Gamification Creates Engagement
Engagement is the willingness to perform certain actions that lead to taking part in a certain experience.
What the “action” and the “experience” are is up to us.
Most traditional media, such as books and films, try to make the activity as simple as possible. Members of the audience are simply asked to pay attention. This doesn’t prevent media from providing a wide variety of experiences, to the point where no two pieces are exactly alike. Traditional media prove that we can offer engagement to any person or group, because there is always an experience they find valuable.
Additionally, video games have proven that we can also engage the player in a wide variety of activities. We have games for community builders, games for managers, games for tinkerers, games for people who like to break things, and many more.
This means that we can couple any experience with almost any kind of activity. In particular, we can create an experience that our users find compelling, and couple it with activity that we find useful.
This coupling is not a trivial task. Putting collected works of Stephen King on a bookshelf next to a manager’s desk does not create a perfect workplace for a manager who happens to love horror stories. If anything, the manager will now become more easily distracted, because in order to experience the novels of Stephen King, one needs to read them instead of working. In order for the coupling to work, there needs to be a feedback loop: activity results in experience that encourages even more activity.
Gamification is a technique of building strong relationships between experiences that users enjoy and responsibilities that we want them to assume.
Part of the job of a guard is patrolling the premises in case of trespassers. It’s tedious and repetitive, and if the guard falls into a constant pattern, it becomes easier for a trespasser to avoid him. We want to help the guard stay alert, and we also want them to randomize the patrol route. This is the desired activity.
It has been observed that guards who have worked in the same place for a long time begin to develop local folklore. They share stories of mysterious sightings and unusual visitors, such as a bird that got into a closed room despite there being no obvious ways in. This is an example of an appealing experience. It’s crucial that we’ve picked something that appeals to guards rather than ourselves.
We can gamify guard’s work by coupling the activity of patrolling the area with the experience of a developing story in four steps:
- We give each guard a device that allows them to plot their patrol route and shows them places they haven’t visited in a while. We don’t plot the route for the guards, because we want them to stay aware of their surroundings.
- The device also alerts the guard when an incident is detected.
- Occasionally, but not too often, we trigger a bogus alert. We never hide the fact that the alert is fake. In fact, we spice it up with a clearly fictional narrative, such as UFO and ghost sightings.
- The fake alerts eventually develop into an ongoing narrative. The guard is essentially taking part in a fictional investigation that follows the narrative rules of a police procedural. The guard is aware that this is just a game – but it’s the kind of game a guard is likely to enjoy, and it encourages good practices.
Many games put emphasis on numbers, such as scores, player statistics, or hit points, and status symbols, such as badges. This leads many people to assume players enjoy these things on their own. But for most people numbers and badges aren’t inherently engaging. Their role in games has to do with goals: it’s often easier to keep track of a goal when it’s measurable. In the example above, we didn’t need numbers at all, but we did need a well-written storyline.
In the next article I’m going to show you how gamification creates social networks.