June 14, 2013

A Complete Guide to Gamification Design

This is a guest post from Victor Manrique of Epic Win Blog.

Gamification is a design experience to happiness and motivation. We should never forget that Design is Gamification´s biggest challenge and where all its power lies, like a double-edged sword.

So design matters, and it is the difference between another PBL system and a great gamified experience. There are many books, articles and case studies about why design is one of the most important things to take into account and for sure we could be hours talking about it.

But getting back to Gamification, how do we start?

First of all, we should start thinking as a game designer and as a game designer; our main goal isto deliver an awesome experience. OK, I know I know, Gamification is not a game, but since we are going to use stuff like mechanics, aesthetics or storytelling, let’s all pretend we are Blizzard’s number one designer for now!

But what do you mean with delivering an experience? How can I do it?

Well, that is a kind of long and complex question to answer because it involves so many things, (and there are whole books about it!) but to keep it simple, let’s start from the beginning. And our starting point is the Gamification basics so…

Whether you just arrived to the blog, or you already are an expert gamifier, it’s always good to refresh some Gamification basics. Why not having a look at some key points?

Now we are ready to go! Let’s get into the thrilling world of Gamification design!

Gamification design framework by Prof. Werbach: An Introduction

Even before starting with a new (actually, extended is more accurate) Gamification design framework, we should have a look at what I consider one of the best and most complete tools for designing, Professor Werbach´s Gamification design framework, also called “The 6 Ds”.

For those who still don’t know Kevin (@kwerb), this is a hangout we did some days ago, with great content and a superb explanation of his 6 Ds model.

In addition, a new edition of his Gamification MOOC on Coursera is planned for fall 2013 so feel free to sign up! I took the second edition and it was awesome and really insightful.

Basically, and as you may know, his model is based on 6 steps that are:

  1. Define business objectives
  2. Delineate target behaviours
  3. Describe your players
  4. Devise activity loops
  5. Don’t forget the fun
  6. Deploy the appropriate tools

If you want to know more about this extremely useful framework, I recommend reading his book “For the Win” (and a second part coming soon, check out the hangout to know further details!) in which you can find everything about this steps and how to implement them in your design process. Find his book and many others here.

Gamification design steps by @victormanriquey: The 4 Qs

So you made it down here! Great! I hope I could convince you to do two things: consider yourself the number one game designer of the whole industry (OK, just Blizzard or Roxio are great too) and start considering design as the most important part of Gamification!

Now we are ready to get into the 4 Questions model, an extended version of Prof. Werbach´s 6 “Ds”.

So what is that 4 Qs framework and how does it help me?

The 4 Qs model is an iterative process to design great gamified experiences to fun, happiness and motivation and it can be used for both internal and external Gamification, with an individual or community focus, and in overall, within any Gamification context.

So this is how it looks like:

gamification 1

Basically, and to put it simple (we’ll explain it later in two upcoming posts) a gamified experience relies on 4 variables, four questions with a clear answer:

          WHY? Goal

          WHAT? Actions

          WHO? Players

          HOW? System

WHY? First of all, we use Gamification because of a main goal, something we want to achieve. In overall, the main goals of Gamification are within these categories: get better results, get more users, make our players spend more time on something and increase user engagement. As an example, imagine we are a business and we want to sell more (better results)

WHAT? Once we have settled our Gamification Goal, it’s time to do something about it, see what we are encouraging our player to do. So in order to achieve our goal, the players will have to take some actions. Following the example, if as a business we want to sell more, some of the actions we may foster through Gamification might be just buying more (direct), promote our brand or create a community (indirect), offer special events (indirect), etc.

WHO? We all have users, clients, customers, students, etc. Those are our players, and they are different, with different motivations. (See my post on Gamasutra about it here: LINK). We should get what I call “internal” and “external” feedback (from inside and outside the company) in order to know more about them. And a really important point, the more types of players we can encourage to use our system, the better!

