Have you ever considered designing a gamified system? Many thought leaders across various industries are beginning to appreciate the impact that gamification can have on the way in which our society functions. Even if you’re skeptical of just how significant gamified systems might prove to be in the future, it’s hard to ignore the success these experimental platforms have already found today.
Whether you’re looking to take advantage of a market niche that’s high in demand, looking to harness the power of games to influence people’s lives, or looking to further your own understanding of game theory in general, a gamification project should be heavily considered by all who are close to the gaming industry.
And if you do decide to work on one, the following are the three most important elements to make sure you include in your system.
The idea of feedback is one of the simplest concepts in systems design, but that also makes it one of the easiest to forego.
Whether it’s an app to track habits or a class curriculum that monitors academic progress, all users of a system need some kind of feedback. However, instant feedback is an essential part of a gaming experience. It draws a direct connection between what the user or player is doing and how the experience is developing. Feedback is what makes the user feel engaged in the experience. It’s what keeps the system feeling urgent and relevant. It’s what makes us pay attention. Data is moving, measurements are changing, and the system is evolving with our actions. If a user inputs new data, the entire system should adapt to account for the new change.
And it is the way in which the user experiences the system adapting that can make all the difference.
Gamification is far more than just achievement badges and trophies. Good feedback is creative, constructive, and immersive. And most importantly of all, good feedback is visible. No matter how complex your system is, a user can only comprehend so much information. Streamline and visualize wherever possible.
Consider a system meant to show a user average quantity of rainfall in various cities. When a user selects a city, the system could respond by showing the actual numerical measurement or even a graph. The user has the data they were looking for and have received it instantly, in direct reaction to their input. But how is this compelling? It’s instant, sure, but is it interesting? Does it make the experience enjoyable or just efficient?
Now consider a stylized animation in which the user actually witnesses droplets of water as feedback. The size and quantity of the droplets corresponds to the level of rainfall the city features. If the user clicks on Seattle, they’ll see a raging faucet of water flow across the screen, as compared to if they click on Las Vegas, which might only show a dribble of drops.
The true art of feedback is in translation. It’s one thing to react to a user’s actions. It’s another thing to do it in a way that gets across the most information in the simplest, most compelling way.
And one mobile app has found a way to do just that while helping people stay productive in their normal lives.
Gamified Habits – Forest: Stay focused
Forest is a simple program, entirely based on compelling feedback, designed to help users beat phone addiction.
Users are encouraged to avoid distractions on their phone (like Facebook or Twitter) by keeping the app open as long as possible. The longer they remain on the app, without leaving, the more they help to grow digital trees. Every 30 minutes, a new tree is grown. If they leave the app in the middle of the 30 minute cycle to check something else, their tree will begin to wither and die.
This simple method of feedback, watching a tree grow based on your action (or lack of action), is enormously compelling. Not just because it evolves in real time, but because it is based around an incredibly accessible concept. A single tree that grows or withers is universally understandable. We don’t have to worry about complex data, launguage barriers, numerical transactions, or difficult equations. Just a simple, pleasing visual. And therefore, an instant feeling of achievement.
Furthermore, it’s noninvasive, which is especially significant when we consider the fact that this entire experience is all about removing distractions. This app is the kind of thing a student could use while studying in the library, or an employee could use while working in the office. Even friends and spouses can use it during social events to make sure they stay focused on the people they are with, and not on their phones.
As the app description puts it, “With this interesting mechanism, the sense of achievement and responsibility will drive our users to stay away from their phone with no pain” (Official App Store/Google Play Page).
Control is important. The only thing that is more important than feedback in a system is the action the user takes to initiate said feedback. And working to ensure that the user feels the significance of their actions is enormously important.
Without the feeling of control, a systemized environment will not be compelling. The single most powerful aspect of gaming is the fact that it is not a passive experience. Active engagement keeps users interested and on their toes. In a good gamified experience, we understand in the back of our minds that nothing good will happen without our say so.
This sense of agency is what contributes to a user’s feeling of identity and makes the experience feel meaningful. The idea that we have control over the system is satisfying on a deeply subconscious level. In fact, it’s seems to be increasing as an important component in our daily lives, more and more each day.
Some of the largest and oldest institutions in modern society are crumbling for the very reason that agency and control is perceived to be missing. The education industry is a major example of this, with many pointing to the flawed systems of standard grades.
In many curriculums, teachers are forced to start their students at a grading score of 100% at the very beginning of the class. For many, this equates to setting up students to fail. There is nowhere to go except down. The student has no sense of control because, in many ways, there is nothing they can do to improve or excel, only survive.
Beyond grading, standardized tests have suffered a wide birth of criticism for forcing basic homogenous numbers to measure the aptitude of diverse and unique individuals. Everyone is pitted against the same standards, regardless of how different they all might be. The idea that there is only one objective way to succeed saps the feeling of control a student might have in the pursuit of their own future success. Agency is more than just pressing the accelerator: it’s choosing when and where to steer the wheel to get where you want to go.
On the whole, the questions of education can be controversial, especially when discussing how the system could possibly be changed.
