Keeping a gamification design fair for your intended audience

Balancing a gamification design is no easy feat at the best of times. Keeping your end-user in mind at every given time is however essential. I actually recommend having the persona description somewhere in plain sight when you are working on the design. It will subliminally remind you of what they can and can’t do.

We are working on a gamification design aimed at a student audience for future quite technical recruitment into engineering roles. The student actually doesn’t have any technical knowledge, yet we do want to test their ability and appetite for it. It led to an interesting discussion with the client as to what we should be able to expect from someone without in-depth role knowledge.

If we forgot about the end-user, we would have come up with something amazing for the people fully skilled in the highly technical role, but a bit unfair to someone without full training. Sometimes the temptation to build something more advanced is there. It is where user testing also plays an important role. Considering it before you start prototyping means you can limit pre-working.

From a learning or recruitment gamification design perspective, knowing what you expect people to have in terms of knowledge, ability and skills before they engage with the design is part and parcel of user-research. Having a clear profile on their motivation is the first step, but assumed pre-qualification will also add the fairness factor for your design.

Making it too easy will get boring quickly, but having an early win does work to build confidence. If in doubt of the level, I would say choose slightly harder than it needs to be. My thinking here is that games such as Flappy Bird were so hard people just kept trying to beat it. Having insight into the behaviour profiles of your target audience will obviously help in setting this challenge.

When you are dealing with scientists and problem-solving professions, making a gamification design too easy, is a sure way to turn them away. They would prefer the harder puzzle or the more complex gameplay to stay engaged. For more social butterflies, easy fun is much more important and they will give up if it is too hard.

The ultimate fairness test is to observe how a group of your intended target audience engages with your design. Seeing what they figure out quickly and what they get stuck on is really quite interesting to see and you may choose to adapt your design accordingly or not.

In any gamification design, you want your player to feel that they have a chance to win and do well. Making that process fair based on their skills, ability and knowledge goes without saying but can easily be overlooked. Excitement and expectations can get the better of both the designer and the client, so ensuring you have checkpoints in place to tap back into who this is for, is important.

Inclusion by ability

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Is super league triathlon gamification of top sport?

This weekend I was fascinated with triathlon super league racing. Triathlon is already a tough sport, even without additional challenges. If you have ever tried the trio of swimming, cycling and running, you know transitions are challenging and can turn your legs into jelly. Traditionally each leg is relatively long and placing well in each event and coming out of transitions cleanly is key as well as pacing your effort across the disciplines to reach the destination.

Each race format allows you to gain some kind of “mastery”. Racers don’t only have to aim to finish high, they also have to race fast enough to not be eliminated. In each race, they can use a booster in the form of a shortened course. You can only use it once in any one race.

To me, this looked like adding gamification to top sports. It is as if the challenge of triathlon wasn’t already hard and competitive enough in its own right. I wonder if it was the competitive spirit of racers that drove them to think up this new format or whether it was rather a way of making it more interesting to follow. Triathlons, just like marathons and other endurance events, tend to be less popular to watch. I have to say I kept watching this format to see how it plays out, but also out of fascination with human athletic achievement.

Here are the levels of mastery aka the various races over a two-day period:

Master of versatility

Throwing the traditional swim-bike-run sequence out the window the Triple Mix shuffles the disciplines over three stages. Tactics for survival are fierce and athletes are eliminated from the race if they fall more than 90 seconds behind. Mistakes in this format are costly and the fight to stay in the race will be the focus.

STAGE 1 – 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run (10-minute break), 

STAGE 2 – 2KM Run- 5KM Bike- 300M Swim (10-minute break),

STAGE 3 – 5KM Bike- 300M Swim- 2KM Run

Master of tenacity

The Eliminator tests the resilience, stamina and velocity of the athletes in a pressure-cooker format where field position proves key over timing. Athletes must finish high enough to not be eliminated whilst managing their effort against fatigue. Three stages of traditional swim-bike-run whereby athletes need to hold their ground and watch their backs in each stage to be eventually crowned as the most tenacious and tough athlete on the Super League Circuit.

STAGE 1 – 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run (10-minute break)

STAGE 2 – (Top 15 finishers from Stage 1) 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run (10-minute break)

STAGE 3 – (Top 10 finishers from Stage 2) 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run

Master of persistence

The Equalizer starts with an individual time trial in one of the three disciplines, racers only find out on the day. The times taken here will set the scene and provide gaps for Stage 2. Athletes who post good individual times in Stage 1 will be fighting hard to stay away from a charging main field over the SWIM-BIKE-RUN-SWIM-BIKE-RUN of Stage 2. Fastpack swimmers, bikers and runners will be battling to come through the field while those with a time advantage give their all to stay out front.