HOW? This is the most critical part of the design process because the “HOW” changes everything. So how are we going to design our system? Well, everyone has their own system, so here is a brief introduction of mine (more coming very soon). I call this design process “The 3 Pyramids”, and this is why:

To put it simple, we are going to use 3 things:

  1. Story, Mechanics and Aesthetics (From The Book “The art of game design”)
  2. The Gamification Player Types & The T-E Pyramid (more here:
  3. The Player’s Journey (Campbell’s model)

Basically, and to put it simple (I’ll explain it very soon in further detail) we are going to divide our design process into 3 stages in time. Each frame will focus on a type of player (not forgetting the others) applying story, mechanics and aesthetics as “game elements”.

Gamification Design Steps: 4 critical questions

But, how do i design a great Gamification experience? What are the main points that i have to take into account before even thinking about game elements? And most important of all, do we fully understand what we are doing? 

Those are the typical thoughts that might pop up in your mind (also mine) when designing a gamified experience, questions that sooner or later we all have to answer in order to deliver a great experience to our players.

So, as we have seen before, there are 4 questions to take into account when designing a great gamification experience: WHY, WHAT, WHO and HOW. In this post, we are going to analyse the first 3 of them, leaving the How and the model that describes it (“The 3 Pyramids”) for the third and last part of these series, once we have already mastered the answer to the others.

STEP 1 – Understand WHY

Imagine for a second that you are the CEO of one of the leading companies in gamification. One day, you receive and email from the CMO of a huge enterprise telling you that they might be interested in gamification, but since it’s all kind of new, they want you to meet them at their HQ in order to explain it in further detail.
After some minutes jumping around and opening Champagne bottles “Formula One” Style to celebrate it, you might want to think for a second where is your pitch going to start. And you may want to begin causing a big WOW explaining the WHY of gamification, or in business executive words, what i get from it in numbers. 
So, why do we apply gamification? Because we want to achieve a goal through happiness and people’s motivation (for more info about it check my post on gamasutra here. In overall, Gamification can be used to achieve any of the following goals:

  • Getting better results
  • Going viral
  • Increasing time spent & engagement

Better results: Ever wondered why Nike became all of a sudden one of the top brands for runners? It wasn’t like that some years ago, when Asics, K-swiss or Reebok were more popular among the running crowd. However, since Nike+ and related strategies were launched, the company has become one of the standards worldwide, increasing its market share. Talking about results, what about the gamified learning experiences? In a world where kids are surrounded by interactivity and rich virtual environments that provide great amounts of stimuli, what is more likely to be successful? Duolingo or a boring english academy? And what would happen when those children begin to work?

Up until now, it is clear that gamification produces better results wherever it is applied: more profitable businesses, better school marks, greater performance at work, etc. However, always remember that gamification is not suitable for everything!

Going viral: Gamification is not only a way to improve your results, but also a path to viral experiences and growth hacking. One of the best examples of growth hacking, was Dropbox, that offered small rewards and achievements in order to get more users. It was a very basic approach but it worked quite well.

The next level of going viral is Foursquare and its finer gamification experience that has turn the platform into the leading startup for social geolocation. Other platforms that have implemented a gamified growth hacking experience have been Fitocracy, Karmacracy or the new Read Social App supported by Gabe Zichermann.

What is clear, is that gamification is a very powerful tool for attracting more players to your system and we’ ll see how to do that in following posts on this blog, when talking about mechanics in greater detail.

Increasing Time spent & Engagement: How many hours did you spend playing Final Fantasy, Wow, Angry Birds, Pacman, Monkey Island, Super Mario or any other great games? I guess a lot, as i also did, just because “you couldn’t stop playing”.

That’s why, It is of no surprise that one of the most powerful effects of gamification is the engagement that it produces. We’ve all seen kids playing countless hours on their video consoles, or adults playing on their smartphones non-stop.

What is it about video games that are so engaging? Well, we could be hours discussing that but mostly it is due to the fun they create. There are games for every type of person and many different types of fun. I have my own category of fun types but there are many others done by Leblanc, Lazzaro, Radoff, etc. Anyway, the most important thing here is that gamified experiences really engage people to spend more time on your system if well designed, and they do so, because they are a source of happiness, fun and motivation.
Last but not least, always remember that gamification is not the panacea!! If the Value Proposition is terrible there’s not that much it can do!! To gain some knowledge in modeling value propositions read the books of Alexander Osterwalder!!

