Wednesday, July 25, 2012

7 Steps to Successful Gamification

Last October I wrote about the impending consultification of the gamification industry.  I predicted that consulting and professional services would become an increasingly important part of the gamification industry.  At Gamification Summit in June 2012, Venture Capitalist Tim Chang described this trend in context of previous technologies:
"The best gamification is done seemlessly.  It's built into the core of the product and experience, and it is aligned with the business' goals.  You don't just slap it on and hope that it fixes user engagement or conversion rates. If it is, it looks really cheesy.  Users see through it.  They develop an immunity to it and they don't want to see any more of it.  So, that's why the know how of how to apply gamification is probably even more important than the technologies and tools behind it right now.  That's always true in embryonic industries.  It was the same for CRM, analytics and all these other fields as well."

"People don't really want self-service tools.  They want you to tell them what to do."
Gamification done right is not easy.  It requires the integration of complex systems and uses engagement strategies and tactics from a diverse set of disciplines from sociology and psychology to human computer interaction design and of course game design.  Furthermore, unlike other enterprise software projects of the past which required large up-front efforts and minimal work to maintain, gamification typically requires as much effort to monitor, maintain and update as it does to launch.

The 7 Step Plan
The seven step process that follows can help manage this complexity and move gamification projects from promise to reality.  I developed these steps based on my work with clients and lessons learned from designing and managing games at Fastpoint Games.  They also incorporate many of the concepts first articulated by gamification pioneers Amy Jo Kim, Jesse Schell, Gabe Zichermann, Mario Herger, Nir Eyal, Nicole Lazzaro, and Jane McGonigal.

Step 1 - VISION
Any project should start off with a clear definition of it's goals, objectives and measures of success.  This step is even more important for pilot gamification projects where success means continued funding and expansion and failure often means backing away from gamification altogether.  Having a clear vision makes it easier to build applications based on good hypotheses and to use iterative hypothesis testing "to figure out which solutions have the most promise of success while minimizing the amount of time spent developing ideas that are wrong."

Step 2 - APPLICATION PROFILE
The next step is to develop a profile of the application you want to gamify.  Whether you are working with a new product, service or process or an existing one, you need to a map of it's core activity and feedback system.  What is the unique value proposition?  What is inherently engaging about the application?

Step 3 - PLAYER PROFILES
With an idea of what you are gamifying, you should now move to who's playing.  Map out the demographics and psychographics of your canonical players.  Then think about what features need to be available for different types of player.

Step 4 - MASTERY
Next determine what skills players need to learn and master.  Will the application encourage problem or puzzle solving? What does the core activity naturally lead players to optimize? Will players employ increasingly sophisticated strategies as they master the application? What does it mean to "play well"? How will the application balance easy fun and hard fun?  How will player needs change as they progress in experience and skills?

Step 5 - PROGRESS
In step 5, we delve into the game mechanics that most people associate with gamificaiton: points, badges, leader boards and reward systems. These mechanics are used "to light the way” towards mastery. How will players know how to get started, and learn what to do? How will they know if they’re playing well, or poorly?  What real or virtual rewards will appeal to your players?

Step 6 - ENGAGEMENT
The final design step is to determine the activities and events that will re-engage players throughout the life cycle of the application. How will these activities leverage core social actions?  How will this system be use to support beneficial habit formation?

Step 7 - OPERATIONS
One of the key difference between gamification and traditional projects is that user engagement is a continuous process.  If one of the goals is to retain users, then they must be continually engaged with new content and challenges.  Therefore, thought and planning needs to go into how your application will evolve over time.  You will need to design flexibility into the application so that it can be tweaked and tuned to as user behavior changes and can be updated with new content.  Furthermore, many gamified applications have sophisticated virtual economies that need to be managed and thriving social systems that need to be moderated. Planning for several iterations after launch will help you stay ahead of your players.

By using these seven steps, organizations that embark on gamification projects have a robust and flexible framework with which they can incorporate many common gaming design patterns like points, badges, leader boards, Bartle's player types, and player journeys as well as emerging patterns for addition loops, user motivations and player emotions.

Game on!

1 comment:

Brian Murphy said...

Great points Ken. It looks like you've got a definite "path" to gamification that one would best be advised to pursue.

Typically companies want to jump to steps 5, 6 & 7 before really understanding the basic premises of what their value proposition is, and what they want the user to do...hoping instead that numerous points and badges will "solve" the problem of adoption and engagement.