Saturday, March 23, 2013

Part 5 - Gamification Design

According to Prof. Kevin Werbach design thinking is a general approach to addressing challenges which is particularly useful in gamification. In recent years there have been a lot of discussions about the concept of design thinking and it has been stated that design thinking should be a process that businesses engage in for any purpose.

So what does design actually mean? Prof. Kevin Werbach gave us  his synthesis of different viewpoints of many people that highlights some of the major aspects of design thinking.
1. Design is purposive: it has a goal. It's not about making something beautiful or creating a process that does a certain thing. It's about trying to achieve some objective and everything in that process has to tie into that objective. And the design of a gamified system has to constantly refer back to achieving that goal.

2. Secondly, it's human-centred; it is designed around people. So it's about coming up with solutions for people, which means that we have to think about the experience people are going to have; real people who want to achieve something real in their lives. Design thinking is about pushing for the experience and keeping in mind what that experience actually looks like to people. We have to remember here that the experience of the player is not the same as the experience of the designer.

3. Third element of design thinking is balance. The idea is that we need to have a balance of algorithms and creativity to address people's experiential needs and not to miss opportunities for creativity and innovation because those tend to lie outside formulas. But we should also focus on what's in the middle: focusing on what we do when there is some data, but insufficient data to give us a clear structured algorithm. And this often involves abductive reasoning developed by Charles Sanders Peirce.  Essentially, this is about inference from insufficient information. So, we don't have enough information to reach a judgement but we've got a rough explanation; we start with the best explanation we've got and then we make an inference from there. So we try and jump from there and make that abductive leap using intuition but basing it on some kind of foundation.

4. Finally, design thinking is iterative, it inherently expects that we are not going to get it right the first time, but we are going to have to try, fail, learn and try again. Thus iteration means doing the same thing multiple times but improving over time through the process. So you start with a rough prototype, then you play test it by letting some real people actually try and play with it. You observe what the experience is like, how game mechanics works, how the rules work, etc, and based on that you iterate and improve.

Prof. Kevin Werbach and his colleague Dan Hunter have developed a 6-step process for implementing a gamified system + questions and tips we should bear in mind in order to develop a people-orientated ganified system:
Step 1 - Define your business objectives. What is this system designed to accomplish? What are its goals?
Step 2 - Delineate target behaviours. What is it that you want people to do? Gamification is about encouraging people to do certain things. Thus, you need to start out with an understanding of what those things are.
Step 3 - Describe your players. Who is going to use the system? What do they like? How can the sstem respond to the different kinds of player that you have.
Step 4 - Devise your activity loops. There are two types of loops that move the action in a gamified system forward. They are engagement loops and progression loops. This is where you structure the core micro and macro level game play aspects. (to be discussed in more detail)
Step 5 - Don't forget the fun. Fun is important. The system has to be engaging.
Step 6 - Deploy. Use the right tools for the right job. Use the right elements and the right structure. Put them into place in the gamified system.

The first step in the gamification design framework is to define business objectives. Now, business objectives can be about anything but not about players accumulating points and badges. These should be the goals that the gamified system is supposed to accomplish. Points and badges are the way the system works; they are the intermediate step that the system puts in front of the player. So what we need to think about here is what the ultimate goals are and what will define whether the system is a failure or a success. So how to catalogue business goals for a gamified system? Prof. Kevin Werbach offers a few concrete steps to take. Firstly, make a list of all the business or other (education or health) goals you want the system to achieve. List everything you can think of and be as specific as possible. Then rank the list: number the goals you mentioned according to to their importance, trade off the ones that are in conflict against the others that are really important to you. Next step is to cut out the ones that are not really your business objectives. You should be left with the most important goals, not the means to achieve something, like badges or points, which are part of game elements. Next get rid of everything that is not an ultimate business objective. Finally, justify each remaining objective. By doing this we generate a list but we also can start to see what needs to be resolved and what needs to be play-tested through the process as the system is designed.

Step two is to delineate target behaviours. This is what you want your players to do and it is important again to be as specific as possible. And again you need to figure out what the success metrics are. In other words, what will tell you that the gamification project was a success, what will let you decide that you achieved the goals. If there are any conflicting points, do the same as with business objectives - rank them. Finally, decide what the analytics are. What are the ways of measuring the path towards the success metrics by virtue of the activity on those target behaviours. There is a variety of different analytics to use. For example, DAU (daily average users) and MAU (monthly average users) And this is a ratio of these two numbers. The ration can tell you how engaging your site is and how many returning users there are. The second analityic is called Virality. This is the rate at which people refer their friends to your site and those come t see it. Finally, another one is virtual economy. And this is about how much activity is happening on your site, what the level of usage is and how much interaction there is. So, all of this tells us a lot about how the system is operating.

