Gamification design, game design, instructional design, it’s all easy, or?

There is a misconception that game design, gamification design, learning design, instructional design, user experience design is easy. Mastery in any of the types of design will make the craft seem easy and because everyone has played games and taken courses, so surely it can’t be that hard to make something. A lot of the time when people want to buy a service, they reckon we can just mash something together in a couple of hours and hey, presto the job is done. In my years of working in all of the above, I have found the reality to be slightly different.

For me coming up with ideas and concepts is the easy part, communicating them and translating them into meaningful experiences and content that is the harder part. Once we have the high-level concept approved, we then expand and work on storyboards and more detailed designs (oh and that is after we have spoken to the target audience).

It is at that point, some of our clients feel they are now also expert on the type of design and they want to make changes. Now, if it is superficial and small stuff, we tend to go with it. But when the core design, whether it is gameplay, delivery channels and methods change, then we tend to throw in our expertise and explain the impact of those changes. In gamification and game design, we tend to find it will then be accepted and we agree typically to let the data drive future changes.

When it comes to learning design, everyone these days seems to think they can make an effective course and they know stuff about learning and instructional design. Just because we now have the tools with which we can create content on the fly doesn’t make them of good instructional value. There are some formula’s and recipes to follow to make your content useful to learners. From what I see coming from homemade or in-house on the fly, it doesn’t seem to be as easy as people think.

I reviewed a number of on the fly videos recently, which had taken several days to be created and a number of edits, so the true on the flyversions probably were worse. Anyway, here are a summary of errors: they missed why what they were explaining was important or even mattered. Actors and explainers blocked what they were trying to show with their body and when there was a second actor in the video to demonstrate something, they were basically left sitting looking mighty bored.  As a real motivational clincher, in some videos, the people were told off for doing it wrong too often. Background noises included someone actively interrupting the recording, banging of doors and other equally fun noises, etc. Needless to say, we advised against using these videos completely.

So if you are the DIY kind and really want to make your own instructional video, the 4 MAT questions are a good starting point:

  • Why
  • What
  • How
  • What if

When you watch people play games on live stream, you will often hear the commentators explain why they may have chosen that move, what it is they are doing or trying to achieve and they also explain a lot of what if scenarios and what they would have done in the player’s shoes. The how question is answered if you get a player to actually show you how they do what they do. YouTube is full of ‘How to” videos for lots of questions, so those videos are worth making.

Is it easy, well actually getting it right tends to take a number of tries and from years in the field of learning, game and gamification design I can tell you it tends to take iterations and a base of knowledge to put meaningful content together. For a start, I would recommend reading and learning the base knowledge of the kind of design you want to do. After that practice and putting it to the test with the public will give you the best feedback and learning.




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Don’t let age be a deterrent to gamification

For some time I have been saying that from our evidence, we find that older age groups in the workplace tend to respond better to gamification than for example Millenials, who are often the main reason why companies buy gamification. Research by TalentLMS around the use of gamification in learning found that in fact, over 90% of employees of over 45 years of age would find that gamification may make them more productive. I will say it again don’t let age be a deterrent to gamification.

We have noticed for some time that older age groups tend to respond just as well and often more to gamification in the workplace. For a lot of younger employees, it is in fact expected that workplace tools have similar feedback mechanisms as social media and games for example. For the more mature group who were used to workplace solutions that didn’t include any stimulus to help them perform better, this is indeed innovative and helpful.

don't let age be a deterrent to gamification

We also find that if given a safe and private environment to test out how you are doing with instant feedback on performance tends to attract more frequent visits from experienced employees to test out other ways of doing the same thing. For a lot of the less experienced workforce, the first step is still mastering a skill and then practising it in real life for feedback, before they will return and test new theories. For me, these results confirmed what we already had anecdotal evidence for.

Gamers are more receptive to gamification

This may not be a surprise to anyone but the same research found that gamers actually responded better to gamification than non-gamers, or at least they said so in a survey. I often find that if you ask someone if they will like something more or let them experience what both feel like, may come to different conclusions. I don’t know how it was measured other than a survey, so we can’t really comment there.

gamers like gamification

What the survey results also mentioned that 42% of the over 45’s play games every day in comparison to only 31% of the 18-24 age group. I think it is great to see that age is no longer something to worry about when it comes to gamification. I had a hunch a long time ago that the perception was slanted towards the younger age groups because of video games, but in fact crosswords, sudoku and solitaire have been mighty popular with the older groups. The reasons we play and what motivates us in gamification will also change over time, competition is still higher in younger age groups and personal satisfaction in completing the challenge is more prevalent in older workers.

I think the research carried out by TalentLMS is great and definitely worth exploring. I have followed it for a number of years and often used it to assist clients in making decisions towards gamification one way or another.

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We have a wonderful elearning offering but nobody is using it…

We often hear and see a wonderfully built e-learning offering in organisations and yet, nobody is using it.  Or at least that is the perception. Employees are not making the time to access learning that would help them grow in their roles or make them more efficient in specific areas.

