Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. It can also be defined as a set of activities and processes to solve problems by using or applying the characteristics of game elements. Gamification commonly employs game design elements to improve user engagement, organizational productivity, flow, learning, crowdsourcing, employee recruitment and evaluation, ease of use, usefulness of systems, physical exercise, traffic violations, voter apathy, and more. A collection of research on gamification shows that a majority of studies on gamification find it has positive effects on individuals. However, individual and contextual differences exist.
Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play. Early gamification strategies use rewards for players who accomplish desired tasks or competition to engage players. Types of rewards include points, achievement badges or levels, the filling of a progress bar, or providing the user with virtual currency. Making the rewards for accomplishing tasks visible to other players or providing leader boards are ways of encouraging players to compete.
Another approach to gamification is to make existing tasks feel more like games. Some techniques used in this approach include adding meaningful choice, onboarding with a tutorial, increasing challenge, and adding narrative.
Game design elements
Game design elements are the basic building blocks of gamification applications. Among these typical game design elements, are points, badges, leader-boards, performance graphs, meaningful stories, avatars, and teammates.
Points are basic elements of a multitude of games and gamified applications. They are typically rewarded for the successful accomplishment of specified activities within the gamified environment and they serve to numerically represent a player’s progress. Various kinds of points can be differentiated between, e.g. experience points, redeemable points, or reputation points, as can the different purposes that points serve. One of the most important purposes of points is to provide feedback. Points allow the players’ in-game behavior to be measured, and they serve as continuous and immediate feedback and as a reward.
Badges are defined as visual representations of achievements and can be earned and collected within the gamification environment. They confirm the players’ achievements, symbolize their merits, and visibly show their accomplishment of levels or goals. Earning a badge can be dependent on a specific number of points or on particular activities within the game. Badges have many functions, serving as goals, if the prerequisites for winning them are known to the player, or as virtual status symbols. In the same way as points, badges also provide feedback, in that they indicate how the players have performed. Badges can influence players’ behavior, leading them to select certain routes and challenges in order to earn badges that are associated with them. Additionally, as badges symbolize one’s membership in a group of those who own this particular badge, they also can exert social influences on players and co-players, particularly if they are rare or hard to earn.
Leaderboards rank players according to their relative success, measuring them against a certain success criterion. As such, leaderboards can help determine who performs best in a certain activity and are thus competitive indicators of progress that relate the player’s own performance to the performance of others. However, the motivational potential of leaderboards is mixed. Werbach and Hunter regard them as effective motivators if there are only a few points left to the next level or position, but as demotivators, if players find themselves at the bottom end of the leaderboard. Competition caused by leaderboards can create social pressure to increase the player’s level of engagement and can consequently have a constructive effect on participation and learning. However, these positive effects of competition are more likely if the respective competitors are approximately at the same performance level.
Performance graphs, which are often used in simulation or strategy games, provide information about the players’ performance compared to their preceding performance during a game. Thus, in contrast to leaderboards, performance graphs do not compare the player’s performance to other players, but instead, evaluate the player’s own performance over time. Unlike the social reference standard of leaderboards, performance graphs are based on an individual reference standard. By graphically displaying the player’s performance over a fixed period, they focus on improvements. Motivation theory postulates that this fosters mastery orientation, which is particularly beneficial to learning.
Meaningful stories are game design elements that do not relate to the player’s performance. The narrative context in which a gamified application can be embedded contextualizes activities and characters in the game and gives them meaning beyond the mere quest for points and achievements. A story can be communicated by a game’s title (e.g., Space Invaders) or by complex storylines typical of contemporary role-playing video games (e.g., The Elder Scrolls Series). Narrative contexts can be oriented towards real, non-game contexts or act as analogies of real-world settings. The latter can enrich boring, barely stimulating contexts, and, consequently, inspire and motivate players particularly if the story is in line with their personal interests. As such, stories are also an important part in gamification applications, as they can alter the meaning of real-world activities by adding a narrative ‘overlay’, e.g. being hunted by zombies while going for a run.
Avatars are visual representations of players within the game or gamification environment. Usually, they are chosen or even created by the player. Avatars can be designed quite simply as a mere pictogram, or they can be complexly animated, three- dimensional representations. Their main formal requirement is that they unmistakably identify the players and set them apart from other human or computer-controlled avatars. Avatars allow the players to adopt or create another identity and, in cooperative games, to become part of a community.
Teammates, whether they are other real players or virtual non-player characters, can induce conflict, competition or cooperation. The latter can be fostered particularly by introducing teams, i.e. by creating defined groups of players that work together towards a shared objective.