STEP 2 – Establish WHAT

We have gone through the main benefits of using gamification and it’s time to move on! Now we know our goal, let’s say we are gamifying to increase our user engagement. So how are we going to achieve this? 
Well, even before knowing the type of players that we are going to have or foster in our system (conducting research on that can be done since the very beginning and actually, it’s advisable to do so) we need to know what actions they are going to take in order to achieve our goal. But why setting the actions before knowing our players? Just for a reason: we are setting desired behaviours, actions that we think will help to achieve our goal, and once we’ve done it, it’s time to model them, see which mechanics, aesthetics and stories they are going to be filled with.

So the next step is deciding how, and they are many ways to do so and since every system and case is going to be different it is of help to ask ourselves some of the following questions:

– Why are we applying gamification? What is the goal, the purpose of it?

– What actions could take our players to achieve that? What is the core of them?

– Are those actions related to the objective in some way? Does it make sense?

– Can we establish a mechanic, aesthetic or story to encourage that action? Some examples could be:

– Nike wants to sell more of their running trainers, so they want people to run more, and become more active.

– Karmacracy wants to gain more users so they want people to share more links, be more social and use their links instead of goo.gl ones.

– Line wants to become the number one chat app gaining loads of users and engaging them in more activities rather than texting, so they want people to use all of their services, use their chats more effectively and create buzz about it.

STEP 3 – Know your players and foster ALL

Our third step is knowing your players! As we all imagine, it’s necessary to know what kind of people are going to use our system in order to make them happy and motivated. Quite obvious right? But… How do we actually know them? And here is where the tricky part of describing the players (as Prof. Kevin Werbach states) comes, how do we get all the data? 

And i say this, because there are many gamification player types models (check out mine based on Andrzej Marczewski here.  but they are all very useful when we GET the data. Without any reliable data they are less powerful.
So, two ways of getting data about our players:

– Internal: all the data that we already have about our users. There are many ways to interpretate this, but i usually like to do it following systems like VALS, or similar.

– External: the difficult part, we need to contact with some representative sample of players and conduct some research. Although it can be done in other ways, i recommend this as game designers do with their play testers. Ask them what motivates them, do some psychological tests or whatever you feel like will be good, and always offer them something in return! Their time is valuable and their info too!

So now we now the goals of our gamified system, the actions that will help us achieve it and the kind of people that will use the platform! I think it’s time to start diving into the amazing world of the our last design step: how to create a gamified system using mechanics, aesthetics and stories!

Gamification Design Steps: Mechanics, Aesthetics and Story

Mechanics, Aesthetics, Storytelling… We’ve heard so much about them but, do we actually understand how to use them? Which one should go first and whyWhat are the design steps that we should follow to create a great gamified system?

Great! So now we have some knowledge about Professor Werbach’s model and we know that designing a gamified system involves 4 critical questions that are: WHY, WHAT, WHO and HOW and we are going to focus on the most important of them, the HOW, the real steps to follow when starting to design.

So, some small tips to remember before starting the design process:

– Designing is an iterative process, we are going to build a prototype, test it, tune it and keep on going, and that is going to happen quite a lot

– Our main tools are going to be mechanics, aesthetics and storytelling

– And last but not least, design is the funniest part! It’s where all the magic takes place so let’s have some good fun! However, and as Scott Rogers says, “Designing game systems is haaaaard” so be ready for it!

Designing a gamified system? Challenge accepted! Here we go!

LEVEL 1 – IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE

So here we are, some big company just told us they want to apply gamification and we are already thinking of cool mechanics, fancy aesthetics, maybe some epic story… but hey! this is not the beginning! Designing a system is like building a house, it’s the base we should start with, not the furniture!

Always keep in mind one thing: a game is a game because of the experience it delivers to the player. Without the experience, feelings and emotions, it’s just an empty system! And it happens the same with gamification.

