Connecting the dots
In summary, a successful game design provides clear direction and the number of options improves with the skills over time. Apart from the techniques that we spoke about, a successful gamification design should employ a powerful social strategy. I explained in my previous blog that game mechanics become meaningful only if it has a relevant social audience. More importantly a successful gamification design will keep the players intrinsically motivated when the rewards become optional. Most of the bad gamification designs tend to improve the player adoption purely via the rewards which works at the beginning but goes from bad to worse with time.

Even though PBLs (points, badges and leaderboard) seem to be in place for every gamified system, it’s important to understand that they are simply the secondary aspects of the overall design. Nobody plays football to get the best player trophy. They play because they are passionate to play. Likewise a successful game design makes a player (or in the enterprise level, the employee) participate in the game for the sake of playing and to enjoy the fun aspect.

Prageeth Sandakalum

Consultant, Gamification Lead - Customer Experience Management, Virtusa. Prageeth is responsible for end to end delivery of Gamification products, general technical lead operations and internal/external sales for the millennial enterprise initiative of Virtusa (V+). He is also a part of many strategic initiatives in the area of millennial enterprise solutions and assists the organization in the Go To Market strategy for the same. He is a First class honors degree holder in the field of Information Technology from University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He is also an Advanced Speaker – Bronze, specialized in Technical Presentations & Informative Speaking awarded by Toastmasters International. He was an invited guest speaker at the SharePoint & Social Business Conference 2012, USA and a speaker at Microsoft Sri Lanka Technology Forums and Various Educational Institutes including National Universities. Apart from being a researcher on Gamification and Social Business Techniques, he also loves to watch and play Cricket and Badminton, Travel around the world and do Latin American dancing.

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