You’ve heard about gamification. You understand the benefits it could bring to your business. You’ve seen examples of how it works, and now you’re ready to begin moving forward with using it towards achieving your business goals. But before you do that, it’s of paramount importance that you also understand why many gamified applications fail. Gartner predicts that by 2014, “80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily because of poor design.” What is it you have to consider in designing gamified applications in order to maximize their potential for success?
To get to the core of the why gamified apps fail, one must first go back to the essential goal of gamification. Gamification strives to direct a certain desired user behavior predictably through the use of game dynamics in a non-game activity. Remember that games have influential appeal because they satisfy human nature’s desire for achievement, and thus they make us want to participate and do well. But are humans attracted to every and any game? Surely you can think of a number of games you don’t enjoy playing. Some games are too hard that they easily frustrate players, while some games are too easy to win. Some games are too complex in their design they are difficult to understand, while others are too simple they become boring. There is definitely a sweet spot that every game design must hit. It’s a balancing act that takes into account how to best reach and influence human behavior.
As gamification guru Gabe Zichermann states in his book Gamification By Design, “Gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology.” Games will succeed mostly because they are designed to appeal to the human mind, not because of their flashy graphics. People will play games because they are fun and satisfying, so if you can make something work-related more fun by using elements of gaming, you can influence people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s what makes gamification work.
This is a tall order, though, as many project managers tasked with gamifying a company application are finding. There is a lack of game design talent to use toward these projects. Too often in these early days of gamification, designers will get caught up in the basic gaming elements of points, leaderboards, and badges without diving deeper into the more subtle and, frankly, more important elements of game design, including things like balancing competition and collaboration, or defining a meaningful game economy, as explained by Gartner’s Brian Burke. Because they are missing these key elements, many “organizations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience,” says Burke.
To successfully gamify an application, there are three elements that Burke emphasizes must be present:
Disregarding any one of these components will cause a game to feel unbalanced to its users and will discourage continued use. Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening to most of today’s early attempts at gamification. Make sure to follow the 3 M’s in order to avoid this:
For your gamified app to succeed, people have to want to use it. They have to be motivated to continue to choose the behaviors you desire out of them. Motivation occurs from two types of rewards: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic rewards include points, money, and grades that users desire to receive from outside themselves. Game designers can easily incorporate these features into a gamified app. The more challenging motivator to tackle is the intrinsic, which comes from within the individual due to the interest they have in the task and the enjoyment they receive from completing it. Beyond the points, beyond the leaderboards, your application must be something users actually want to use. Finding a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards is essential to a successful gamified app.
Games must be able to maintain their users’ engagement. A game that is too simple or easy will quickly become boring. A gamified app needs to be able to immediately engage its users and continue their interest. Game designers can establish an engaging momentum through the use of rules, levels, challenges, chance, and rewards. At the same time, designers must be careful not to make a gamified app too challenging, as that will also hurt a user’s momentum because of confusion and frustration.
Users must be able to see and value the larger purpose behind why they are using your gamified app. Make sure your users understand the application’s intentions for them and that they feel they are contributing toward that purpose. Human nature desires achievement and a sense of fulfillment, and gaming elements are very good at satisfying those needs. Make sure your app is able to do this for your users.
Though there is a certain novelty around simply applying points systems to a company’s applications, businesses will soon find that the novelty fades fast, and they will be left with a poor excuse of a gamified app that does little to advance their business goals. Avoid this by remembering the 3 M’s- Motivation, Momentum, and Meaning. Make them the focus of any gamification initiative you undertake, and you will give your gamified app the best shot at being a successful avenue for accomplishing your business’s goals.