Gamification has been applied to almost every aspect of life. Examples of gamification in business context include the U.S. Army, which uses military simulator America’s Army as a recruitment tool, and M&M’s “Eye Spy” pretzel game, launched in 2013 to amplify the company’s pretzel marketing campaign by creating a fun way to “boost user engagement.” Another example can be seen in the American education system. Students are ranked in their class based on their earned grade-point average (GPA), which is comparable to earning a high score in video games. Students may also receive incentives, such as an honorable mention on the dean’s list, the honor roll, and scholarships, which are equivalent to leveling-up a video game character or earning virtual currency or tools that augment game success. Job application processes sometimes use gamification as a way to hire employees by assessing their suitability through questionnaires and mini games that simulate the actual work environment of that company.
Gamification has been widely applied in marketing. Over 70% of Forbes Global 2000 companies surveyed in 2013 said they planned to use gamification for the purposes of marketing and customer retention. For example, in November, 2011, Australian broadcast and online media partnership Yahoo!7 launched its Fango mobile app/SAP, which TV viewers use to interact with shows via techniques like check-ins and badges. Gamification has also been used in customer loyalty programs. In 2010, Starbucks gave custom Foursquare badges to people who checked in at multiple locations, and offered discounts to people who checked in most frequently at an individual store. As a general rule Gamification Marketing or Game Marketing usually falls under four primary categories;
- Brandification (in-game advertising):Messages, images or videos promoting a Brand, Product or Service within a game’s visuals components. According to NBCNews game creators Electronic Arts used “Madden 09” and “Burnout Paradise” to promote ‘in-game’ billboards encouraging players to vote.
- Transmedia:The result of taking a media property and extending it into a different medium for both promotional and monetisation purposes. Nintendo’s “007: GoldenEye” is a classic example. A video game created to advertise the originally titled movie. In the end, the promotional game brought in more money than the originally titled film.
- Through-the-line (TTL) & Below-the-line (BTL):Text above, side or below main game screen (also known as an iFrame) advertising images or text. Example of this would be “I love Bees”.
- Advergames:Usually games based-off popular mobile game templates, such as ‘Candy Crush’ or ‘Temple Run’. These games are then recreated via platforms like WIX with software from the likes of Gamify, in order to promote Brands, Products and Services. Usually to encourage engagement, loyalty and product education. These usually involve social leaderboards and rewards that are advertised via social media platforms like Facebook’s Top 10 games.
Gamification also has been used as a tool for customer engagement, and for encouraging desirable website usage behaviour. Additionally, gamification is applicable to increasing engagement on sites built on social network services. For example, in August, 2010, the website builder DevHub announced an increase in the number of users who completed their online tasks from 10% to 80% after adding gamification elements. On the programming question-and-answer site Stack Overflow users receive points and/or badges for performing a variety of actions, including spreading links to questions and answers via Facebook and Twitter. A large number of different badges are available, and when a user’s reputation points exceed various thresholds, the user gains additional privileges, eventually including moderator privileges.
Gamification can be used for ideation (structured brainstorming to produce new ideas). A study at MIT Sloan found that ideation games helped participants generate more and better ideas, and compared it to gauging the influence of academic papers by the numbers of citations received in subsequent research.
Applications like Fitocracy and QUENTIQ (Dacadoo) use gamification to encourage their users to exercise more effectively and improve their overall health. Users are awarded varying numbers of points for activities they perform in their workouts, and gain levels based on points collected. Users can also complete quests (sets of related activities) and gain achievement badges for fitness milestones. Health Month adds aspects of social gaming by allowing successful users to restore points to users who have failed to meet certain goals. Public health researchers have studied the use of gamification in self-management of chronic diseases and common mental disorders, STD prevention, and infection prevention and control.
In a review of health apps in the 2014 Apple App Store, more than 100 apps showed a positive correlation between gamification elements used and high user ratings. MyFitnessPal was named as the app that used the most gamification elements.
Reviewers of the popular location-based game Pokémon Go praised the game for promoting physical exercise. Terri Schwartz (IGN) said it was “secretly the best exercise app out there,” and that it changed her daily walking routine. Patrick Allen (Lifehacker) wrote an article with tips about how to work out using Pokémon Go. Julia Belluz (Vox) said it could be the “greatest unintentional health fad ever,” writing that one of the results of the game that the developers may not have imagined was that “it seems to be getting people moving.” One study showed users took an extra 194 steps per day once they started using the app, approximately 26% more than usual. Ingress is a similar game that also requires a player to be physically active. Zombies, Run!, a game in which the player is trying to survive a zombie apocalypse through a series of missions, requires the player to (physically) run, collect items to help the town survive, and listen to various audio narrations to uncover mysteries. Mobile, context-sensitive serious games for sports and health have been called exergames.