But in the meantime, one program promises to increase the level of agency students feel in the classroom, without having to change the curriculum at all.
Gamified Education – Classcraft
Classcraft is a web and app based mobile platform that teachers can use to encourage positive participation and collaboration between every student in the classroom. Students are no longer passive learners trying to analyze lessons, but adventurers on an important quest, working together to defeat various foes and bosses.
Classes are broken down into small groups which encourages students to be nicer toward each other and to help each other out. Students are even offered the option to choose between different roles, including healer, warrior, and mage. Each role comes with its own stats and ability trees that students can use to use to help themselves and their team.
For example, a Healer has the ability to ask their instructor whether or not their answer on a test question is correct. A Warrior has the ability to allow their entire team to hand in an assignment one day late. And a Mage has an ability that allows them and their teammates a full extra 8 minutes to complete an exam.
The Classcraft system empowers students to work together in unique ways using the differences in their roles. The combination of collaboration and special abilities allows students to strategize and diversify the approach they take to succeeding in class. And the success is determined, not by standard letter grades, but by experience points that start at 0 for everyone. There’s nowhere to go but up.
Students choose how to carry out their quest, and in doing so, they feel like they have a sense of agency.
At the end of the day, a game has to be fun, right? It many ways, this carries over to gamified systems as well.
The whole idea of gamification, in general, is that gamers are intrinsically motivated because they are invested in and entertained by gaming experiences. If you could elicit the same level of dedication and drive players demonstrate in their video games and apply it to other aspects of life, people might be able to live much healthier, productive, and fulfilling lives.
A big part of a system’s entertainment value can arise from the mechanisms of feedback and agency, as we’ve already talked about. Forest: Stay Focused draws entertainment value from its compelling visuals and user interface, while Classcraft harnesses the visual and thematic beauty of an adventurously fantastical setting.
All in all, fun is what makes the experience stand out—something players want to share with their friends. It’s what makes an experience social, viral, and memorable for players. And, at its core, fun is comprised of one simple equation.
If action is agency and reaction is feedback, fun is the repetition of agency and feedback toward a goal of some kind. The entertainment value of a gamified system is the process of moving forward from a start toward a desirable end. This goal could be the continued growth of a digital forest or rewarding experience points that will help you and your teammates continue on your quest.
Interestingly enough, this concept of start and end corresponds perfectly with the idea of storytelling. In fact, the beginning, middle, and end pattern of narrative design is a powerful mechanism in gamified systems. Do you really want to make your system fun? Tell a story.
One gamified app is capitalizing on the fun of our zombie-craze in pop culture to get people out and moving.
Gamified Fitness – Zombies, Run!
Zombies, Run is a mobile fitness app that uses audio to immerse users into a zombie-based post-apocalyptic narrative. The only way to progress forward in the story is by actively walking and/or running outside.
Just like a video game, the app frames the user as the main character. While outside, the user need only keep moving to keep the system going. Along their route, they’ll pick up items and progress the story. Along certain distance checkpoints, the user will hear short instances of characters interacting with them and each other in a fictional environment.
It’s like listening to an audio drama that only plays as you keep moving, in which all the characters are talking to you. The items that you pick up can be used to build up your “base” at home, when you’re not on the move. The audio integrates with your own mobile music player, so you can listen to your own music while exercising without ever having to reach for your phone halfway through.
Every so often, should the user toggle this setting on, the player will hear that a zombie is actively chasing them, which means that they will need to speed up in order to get away. This adds more dynamism to the feedback and agency of the whole experience and keeps things more entertaining, even while the story portions are not playing.
Running for exercise becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun when you think you need to run for your life.
Where This All Leads
As we wrap this discussion up, let’s dig a littler deeper. I’d like to take a moment to consider something else about the nature of this fascinating phenomenon.
As we’ve established, gamification is about more than badges and trophies, experience points, or fantastical escapism. These elements may exist, yes, but at its core, gamification is all about empowerment. It’s a phenomenon that enables and evolves people and data so that more things can be accomplished in the real world.
Empowerment is proving to be a concept more difficult to chase than ever before. Regardless of politics, ideologies, or beliefs, we can all agree that much of the world seems to be speeding up. Things are getting more complex and systems are becoming more intricate. In his novel The Seventh Sense, Joshua Cooper Ramo argues that many of the societal shifts we are experiencing in the world today will impact us in ways on par with the Industrial Revolution. The magnitude of change that we have already begun to experience, whether we perceive it or not, will require a certain level of intuitive thinking that many of us have yet to develop. And because of this, it’s getting harder and harder for us to feel like we have control in our lives, let alone in our world.
In games, on the other hand, we have control. In games, we save the day, the prince/princess, the world, the galaxy. The phenomenon of gamification is not only appealing to many—it may very well be a necessary solution to a growing problem of discontent. Some may be concerned by this prospect and see gamification as a way of escaping the problem, altogether. I see it differently, however, and would argue that gamification is less like an escape and more like a lens that reframes the problem. It’s a tool we can use to see a situation or ourselves in a different light. And even something as simple as perspective can make a world of difference.