The third step is to describe your players. The basic starting point will be to learn about players' age, where they are from, income level, etc. This would be useful for marketing strategy. Psychographics can be useful here too. What do you know about their behaviour? What do they like to buy?  However, this will differ depending on who the gamified system is for: your employees or customers. But a very important aspect to learn about your players is what exactly motivates them. As a starting point what can be said about the different types of motivations that the players have? This is important because as it has been said before gamification involves motivation. Finding out what motivates players can help to create a system which will allow various forms of accomplishments. So, how to define different kinds of players in a gamified system? A solid starting point here would be Bartle's Player Type.
Screenshot taken from Players who suit MUDs

When Richard A. Bartle was studying early multi-user dungeons, he discovered certain recurrent patterns and four broad types that he could fit players into. Although the model is debatable, it has proven to be very durable. Players may be one or two of the types depending on a system. They may also change category/type from game to game.
  • Achievers - want to overcome obstacles, to achieve something, probably get recognition for their achievements;
  • Explorers - want to interact with the world, want to see what is possible within the system, want to explore and try out;
  • Socializers - want to interact with other players (as opposed to interaction with the world), want to be in teams, want to chat, want to be part of community, for them social experience is more important than achievements;
  • Killers - they don't just want to win, they want to destroy other players, they want to impose themselves on other people, want to be in control of the situation, want to feel that they are the ones that keep the group alive. 
So, it's important to think about how these categories can be applied to any kind of situation that is going to be gamified.

Now to the next step: Activity Loops. Loops here are structures that are repetitive, recursive, branching off in different directions. Prof Werbach looked at two types of activity loops: Engagement Loops and Progression Loops. "Engagement loops operate at micro level - individual user actions. Progression loops operate at macro level - broader structures of activity throughout the course of he game." The engagement loop is about giving the player some reason to be motivated enough to take an action. If the motivation isn't strong enough to lead to action, another motivator will come up until the user takes an action. As soon as the player starts doing something, they get immediate feedback, because it is important to give a clear feedback (points or badges, for example) to what the player is doing. Seeing the level of their achievement can in itself become a motivator. This is why it is a loop. The action produces feedback, the feedback becomes a form of motivation, the motivation leads to more actions. A gamified system should be designed in a way that the loop takes place. And a well-designed gamified system will keep that process moving so that each piece reinforces the other pieces.

A gamified system also moves forward through so-called progression loops. Basically, these are the steps that a player needs to take to get from start to finish. But because the whole journey may seem too overwhelming and even scary to the player, the journey has to be broken down into smaller parts: challenges, completing which the player will eventually get to the finish line. So, this is one kind of progression loop where the player moves from start to finish through intermediate steps which are designed in a way that the player has a sense of relative ease of individual steps; the player has a sense that each task is doable and achievable. The player can see the next step and the ultimate goal seems more within reach which can also motivate.

Another way to think of progression loops is as a player's evolution in the game, the player's development from a newbie/novice to a master. This is typically done through rising and falling action. So the first step is onboarding: the process of getting the players to the point where they know how to play the basics of the game on their own, preferably within the game itself. Then they start moving up to a higher level and at some point they need to have a rest. If the difficulty of challenges constantly increases, it might be too challenging to complete the steps and get to finish. Players need a break, an easier task to complete after some difficult ones. Basically, the difficulty level should go up and down, up and down and then they can get a really hard task, typically called boss fight, which is a demarcation point of getting to the next level or segment of the game. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate mastery over that part of the game. After boos fight, players should get some more rest and continue their journey. The challenges should, of course, vary not to make the game boring.

So, a well-designed gamification system will have a well-structured engagement loops that ensure that feedback pushes towards motivation which pushes towards action, etc. It will also have well-structured progression loops which get the player from the early easy stage to the hardest stage of mastery through a set of processes that allow them to progress through the game.

The final elements of Prof Werbach's gamification framework are fun and deployment of appropriate tools. It turns out that it is easy to lose sight of fun element in a gamified system, especially if there is a heavy focus on PBLs (points, badges and leaderboards). This doesn't mean that PBLs cannot be fun, but because they are external motivators, they might not be fun at all times. A gamified system needs to be a bit more engaging than that. It should possibly have some puzzles, problems, surprises, etc. It should try to address different types of fun that players would be interested in. I talked about the types of fun in a previous post.

The final step in the design process is to deploy appropriate tools. In my previous posts I have talked about the toolkit that Prof Werbach shared with us. There are about 30 tools to use and this shows the richness of the palette that a gamification designer has to work with. You can't design the system until you have asked all the right questions and come up with provisional answers and then, after this has been done, we still need to sit down and think about the different options and tools that can be used and then pick the most appropriate ones for the aim. After this we will have to play test the system, improve and play test again. The system will need more improvements until we have a system that works for real people.

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