CATEGORY

BEHAVIOURAL DESIGN

 

Gamification, the use of game design, game elements and play for non-entertainment purposes, is a divisive word. It conjures pictures of employees and customers playing video games, where in reality it very rarely looks like that.

Gamification, in its purest form, borrows from games to increase engagement with an activity. It could simply be that the addition of clear goals and feedback in the form of progress maps and scores can achieve this. On the other hand, a strong narrative and game-like look and feel might be the best way achieve the specified business outcomes.

The point is that gamification needs to be applied in a way that fits a well-defined brief, achieves the business outcomes and balances the client’s wants with the client’s needs (which are often at odds).

However, far too often we see “Gimmick Gamification”, that looks pretty but achieves very little. It relies on the novelty factor but has no eye to longevity. It is easy to understand why though. The addition of a simple game to a website looks like a good idea. “Games are fun, people like games, a game will stick in people’s memories, and make us look innovative and exciting”.

The trouble is, the game has to achieve something for both the client and the player. For example, if the client is looking for repeated visits, then often the game will focus on short bursts of play with the promise of a reward for repeat visits. The game is usually very simple and becomes boring quickly. In this instance the rewards have to be very special to maintain at least mid-term engagement. More often than not all that will happen is short bursts of activity as new users discover the game, but very few returning players.

 

 

On the flip side, if the game is amazing, but the rewards and messaging are poor, all that you get is players engaging with the game, not the brand! If you are going to rely on a game, it needs to strike a balance of deep gameplay and desirable rewards, but this will and should take time to design.

That’s why good gamification usually focuses on borrowing from games rather than trying to build games. It requires an understanding of the target audience and of what they want and need as well as what the client wants and needs. It requires an understanding of what motivates people to engage over long periods. It requires time and development if it is going to deliver results.

If you want a quick adrenaline shot, the Gimmick Gamification might be for you. If you want sustained and long-term engagement that focuses on change and business outcomes, then you need to look at gamification as a strategy rather than a novelty.

It’s been a month now since the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change 2018 conference “Going Digital & Beyond” and I have been reflecting on a key theme that struck me as being so important and relevant in the work I do at Motivait. Mostly, it is the idea that intervention effectiveness and engagement have distinctly different sets of design and outcome criteria.

For any intervention, programme or solution to be effective in achieving its aims, it must be engaging for users (for this blog, I’ll focus on digital interventions). Whilst this is hardly breaking news, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking user engagement and user effectiveness are the same thing and therefore only designing exclusively for one or the other.

The effectiveness of an intervention is determined by whether it positively changes desired behaviour(s) and delivers intended outcomes. Effectiveness is determined by a range of factors; from how the intervention is delivered, the population and context, target behaviour(s), the extent of relevant behaviour change techniques & psychological theory applied to the intervention content, to name but a few.

Using an example, if we take employee job-strain as a commonly experienced challenge for organisations, we may use the Job Demands-Resources model as a relevant psychological framework to understand and reduce job strain. Then, we could translate its principles into the content design of a workplace wellbeing app to help managers & employees learn how to reduce employee job-strain –let’s give it a name and call it MyWorkBeing.

While the intervention’s content has been designed using relevant theory, it does not necessarily mean that this alone will attract users and sustain their engagement to the point where it is actually achieving its outcomes. In our made-up example MyWorkBeing app, it needs to be engaging enough, for long enough, to help employees’ change behaviours associated with job-strain, in the long-term, not just for a week.

There are multiple factors that influence engagement with interventions. Aside from variations in individual differences (e.g. motivation), these include the extent to which persuasive communications is used to attract users, to usability and UX, to specific engagement designs such as gamification elements and how specified they are in behaviour change techniques terms (i.e. the ‘active ingredients’ from behavioural science that regulate changes in behaviour).

So thinking about our MyWorkBeing app, it could include features such as onboarding tutorials to help users understand the apps usefulness, self-help education videos such as mindfulness, goal-setting, feedback and monitoring to cope with personal stressors, to the use of crowd-creation and crowd-rating mechanisms to generate and rate employee ideas on how the working environment could be re-designed to support wellbeing (e.g. better communal areas to incentivise social lunches, to work process changes).

When it comes to evaluating digital behaviour change interventions, it is important that engagement and effectiveness are evaluated separately without confusing their criteria. Engagement with digital interventions is considered to be measured in behavioural terms (amount, depth, frequency of use, etc.) via system analytics and in subjective experiential terms (attention, interest, vigour, satisfaction, etc.) via self-report measures.
Here we can observe what levels of engagement with the intervention, as revealed from the above metrics, is bringing about the desired changes (i.e. effectiveness criteria); this is referred to as the ‘optimal dose’.

Using our example, what levels of user engagement with the MyWorkBeing app is resulting in reductions in job-strain related behaviours (e.g. lunching at desks, email access out of hours) and outcome measures (e.g. absenteeism, wellbeing self-report measures)? We could find that those users who set and regularly monitor their goal progress and frequently watch self-help video features, to have better outcomes compared to those who only engage with the crowd-creation & crowd-rating features.

The take away message here is that engagement and effectiveness are equally important and should both be designed for carefully and evaluated with their different criteria. Simply, if users are not engaging with something, it’s not going to be effective. By the same token, if people are engaging, but the content design (or some of it) is not relevant to users, it’s also unlikely to be effective.

Engagement

Nobody said that inspiring Engagement was simple or easy, quite the contrary. It is in itself a challenging, complex process. Before launching heads first into any project, the first stop is always to consider how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to design a successful, meaningful solution.
Initially, participants can often show lack of interest for reality because they have learned, day after day, that situation does not add any real value to them (learned irrelevance). Read more