Gamification has been used in an attempt to improve employee productivity, healthcare, financial services, transportation, government, and others. In general, enterprise gamification refers to work situations where “game thinking and game-based tools are used in a strategic manner to integrate with existing business processes or information systems. And these techniques are used to help drive positive employee and organizational outcomes.”
Crowdsourcing has been gamified in games like Foldit, a game designed by the University of Washington, in which players compete to manipulate proteins into more efficient structures. A 2010 paper in science journal Nature credited Foldit’s 57,000 players with providing useful results that matched or outperformed algorithmically computed solutions. The ESP Game is a game that is used to generate image metadata. Google Image Labeler is a version of the ESP Game that Google has licensed to generate its own image metadata. Research from the University of Bonn used gamification to increase wiki contributions by 62%.
Education and training are areas where there has been interest in gamification. Microsoft released the game Ribbon Hero 2 as an add-on to their Office productivity suite to help train people to use it effectively, this project was described by Microsoft as one of the most popular projects its Office Labs division ever released. The New York City Department of Education with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has set up a school called Quest to Learn centred around game-based learning, with the intent to make education more engaging and relevant to modern children. SAP has used games to educate their employees on sustainability. The US military and Unilever have also used gamification in their training. The Khan Academy is an example of the use of gamification techniques in online education. In August 2009, Gbanga launched the educational location-based game Gbanga Zooh for Zurich Zoo that asked participants to actively save endangered animals and physically bring them back to a zoo. Players maintained virtual habitats across the Canton of Zurich to attract and collect endangered species of animals. There is some indication that gamification can be particularly motivational for students with dyslexia in educational situations.
Gamification is used in corporate training to motivate employees to apply what they learned in the training to their job, theoretically this should improve performance. According to a study conducted by Badgeville, 78% of workers are utilizing games-based motivation at work and nearly 91% say these systems improve their work experience by increasing engagement, awareness and productivity.
Politics and terrorist groups
Alix Levine, an American security consultant, reports that some techniques that a number of extremist websites such as Stormfront and various terrorism-related sites used to build loyalty and participation can be described as gamification. As an example, Levine mentioned reputation scores.
The Chinese government has announced that it will begin using gamification to rate its citizens in 2020, implementing a Social Credit System in which citizens will earn points representing trustworthiness. Details of this project are still vague, but it has been reported that citizens will receive points for good behavior, such as making payments on time and educational attainments.
Traditionally, researchers thought of motivations to use computer systems to be primarily driven by extrinsic purposes; however, many modern systems have their use driven primarily by intrinsic motivations. Examples of such systems used primarily to fulfill users’ intrinsic motivations, include online gaming, virtual worlds, online shopping, learning/education, online dating, digital music repositories, social networking, online pornography, and so on. Such systems are excellent candidates for further ‘gamification’ in their design. Moreover, even traditional management information systems (e.g., ERP, CRM) are being ‘gamified’ such that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations must increasingly be considered.
As illustration, Microsoft has announced plans to use gamification techniques for its Windows Phone 7 operating system design. While businesses face the challenges of creating motivating gameplay strategies, what makes for effective gamification is a key question.
One important type of technological design in gamification is the player centered design. Based on the design methodology user-centered design, its main goal is to promote greater connectivity and positive behavior change between technological consumers. It has five steps that help computer users connect with other people online to help them accomplish goals and other tasks they need to complete. The 5 steps are: an individual or company has to know their player (their target audience), identify their mission (their goal), understand human motivation (the personality, desires, and triggers of the target audience), apply mechanics (points, badges, leaderboards, etc.), and to manage, monitor, and measure the way they are using their mechanics to ensure it is helping them achieve the desired outcome of their goal and that their goal is specific and realistic.
Gamification has also been applied to authentication. For example, the possibilities of using a game like Guitar Hero can help someone learn a password implicitly. Furthermore, games have been explored as a way to learn new and complicated passwords. It is suggested that these games could be used to “level up” a password, thereby improving its strength over time. Gamification has also been proposed as a way to select and manage archives. Recently, an Australian technology company called Wynbox has recorded success in the application of its gamification engine to the hotel booking process.