The first questions I always tend to ask are:

  •  Have your people time to access learning?
  • Can they find the things they are looking for easily?
  • Is learning even a priority in their job role, performance?
  • When they do access learning, what is the reason for it?

There could be more depending on the answers and what we can see. When we do an audit of the current learning offering a lot of the time, the user experience is not on par with tools such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn, to name a few.

Searching and relevant finding is something a lot of organisations, need to improve for all learning, corporate and HR communications. Wasting time finding stuff is not useful and in today’s world, we want answers quickly.

When we work on a learning strategy project, we will then also insist on investigating why people learn and how people experience the current offer. Frequently, employees will say they learn for personal development or career development and then a range of more culture-specific or person specific reasons.

After the fact-finding and user motivation research is completed, we can then work on bespoke user journeys to maximise learning that is relevant and fitting within the organisational context.

How has gamification worked in this?

We have had learner quests or challenges on specific themes important to them and the company. Learning duels, where two learners choose to test who knows more. We have set up steps to build successful learning habits with benchmarks based on company expectations, experience and role. At times and for various reasons we may have had a trivia quiz, a knowledge test to prove you know enough not to have to take a course for example.

It really depends, on what the objectives are to give a fitting solution. One thing we do know for sure, if you are looking for a great example of learning related gamification, then Duolingo is a good starting point. Equally tools like learning Swift through Playgrounds or learning to code through Py. All of these language learning apps have a solid base where the learner can feel good about their progress and stay in control of their progress.


Does gamification work?

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Losing isn’t fun

I debated long an hard whether to write this post or not, but decided to go ahead. If you know me personally, then you know I am originally from Belgium (Antwerp to be precise) and that I support the Belgian football team. Hence, losing isn’t fun as the title for this post, because unless you live under a rock or in a country where football or soccer isn’t watched, then you would have noticed the world cup being played. Belgium lost in the semi-final to big neighbour France.

For a small country with only 11 million people, pulling together a team of people with the skills to be at the top of their game is no mean feat. For a while, this group of players has been tipped to be the golden generation, yet in all previous world and European cups, they didn’t gel as a team. This time under new leadership, they seemed to come together and had a stronger belief in themselves. As a side-effect, a whole nation of supporters started to believe in the chances of actually winning the world cup.

Personally, I was hoping they could too. For the biggest reason that it would for once and for all put to bed that Belgians don’t have a killer instinct and can actually win. I feel strongly that it is something that could change a lot for a nation, aside from just sports.

Losing hurts

In top sports, winning and losing are part of the game. Losing will still hurt, it is disappointing and brings out a whole range of emotions. Just looking at the players at the end of the game, you could read from their body language that it was not what they worked hard for.  It will take grit to recover and show up in the best form to play for a third place.

In our work in gamification, we often work on gamification and game designs and clearly set win conditions. At the end of the day, every game needs win-conditions. What is often overlooked is how to handle the losers journey.

Losing isn’t fun and the question in a work setting is often, should it be that way? In sports tournaments like in the world cup, really the winner takes it all, whereas, in events like the Olympics, the first three still receive credit and fourth place is considered the loser spot. I personally don’t think losing should be fun, if the aim of the game is to win.

Mentally, winners gain confidence and losers may have theirs knocked, it will take grit and practising to break through to a win. In business, if competition is core to how you structure work performance and recognition, it will also be important to build up people’s resilience and mental ability to deal with losing.

Practise winning to learn about losing

By building in practising to win and the understanding that it will take effort as well as losing to make it needs to be part of the design. Accepting second, third or minute improvements as good enough is not the same as practising to win. It is practising to improve. Improvement and measuring improvement is an important part of building confidence and as well as tracking to see if your effort is achieving something, but ultimately it is winning that will be teaching the true feeling.

By allowing players to experience the feeling of winning, you also instil a spirit that losing can’t be that good a feeling. When one team wins and another loses, the rhetoric and gracefulness of both sides is something that organisations can control. I like how in the game of rugby, the winners line up to applaud the losing team going to the dressing rooms and then the favour is returned by the losers. In the end, both sides recognise it was a game hard fought on the field. Soccer has a lot to learn in that and business too.

How to pick back up after a loss

Imagine you worked your heart out to make it to the top of the sales leader-board but someone still beats you to the top spot and wins the prize you really aimed for. A quick reset isn’t always the best way forward. In fact, allow yourself to experience the negative emotion and use it to feed your motivation. When it comes to developing inner motivation, a vast amount of society is driven by negative or avoidance motivation. It serves a purpose, hence we can use it to our advantage in the next quarter.

Examine what you did and failed to do that caused the loss as well as explore what the opposition did to win the end-game. In the world cup game, effectively one team scored and the other failed to do it. There were errors made in several positions and some players just froze. I would work with those players on breaking through similar situations, simulating them, role-playing them over and over in practice. So that when they face the situation again in real life, they know how to deal with it.