Our very first step is the experience. We should ask ourselves this question: What feelings and emotions do we want our players to experience? Or in other words, how do i want the players to feel when playing my gamified system?

Think of it for a moment, what do you feel when you are playing Guild Wars? Final Fantasy or Team Fortress? And what about The Sims or Angry Birds?

It is very likely that you are thinking of words such as freedom, power, joy, wonder, courage, mistery, risk, anger, etc. Because if something is clear, is that games deliver experiences through feelings and emotions, and we should really take this into account.

So, first of all, what is going to be gamified? Is it a product, a learning process, a working environment etc. And then, which kind of experiences may fit better? What is it that we want to provoke in our players?

In example, if we were to gamify a candy shop, it could be great if we design a magical, delicious and tasty system that encourages freedom, awe, fantasy, etc. We already have some ideas about our players, so it’s just a matter of matching the players and the best feelings.

 

LEVEL 2 – CHOOSE YOUR EPIC THEME!

How are experiences delivered? How can we make our players feel really deep and rich emotions?

Well, that´s a big thing, and there are so many elements involved, but one of them and our next step, is what Jesse Schell calls “The theme”. So, what is it? And to answer that question let´s formulate another one: why are theme parks called like that? Joining dots? Sure you are!

The theme is the representation of the experience, what the game is all about, a general framework, the type of magic circle where it all makes sense. If we think of Disneyland, the main theme is the magical world of Disney, a fantastic environment where dreams come true and the impossible is not. Anyway, the list of themes is at some point endless, going from medieval to super heroes, and we can always mix themes to create a new unique one!

Oh! And just as a reminder, the theme is not the genre of the game, because a pirates game may well be a FPS, or a RPG, etc. So, choose the experience you want to deliver, and pick the theme that will transmit them in the best and most powerful way!

LEVEL 3 – THE JOURNEY BEGINS: STORY, AESTHETICS AND MECHANICS (SMA)

Now we’ve chosen a theme that will enhance the experience, and deliver outstanding emotions and feelings to our players, it´s time to put it all together and start the journey with the SMA design model!

So, how do we actually start designing? First of all, let´s have a look at the main elements of the SMA Model: 

So, we are going to use 4 elements:

– Story, Mechanics and Aesthetics (SMA) as our main design tools

– The player’s journey that will give us 4 design stages: discovery, onboarding, mid game and endgame. They are very useful because they split up the design process into 4 phases, letting us focus on every player and their perfect SMAs. For more info about Yu-kai´s great explanation of the 4 stages have a look here.
– The 3 types of Fun: quick fun, extrinsic fun and intrinsic fun that match with the player types

LEVEL 4 – THE COMPLETE DESIGN PROCESS

So now we’ve got everything, let the magic begin!

SMAs Design Procces

 Define the objectives and goals: WHY 

 Describe the desired general actions: WHAT 

 Know your main types of players, but foster all: WHO 

 Determine the experience, theme and a simple prototype of the player’s journey
 Combine the stages, with the types of fun and player types using lean processes within design phases. Advance through them like this:

PHASE 1

– Prototype of the onboarding storyline

– Mechanics and aesthetics that will fit better with the enjoyers (quick fun)

– BUILD, LEARN, PIVOT/GO ON

– Prototype of the midgame storyline

– Mechanics and aesthetics that go better with the extrinsic players (extrinsic fun)

– BUILD, LEARN, PIVOT/GO ON

– Prototype of the endgame storyline

– Mechanics and aesthetics that go better with the intrinsic players (intrinsic fun)

– BUILD, LEARN, PIVOT/GO ON

= Phase 1 completed > Design process completed 20-25%

PHASE 2

.

.

.

PHASE X

= Phase X completed > Design process completed 100%

This might be a complete design process but it is my personal approach, there are many others and all of them are valid! Just as a conclusion, I really want to focus on the words “learn/test” and “pivot/go on” as the main keys of the process. 

Let the magic begin!

@victormanriquey

+Victor Manrique

Looking for software? Try our Product Selection Tool