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The art of designing attractive and effective digital engagement solutions

Are the rules of reality broken? We have become used to dividing areas or putting things in their specific boxes. Work is serious. Games are fun. Learning is serious. Creativity is fun. Problem solving – serious or fun? When we dive into the world of game thinking or game design, often grouped together under the term of Gamification, the well-defined barrier between serious contexts and play falls away. Why apply game elements to traditionally serious contexts? To get the most out of all aspects of life, sometimes we need to add more play!

Now, reality can be much more attractive and entertaining thanks to “Serious Play Experiences”.

“Serious Play Experiences”, are situations where fun narratives and game elements can be introduced without losing sight of the serious objectives driving them (for example: incentivising recycling across communities, reducing employee turnover, sustaining interest in learning materials). Often because of the serious nature of such contexts, applying fun elements can significantly enhance motivation, commitment and participation – resulting in a successful achievement of objectives.

Doesn’t sound like something you’d use? You might be surprised, as there are more examples out there than you probably think.

Mixed serious gaming experiences, not just digital

By adding face-to-face challenges, the experience can help to build social relationships or interpersonal skills in the process. This can be seen in educational contexts/scenarios, where the “escape room” concept has been adapted to provide a fun yet educational classroom learning experience. For example, Breakout Edu where as well as having an immersive game platform, players also have to work face-to-face collaboratively to solve a series of critical thinking puzzles to open a locked box. These experiences rely on a very collaborative narrative plot. When this dynamic is replicated within a digital context, the solution can include multiple communication channels and a virtual social area that further increases the feeling of community and positive group identity.

Serious gaming experiences in virtual reality environments

This is one of the most prominent emerging trends in Serious Play Experiences in the last few years. Virtual reality offers infinite possibilities due to its great versatility. A lot of use can be seen within training contexts, both educational and corporate, especially where very specific training or practice is required (such as unconscious bias training for example).

From a gamification point of view, virtual reality reinforces the weight of game elements such as avatars and non-linear or open plot narration, substantially improving users sense of freedom.

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Gaming experiences in augmented reality environments

Many examples are also appearing in the market of this type of initiative. To name a few: “Zombie Run”, “Ring fit” and “Peloton”. These experiences rely on a mission structure. Each mission includes challenges that gradually increase the difficulty to increase participant’s sense of progress. To support this, other game elements are added such as the progress bar, badges and points, which reinforce the perception of autonomy and self-improvement.

So, how are serious contexts “seasoned” with the right amount of play, to ensure the objective is still met? And how could they work for you and your organisation? Let’s take a look at the solution-design steps required for taking users toward fulfilling objectives.

  1. User-centric analysis:

Before getting stuck in, it’s important to carry out a detailed analysis of the situation your target audience or objectives are operating within. You will need to understand information about the context and the users’ behaviours, characteristics, game preferences and digital skills, to be able to create a solution that will integrate easily into everyday life.

  1. Include effective components:

With client and user needs forming the foundations, you can next include the necessary components to build the actual journey or strategy of the solution. By basing or choosing components with an understanding of Behavioural Science, you can create a path that users will actually want to follow and that will feel intuitive to them.  The different parts need to consider user characteristics and preferences (collected from the previous step) as well as client requirements. The aim of the game is of course to deliver results and achieve the determined objective, but this will only be successful if you provide an experience that people feel able to collaborate in.

  1. Integrate game elements:

Making people want to take part, rather than feel they have to is a powerful motivation. Here is where introducing gamification is useful. It is no secret that people do better at something when they enjoy the activity itself. Applying game elements to a mundane or even dreary process (imagine if compliance training could be enjoyable) does not mean you simply turn the experience into a game or lose all sense of seriousness. Elements can be discrete nudges or prompts, or recognition of a user’s progress, spurring them to stick with the process or activity, boosting their motivation and commitment. To ensure a more fulfilling, engaging experience, you’re ultimately looking to weave together three interconnecting gamified structures: the narrative, the challenges, and the energisers.

Following us so far? Let’s look at an example to see how it all comes to life.

A large hotel chain was looking to reduce its high staff turnover by implementing new corporate values and culture that would hopefully encourage commitment to the brand. They needed an effective vehicle to deliver the information in a way that would stick with the employees, engaging them in the workplace and reducing feelings of detachment.

Digital solutions, either web or mobile applications, are easily accessible to wide audiences and often help to set experiences outside of the ‘real world’. In a digital solution, participants feel they can attempt challenges, immerse themselves in situations, and progress without the pressure of a manager looking over their shoulders. This means you can provide environments that resemble real life, with fewer real-life stresses.

Digital solutions also help ensure the same information reaches all people in the same way, standardising and centralising processes – such as the hotel chain communicating the new corporate values and culture. With all employees receiving the same core message, the next step is to help employees engage with this content and ultimately embody it.

Here is where we could introduce a learning by doing strategy (or learning through play). First you plot what the strategy of the solution should overcome, with an understanding of what the users need. Feelings of detachment can be resolved through tapping into people’s need for mastery, purpose, and achievement. Presenting the disillusioned employees with the chance to prove themselves and feel they are improving, which in turn gives their managers the cue to recognise this improvement. The strategy helps employees feel that they contribute to the overall success of the company and their contribution is valued. So we can look at gamifying three core steps to the strategy: a) provide opportunities to overcome challenges and improve, b) provide content and materials for employees to learn from and train with, c) foster and promote a positive environment where good work is recognised and encouraged.          

Next: how to get people involved. A narrative structure always helps to increase individual’s interest in participating. This can be achieved by introducing an appealing plot that will engage participants and encourage them to follow and commit to the process. In this example, the employees of the hotel could be invited to join a virtual hotel (call to action) as virtual staff, attending to visiting customers. They are presented with different scenarios and opportunities (challenges) where they have to demonstrate the new brand values and behaviours, earning virtual currency or levelling up when they successfully overcome their challenges.