STAGE 1: Individual Time Trial

STAGE 2: Enduro Style Racing 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run – 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run
Master of tactical racing
The Sprint Enduro splits into two stages, stage one is a SPRINT swim-bike-run format to determine the TOP 5 athletes from 2 heats selected by lucky draw to automatically qualify for Stage 2. The next 2 fastest athletes from the heats will also go through to Stage 2, giving the top 12 athletes a chance to race it out in a shortened Enduro style format of Swim-Bike-Run x2. Tactics for survival are fierce because if an athlete falls more than 90 seconds behind at the timing checkpoint in any discipline then they will immediately be removed.

STAGE 1: The Sprint

1. The field will be split into 2 groups by lucky draw

2. 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run

3. Rest until Stage 2

STAGE 2: Enduro Style Racing

1. 12 athletes as a mass group start

2. 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run – 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run
Master of endurance
The Enduro is considered the most brutal format of all. Requiring endurance and tactics, The Enduro is a non-stop burst of swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run without any break. The added element of speed is tied into the race demands of The Enduro, with the two slowest athletes at the end of each discipline being eliminated immediately. The winner is the first athlete across the finish line upon completion of the entire race sequence.
STAGE 1 – 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 1.6KM Run- 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 1.6KM Run- 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 1.6KM Run (non-stop)
I found it fascinating to follow and definitely questioned if this is still good for athletes. From a competition perspective, the elimination challenge definitely adds the drive and pressure to perform better. Smart tactical racing was still possible. From a competitive gamification design perspective, it gives good ideas on adding more challenge both from mixing it up and from adding in elminination as a risk. The booster will help keep more people in the game or give the leaders an advantage.

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Reflections from Gamification Summit Turkey

Gamification Summit Turkey has closed and had a theme of changing behaviour running through it.  I have great respect for conference organisers the world over because there are so many moving parts to looking after, so well done to team Gamification Turkey. What was outstanding is to have the consecutive English translation for the talks in Turkish, it made me feel very included.

It is always an honour to be invited to a conference and share your knowledge. I also enjoy learning from other people’s experiences and insights which is why I tend to stay around for the other speaker presentations. So here are my reflections on the event.

The conference started with a double act keynote of Joris Beerda and Thomas Lindemann which basically took us through the Octalysis framework and touched on a Volkswagen case study around their soon to be launched loyalty program. For me,  it would have been more interesting to hear more case study rather than the framework, but I guess giving away the details before the launch would not leave much for curiosity. It will be great to hear more about this case again after roll-out. Loyalty schemes and gamification have been old friends but stuck on status and points as Thomas pointed out, to include loot boxes is a bold move especially given the negative press they were getting.

A stand-out presentation from a client perspective was the food ordering gamification for Yemeksepeti. Okan Erol shared their journey with pitfalls and highlights that brought them to the current gamified ordering service. They had shortlisted 3 well-known gamification platforms, 2 of which they engaged at different times, but failed to deliver and resulted in the project being put on hold. In the end, they went with a bespoke solution created by people who had been watching their efforts (if I understood that correctly). This is the unspoken story of so many clients. Most platforms will have success and failure stories, but we don’t hear about them. I understand it isn’t good for business, and I am also reluctant to share those kinds of stories, but every consultancy and every platform will have them. I guess it is the client prerogative to share the true story. I loved how ‘mayorship’ plays a big role in the gamified solution and caused a lot of buzz on social media for the company.

Another stand-out presentation came from the other lady speaker in the line-up Gunet Eroglu of HMS Health. She started designing a solution because of her dyslexic son, combining brain-computer interfaces and mobile applications. What I found interesting to hear is how important emotional brain activation is to learning for dyslexic learners. I believe research is going on in this field so it will be great to hear more about this. I personally feel we haven’t explored the connection of both movement and emotion and their respective impact on learning. I think brain sciences will add value as we learn how our brains take in information.

Maarten Molenaar shared an interesting model for understanding the culture of an organisation when rolling out a change project from Leon de Caluwe and Hans Vermaak. He also made the valid point that estimating realistic timing is key in managing change expectations. He also shared how on some projects the culture in the company needs to be reflected in the design and translated into the language all can understand and buy into.

Sylvester Arnab also shared valuable findings from the work they do with Coventry University in the field of collaboration, gamification and game-based learning. I often find that when you listen to academic researchers that there is so much more they could be explaining and they have to just stick to a quick overview of something that can have a lot more depth. One of the parts he touched on was how trans-disciplinary collaboration could impact the design process for gamification and serious game design. I think that in all of our work the co-creation with clients is the most vital part of creating acceptance and ownership of a change project. At the end of the day, most gamification projects end up being some sort of change project by default.