Gamification has been used to some extent by online casinos. For example, the Casumo and Casino Heroes brands use an incremental reward system to extend the typical player lifecycle and to encourage repeat visits and cash deposits at the casino in return for rewards such as free spins and cash match bonuses on subsequent deposits.
Though the term “gamification” first appeared online in the context of computer software in 2008,[a] it did not gain popularity until 2010. Even prior to the term coming into use, other fields borrowing elements from videogames was common; for example, some work in learning disabilities and scientific visualization adapted elements from videogames.
The term “gamification” first gained widespread usage in 2010, in a more specific sense referring to incorporation of social/reward aspects of games into software. The technique captured the attention of venture capitalists, one of whom said he considered gamification the most promising area in gaming. Another observed that half of all companies seeking funding for consumer software applications mentioned game design in their presentations.
Several researchers consider gamification closely related to earlier work on adapting game-design elements and techniques to non-game contexts. Deterding et al. survey research in human–computer interaction that uses game-derived elements for motivation and interface design, and Nelson argues for a connection to both the Soviet concept of socialist competition, and the American management trend of “fun at work”. Fuchs points out that gamification might be driven by new forms of ludic interfaces. Gamification conferences have also retroactively incorporated simulation; e.g. Will Wright, designer of the 1989 video game SimCity, was the keynote speaker at the gamification conference Gsummit 2013.
In addition to companies that use the technique, a number of businesses created gamification platforms. In October 2007, Bunchball, backed by Adobe Systems Incorporated, was the first company to provide game mechanics as a service, on Dunder Mifflin Infinity, the community site for the NBC TV show The Office. Bunchball customers have included Playboy, Chiquita, Bravo, and The USA Network. Badgeville, which offers gamification services, launched in late 2010, and raised $15 million in venture-capital funding in its first year of operation.
Among established enterprise firms, SAP AG, Microsoft, IBM, SAP, LiveOps, Deloitte, and other companies have started using gamification in various applications and processes.
Gamification 2013, an event exploring the future of gamification, was held at the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus in October 2013.
Through gamification’s growing adoption and its nature as a data aggregator, multiple legal restrictions may apply to gamification. Some refer to the use of virtual currencies and virtual assets, data privacy laws and data protection, or labour laws.
The use of virtual currencies, in contrast to traditional payment systems, is not regulated. The legal uncertainty surrounding the virtual currency schemes might constitute a challenge for public authorities, as these schemes can be used by criminals, fraudsters and money launderers to perform their illegal activities.
University of Hamburg researcher Sebastian Deterding has characterized the initial popular strategies for gamification as not being fun and creating an artificial sense of achievement. He also says that gamification can encourage unintended behaviours.
In a review of 132 of the top health and fitness apps in the Apple app store, in 2014, using gamification as a method to modify behavior, the authors concluded that “Despite the inclusion of at least some components of gamification, the mean scores of integration of gamification components were still below 50 percent. This was also true for the inclusion of game elements and the use of health behavior theory constructs, thus showing a lack of following any clear industry standard of effective gaming, gamification, or behavioral theory in health and fitness apps.”
Concern was also expressed in a 2016 study analyzing outcome data from 1298 users who competed in gamified and incentivized exercise challenges while wearing wearable devices. In that study the authors conjectured that data may be highly skewed by cohorts of already healthy users, rather than the intended audiences of participants requiring behavioral intervention.
Game designers like Jon Radoff and Margaret Robertson have also criticized gamification as excluding elements like storytelling and experiences and using simple reward systems in place of true game mechanics.
Gamification practitioners have pointed out that while the initial popular designs were in fact mostly relying on simplistic reward approach, even those led to significant improvements in short-term engagement. This was supported by the first comprehensive study in 2014, which concluded that an increase in gamification elements correlated with an increase in motivation score, but not with capacity or opportunity/trigger scores.
The same study called for standardization across the app industry on gamification principles to improve the effectiveness of health apps on the health outcomes of users.
MIT Professor Kevin Slavin has described business research into gamification as flawed and misleading for those unfamiliar with gaming. Heather Chaplin, writing in Slate, describes gamification as “an allegedly populist idea that actually benefits corporate interests over those of ordinary people”. Jane McGonigal has distanced her work from the label “gamification”, listing rewards outside of gameplay as the central idea of gamification and distinguishing game applications where the gameplay itself is the reward under the term “gameful design”.
“Gamification” as a term has also been criticized. Ian Bogost has referred to the term as a marketing fad and suggested “exploitation-ware” as a more suitable name for the games used in marketing. Other opinions on the terminology criticism have made the case why the term gamification makes sense.
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Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.