Designing meaningful “Serious Gaming Experiences” that make an impact or drive change is a complex but rewarding process, requiring the designer to consider a multitude of perspectives in the process. All of the elements have to work in harmony with each other to create a balanced experience, that drive the desired results. If the experience is too much like a game or too removed from reality, the core message becomes diluted. When an experience doesn’t take the participant’s needs and motivations into consideration it runs the risk of turning people off from engaging. Daily life is full of distractions and examples of innovation at our fingertips. Is it crazy to consider people’s expectations and attention need more stimulation in the experiences you offer?

Like most aspects of life and learning, you will get more out of any solution if you add a little play!

Written in collaboration by Marta Calderero & Andrzej Marczewski

Gamification actually doesn’t have to be fun.

For many the word “Gamification” conjures images of video game-like experiences, where people maybe race cars, or collect trophies, or compete in timed challenges against colleagues, and having fun instead of working. Others who know more about gamification, may visualise a veneer of “forced” fun being layered over important – albeit dull – tasks. Either of these situations has negative connotations and misconceptions that can put people off wanting to get involved.

However, what if I was to tell you that gamification doesn’t have to look game-like or be designed for fun at all?

There are many definitions of gamification, one that we use is “The use of game design, game elements and play for non-entertainment purposes.” Whatever definition you use, the essence of the concept is to use game design and game elements in non-game contexts, or applying lessons learned from games to improve non-game experiences.
Gamification is utlimately about understanding people and what motivates them and using that to create better experiences for them, with the help of game elements.

Gamification: The User at the Heart

In a business context, gamification is normally part of an overall solution designed for a specific objective. That might be to improve learning and development, it could be to increase efficiency, it could be to make on-boarding more effective. Whatever gamification is being used to help solve, it is infrequent or unlikely that the business objective is “make it fun”.

Fun is subjective: we each experience it in different ways, as a result of different stimuli. Ask someone what they consider fun and they could tell you anything from scary movies, rollercoasters and rock climbing, to reading in a quiet park or cooking a new recipe. If you look at research into fun, you will see many varying explanations of what fun actually is and how it is experienced differently by different people.  This makes it very hard to use fun as a design objective when you are not building a true game – as in the case of gamification.

The elements of games that we may associate with fun – themes, narratives, challenges – may not figure at all into a gamified design, if the client has no desire to see them. But this doesn’t mean that the solution can’t include gamification. Feedback, progress, reinforcement, signposting, virtual currencies and more are all game elements that are not directly associated with fun experiences but are often core to gamified solutions and still fit the definition of gamification.

By using simple gamification elements, and user centric design, users can be encouraged to keep returning to an experience, to complete a process, and actually connect with and absorb the content. Starting a solution with a tutorial, using a progress bar to show the user how they’re getting on, energising the journey with a surprise Easter egg, all help to nudge us along while doing something in the same way we’re happy to spend hours playing games. In this way, there may be fun moments, but they are the result of good design rather than trying to shoehorn fun into a solution to fit a need to make gamification fun!

Fun experiences are almost always preferable as people engage with them far deeper and in far more meaningful ways. But if an incredibly fun experience might distract users away from a key message or process, it is still possible to peel back on the elements most commonly considered ‘game-like’ without steering clear of all gamification completely. Simply remember it as a tool to engage audiences with, rather than how to turn dreaded cyber security training into Mario Kart.

It’s not all Fun and Games

 

The last few weeks have given me plenty of food for thought. The end of November saw the second annual instalment of Gamification Europe, a great chance to catch up with old friends and take stock of what we are all doing around gamification. Then, the beginning of December, gave me the opportunity to sit round the table with graduates and game designers and compare notes on the differences and similarities of gamification and games. Both of these made me reflect on balancing fun and objectives, and how game-like solutions can remain sustainable.

At Gamification Europe, held at a comedy club in Amsterdam, speakers from around the world gave their insights into gamification, serious games, play and how they all fit into the world around us.

Several talks echoed Gartner’s prediction that “80% of gamification will fail”. One message, that was repeated many times, particularly resonated with me: Gamification is a strategy that needs to focus on outcomes and objectives. However, I feel a lot of what is considered to be failure or disenchantment in the industry, seem to trail back to a lack of focus on the outcomes and the objectives of where gamification was and is being implemented.  When planning a gamification-based intervention (or any kind of intervention), it is essential that you start by understanding what the problem is that the intervention will solve and what the outcomes or objectives will be. Rather than gamification being considered a “magic bullet”, it really needs to be about tightly defined outcomes and part of a well thought out strategy. This is something that we are very clear with our clients about.

When we are designing a solution, we split the project into 8 phases. The first two focus specifically on understanding the problem, defining the specific outcomes and how we are going to measure them. That is a quarter of the project phase, dedicated to understanding the What and the Why, before we even start to consider the How!

 

 

 

It’s a stage that often seems to be ignored or retrofitted after the “solution” has been designed. The “game” becomes more important than the outcomes, and the “fun” overtakes what the client really needs.

This was further highlighted during my discussions with the game designers in Newcastle, and goes some way to explain why it is so important for people to understand what gamification actually is compared to games. The clearest difference is simple. Games generally start with “fun” or “entertainment” as their objective. The designer has an idea for an interesting mechanic and that evolves into a game. Obviously there can be other factors. For instance, if the designer has been given a film license, for instance, then there is an objective – the game has to be related to the film.  Beyond that, how the game plays and how it will entertain its players is their biggest concern.

In gamification, we start with an objective first, then work back to how we might be able to use gamification or games to solve that problem in the most effective and efficient way possible. Fun is very rarely a business objective!