Gamification has nothing to do with badges, points or leaderboards per se. It’s not about making it “fun”. It’s not about the way things look.
Ok, then what is gamification about?
Well let's look a great games to start with, the one things all games have in common is that games put players onto a path of personal development or better yet, personal transformation.
Yes, am going to say that again…
Games put players onto a path of personal transformation.
In a good game, people develop a skill and the game provides the tools for them to progress in this journey. Please note I have not used the word FUN; having fun is a result of developing a meaningful skill and not an engagement tool in and of itself with lasting stickiness.
In other words, FUN is a by-product of games; it is not the reason people keep coming back.
So in Game Thinking, Amy Jo Kim, explains it very, very clearly: the only reason people engage with games is that they are developing a skill they consider meaningful. In that same book, Kim goes on to explore the five stages humans go through to develop a skill. This framework shows us how to design products so that they are engaging for users, and keep them coming back.
In other words, this framework can help you design products that people love. It is not a method; it is not a process but a set of "design principles" that can help you design your solution. Let's explore it.
So remember, the first thing is to define what users are learning in your solution, what skill are they developing? To get to the nitty-gritty of that I would recommend you use Jobs To Be Done, but that is not the core of what I want to explore in this article. You can read more about that here.
With that done and dusted, let's look at the stages/features your product must have for people to engage. I will use two examples, one straight-forward and one to which you would not have thought these principles apply;
A) Smule; helps people develop their singing skills. If you are not familiar with the game then you should check it out. It is a great example of true gamification.
B) Couch to 5K; helps people to develop their running skills and develop a habit for it.
So, the stages are;
You must be able to execute the activity that you are looking to develop yourself in.
In the case of Smule, you can sing with the app to a backing track.
In the case of Couch to 5K, it’s the running itself. In this running app, you don't get a map that shows where you run, how long or any of that stuff. What you do get is a coach talking you through the session to motivate you and take you through the exercises.
You must provide feedback to help the user understand how to get better at the activity. If people don't get feedback, it’s harder to improve, and if they don't improve, you will get poor retention.
In the case of Smule, when you are singing, you can see what note you are hitting and where it should be. This helps you to sing the right note each time (real-time feedback).
In the case of Couch to 5K, I think this is the best example to showcase feedback. Here is where the community comes in. Users are encouraged to engage with other users to share and motivate themselves.
You must showcase the progress you have made. This part is critical for engagement; users will feel intrinsically motivated if they can see progress. This is part of human nature and simple behavioural science. Progress = motivation to do more.
In the case of Smule, it’s all about the songs you have recorded, the likes you have earned and the number of people following you. You can become famous with your singing.
In the case or Couch to 5K, there is a very structured "running program" - 9 weeks with 3 runs each week. In this way, people can see very quickly where they are and how much progress they've made. More importantly, it sets the framework for sharing feedback and experiences. Using their program progress code W2R1 (week 2 run 1) people can describe where they are, ask for tips and share experiences.
You must have a space where people can "invest" with the objective of personalising your experience and making the activity more pleasurable. This is again key to getting good engagement. The outcome of any investing features must be making that activity more pleasurable/rewarding/fulfilling through personalisation.
In Smule it is about finding the right songs; hooking up with others for a duet you want to sing and so forth.
In Couch to 5K, you can personalise your app by picking a coach, setting up reminders and so forth.
You must cue up the main activity. Cueing up is not just about an alert or a "push" to get people doing the activity. Cueing is about identifying when it is a good time and setting up the activity.
In the case of Smule it’s about letting users know there is a new song in the genre they love; that a user they follow has posted a request to duet and so on. It is about showcasing the "opportunity" of singing in the context of building the skill.
In the case of Couch to 5K it’s all about developing the habit. As you set your reminders, you are asked to define a time and visualise when, how, where and in what context you will train. This is a critical behavioural change tactic to increase the probability of a user picking up a habit.
So that is the hidden magic behind "gamification" resulting in good engagement and retention.
No matter what or how you are doing it, these principles can help you shape your product to ensure engagement and retention.
An excellent exercise you can do is try to map your current proposition on these five stages to see where you are strong and where you could start thinking of new features to support each stage.
The engagement cheat-sheet
Quick questions you can use to test your product
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