The day had more interesting presentations and workshops, we didn’t get a chance to attend all or retain great information about everything. But the above were my takeaways. I would have like to have asked a few questions here and there, but maybe the risk of having silence may have prevented this or sticking to a tight timeline.

Thank you team Gamification Turkey for making us feel welcome, included and organising a great event. I hope it spurs on great projects in Turkey and further afield.



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The dilemma around social learning in the corporate sector

Social learning through the means of an internal online learning campus causes a lot of questionsaround engagement. We are often asked if we can introduce gamification to stimulate discussion and social learning in online learning environments. The solution is never really that simple.

If all it took was adding a few game mechanics and everyone would share freely then our work would be easy. The challenge is usually two-fold namely the learning culture within an organisation and the willingness to publicly mess up on the job. Where we find organisations with an open learning culture, where all levels of an organisation are sharing information freely and without holding back, we usually have very little that needs to be encouraged. Discussion and debate will evolve naturally. The companies that have an open learning culture are actually not that plentiful. For most it is aspirational.

The other side of the coin is that people don’t like to be perceived as stupid or failing, especially when you want to grow and get promoted in a company. Hence reluctance to ask a “stupid” question or look for advice on a specific scenario. Not that asking questions or looking for advice is a negative, quite the contrary, but in the eyes of the asker, it needs to be safe and supportive as well as without repercussion on their perceived ability. When there is even just a little bit of doubt, then most people will resort to asking the questions privately or on a one to one with a trusted advisor.

Where I see social engagement working is when a subject matter expert regularly contributes, answers questions and starts discussions. In organisations where the manager lead by example again we can see more engagement. To look for the kind of engagement in a work setting like what you see on social media networks is in my view confusing purpose. On social media we hang out to find out about friends and contacts and sharing what we feel is useful for them or what we are passionate about. In work, this could be construed as wasting time, hence most people don’t spend their time on company social channels if it isn’t their day job.

For me, social learning and any gamification you include should be built around the end-users why is he or she learning. Depending on the why you may not even want or need to share anything, you may just be totally satisfied in knowing that you have increased your skill. For those that still have questions or want to delve deeper, an ask the expert forum or even a private chat function would work well. Setting quota’s for questions and answers by default will drive quantity and not necessarily quality. When a subject matter expert receives the same question a few times, it could be useful to create a poll to see how many others would like this question answered and then build your next course around it.

Giving ratings to answers and courses is useful to find out if they were helpful. A poll to find out if the questions are useful topics for further courses again can be seen as helpful.

Peer-to-peer questions and answering work in systems like StackOverflow where you have a significant amount of people keen to share their expertise. Here upvoting and earning points for appreciated values also boosts your esteemed status in the community.  I have yet to see this work in the same way for companies, mainly because of already perceived status based on hierarchy, job title or other.

My best advice for gamification to stimulate social engagement is to keep it limited to the types of things your end-users are likely to respond to. That includes knowing whether they prefer closed private chats or open peer-rated environments. Each company will have a flavour of their accepted social norms, work with them, not against them.


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Playing the mental health game

As a young person growing up, I often had periods of severe self-doubt and although I was an average student, good at a lot of things, I always felt I was coming up just short of where everyone else was. As a grown adult, I still have to work at staying in a positive frame of mind about myself, my work and life in general. I am my own best friend and worst enemy at times.

I don’t think I am unique at that. I reckon a lot of people have these fleeting moments or lingering niggling doubts. Some of us find ways to play with them and stay on our track, even if at times we need help from specialists and other people. Others withdraw into isolation, thinking that they shouldn’t bother anyone.

This morning over breakfast I read the story of Billy, who basically locked himself away for nearly 7 years and just gamed and lived online. What struck me about the story was that it was so easy to fall into this way of living.

The very fact that a board game is also instrumental in breaking the cycle, is a positive one I feel. Creating a game take helps you to work through cycles of mental issues especially when gaming addiction was in the mix I think is inspired.

In the world today, it may well be the way forward for mental health and other things that don’t function well in society. Board games allow for social play and communication. I also see the function of robots and talking devices having a role to play for when there are no humans around and you may need to express yourself.

Feeling isolated is a self-perpetuating behaviour, especially when your coping mechanism is to withdraw. Doing the opposite and joining people in a social setting is not easy to do, it will take some courage. Yet coming to it with a joint known element like a game even if it is new, learning to play is probably something most gamers can master.

It is great to hear of stories that cover both sides of the same coin in the world of gaming. On one side the addiction and on the other games for good. Both can be online and offline. Many games build on psychological triggers and in gamification, I see a lot of applied cognitive behavioural therapy resemblances. Given the right support system coming with the games, it can also be a powerful device for recovery and self-management.

I applaud these initiatives and hope that we will see many more of them going forward.

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