Some errors were forced out by the other team, again it is something you can work on and improve over time. Others were mental mistakes, because of panic, loss of belief and frustration. The mental game is also something I would recommend practising on, just as much as the skill to play the actual game. You shouldn’t set the bar lower, just because you lost one game, one quarter or didn’t master something the first time. All things worth winning take practice and losing to get to the top.

Creating lifelike conditions in training is how people are trained in emergency response and military units. We often see this very element missing when it comes to jobs in management, sales, customer service and operations. A lot of people wanting to perform at a top level turn to games and simulations to practise their skill in a safe environment so they can test out different strategies. I believe practising at all levels such as skills, mental game, tactical and strategic responses, etc. will be the game changer that makes the difference between winning and losing.

Passion and the motivation to win and keep implementing what you trained for when on the field, will ultimately create the win. Execution comes from the willingness to try and to keep going no matter what. It comes from discipline and sometimes being patient with your emotion so you can coherently finish the game.



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Will simple statistics on behaviour help drive behaviour change?

In gamification, the objectives is often to reinforce a wanted behaviour and discouraging unwanted behaviours. Often we link what is tracked into visual dashboards and scorecards to give the individual and their organisation feedback on performance. Sometimes the performance is benchmarked against others, sometimes it is purely about your own figures. But the question often is: will simple statistics on behaviour held drive behaviour change?

In my experience, the statistics are a starting point to raise awareness. From years of working in change management, there are a few other steps that drive actual behaviour change, which also need to be put in place in addition to numbers. You need to provide a good enough reason why, change is important and then the first next step towards positive change. Let’s delve into all of these parts.

The statistics

Figures on their own may not make sense to people, if they have no idea how to read them or if they have no reference point on whether this is good or bad. Traffic light colours to indicate whether you are in the green or red can be helpful, sticking with the international understanding that green means go and red means stop. Having targets to aim for and a clear breakdown of what it will take to complete the target, as in actionable steps.

In some fields, people may have an aversion to anything to do with numbers, there more than anywhere, you need to tell the story, often in images, of what the numbers tell you. Linking it to a more epic goal, which is meaningful to the individual and the organisation, can overcome this hurdle. I have seen teams combating monsters, I have watched people walk all around the world, I have also seen dashboards where the images represented a rainforest re-growing.

Making the numbers relevant to the daily actions of the individual are core to drive any change. If you are only showing a team measure then the opportunity for change lies in every team member taking on board personal responsibility for their actions. Setting standards of good and bad is also useful to give insight on whether someone is on track to perform or not.

Giving a reason ‘why’

Research from Goldsmith University in London showed that the provision of dashboards about our impact on the climate made very little difference in changing behaviours. If we look at health trackers, for those of us that are on a mission to make a change the trackers are helpful feedback. For those of us, who have other priorities, they can be a regular nuisance and a shrug of the shoulders nice to know.

Having a compelling reason to do something that comes from the individual and really links to their values and goals is important. Merely wanting to change is not enough.

Practical and linked to existing habits

When looking to achieve a goal, we need an actionable plan that fits into our lifestyle and daily routines. A plan needs to be practical and actionable. Contributing to climate change, for example, may be your goal and part of your values, but how does that translate into something that is practical and actionable for the individual. It may mean recycling trash for one person, for another, it is eating organic, for another, it is walking or cycling to work instead of taking the car. If however, the recycling station is miles away and it takes you a half day to bring the items there, even some of the very climate-conscious may not go as far as the recycling station because it just isn’t practical.

Our worlds are full of contradicting priorities and they pull us in various different directions, whether it is a trip to the gym or a dinner with friends. Going for a jog or continuing that chat on Whatsapp. It takes a bit of discipline and a clear will to achieve a goal to carry out and implement the steps needed. Building it in and linking it to things you already do regularly by habit is a good way to think about changing behaviour. One additional step to an existing habit is easier to achieve than a whole new routine.

First next step

When we are learning a new way of doing something, we need to know the next step. We may not need to know the full process from the start, but just the first next step is useful as your keep progressing. If you are playing a casual mobile game for the first time, the tutorial teaching you typically the first next step, not the whole game at once. Think about Candy Crush or Angry Birds, would you have gone past level 1 if you were given all the boosters and combinations and levels from the first time you tried playing?

The LinkedIn profile example comes to mind here. When they first introduced the progression bar on profile completeness, they also showed you the steps to take to make the % improve. Peer pressure and our conditioning from school to want to complete above a certain percentage, sure helped the rest of the way.

Gamification to help

Game mechanics such as progression trackers can help, feedback loops with benchmark colours can too. Moreover game dynamics such as competition, collaboration or perceived/real peer pressure can create the impetus to finally take the step towards behaviour change. Each scenario needs to be explored and examined to give an idea of what can work best for the audience you want to make the behaviour change.

Gamification for behaviour change always starts with an exploration of what drives the individuals. Once we know the values, goals and motivational drivers, we then look at game dynamics and subsequently game mechanics to build out from.


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