A first walk through gamification

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The more I know Amy Jo Kim, the more I become an enthusiast of gamification as an experience development tool. She’s an expert in online collaboration and ceo of Shufflebrain, a consulting firm for game design, which she launched with Scott Kim. Her language is simple, her thought businesslike clear, and her ideas are in the center of the social online revolution and build on much of the marketing and product design reshaping that is happening today. Her (almost unnoticed in her presentation) PhD in behavioral neuroscience and BS in experimental psychology set the base for her perspective, from within the gamer/user/customer head.

She has this available book on community building and in this post I’m going to outline some of the key insights from a few of her online video presentations :

TEDx : Collaboration and Community Building on the Web (13min)

  • Games are mainly assumed to be zero-sum results of people’s interactions. But this is not the whole possibility. Particularly in game theory non-zero sum games are generalized and the figure of partner and opponent can sometimes become confused.
  • The world is changing fast and the rise of ubiquitous connected devices are provoking what Will Wright calls the Gambrian Explosion. Girls and adults are catching up boys and their needs of confrontation are not so exacerbated. The proof is in the proliferation of game-like mechanics such as in the addictive feel of Instagram (after facebook, etc..) or the collaborative entertainment of Draw Something, among others.
  • The crux is in the individual search for happiness. It depends positively in building meaningful social connections and negatively in social comparison   Collaboration is, highlights Jo Kim, a key XXIst century skill and through games we can (and we are) educate collaboration most pervasively and in mass.

Smart Gamification : Seven Core Concepts for Creating Compelling Experiences (30min)

  • The first step in designing a gamified process is to know the players, particularly, what they need. This is a psychographic characterization that clusters users/players/customers in general behaviors and attitudes.
  • Richard Bartle described an initial approach to this segmentation pointing out out that PBLs appeal mainly to the boys/competitive type. In his model engagement was driven by 2 juxtaposing dimensions : 1)  focus on people (players) vs. focus on the imaginary (world), and 2) doing stuff (acting) vs. relating to stuff (interacting)
  • Jo Kim picks on Bartle’s model and adjusts it to focus on social engagement. To characterize the key types of players she uses engagement verbs describing the main attitudes towards the gamified process :

  • Examples of the different types are :

.                                       the Competitive : Brainbudies
.                                       the Collaborative ve : Cityville
.                                       the Express : modcloth‘s system
.                                       the Explore : Foursquare (particularly explore tab)

  • The player Lifecycle or journey (slides 16-20) is a fundamental piece on the engagement level. Jo Kim points to 3 levels : the novice, who is on boarding > the regular, who is habit building > and the enthusiast who achieved mastery. Thus, learning (and applying what is learned) is the fundamental drug to keep engagement active and the correct question to answer is : what can your most enthusiast player do that others can’t?
  • Gamified processes are characterized (and of interest to marketing) by engagement loops. They are way to feed the player’s enthusiasm back into the system.

engagement loop1engagement loop2

  • The key to create a sustainable engagement loop is to put PERMA into it.  Fun isn’t one but of many positive emotions. Understanding what is the positive emotions that drive the player/user/customer in the jouney? E.g.: for Farmville is the visual pleasure and self-expression;  for Foursquare is social serendipity;  for Amazon is staying informed and building trust.
  • The Game design perspective vs. Loyalty marketing (long articles) focus on 3 dimensions: mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics (MDA).

MDA

  • Dynamics are patterns over time. What happens over time is known in behavioral psychology as the reinforcement schedule (also related are reward schedules). And if you have reinforcement patterns that have variability in them, these are much more addictive than very straight forward do-this-get-that in a deterministic sense, that’s what get you addiction, surprise and is very good at building habits.

  • Mechanics aren’t detached from the game pace, they keep track and communicate to the player the choices and possibilities. The different elements (badges, quests, etc…) must be used in coordination with the dynamics to serve the goals of the designer.
  • Aesthetics : it’s what engenders emotion. Your goal is to create emotion because it’s what drives action and engagement. E.g.: Facebook feed.
  • The way to create sustained engagement (video 38min) is by delivering increasing challenge. If you’re not challenged enough you’re bored if you’re too challenged you’re anxious (this is important insight to educational systems, e.g. khan academy knowledge map)

sustained engagement

  • One of the key insights under this framework is to motivate players with intrinsic rewards. PBLs tell you if you’ve mastered things but they are not the drives to intrinsic motivation. From the Maslow’s pyramid principle (which orders different intrinsic motivators) we know that if we haven’t satisfied lower needs in the pyramid we can’t address the higher ones. So the question here is : where is my population’s unmet need? Is it belonging? Or are they good there and what they need is self-esteem?

  • Today’s trend is to believe that intrinsic value trumps extrinsic rewards – so the key is figuring out what intrinsic value to go for. Extrinsic motivators are good for mechanical work, such as task completion, e.g.: Linkedin’s progress bar (#16), but that doesn’t quite reach sustained motivation. The key to it is communicating feedback and scheduling rewards as to support the intrinsically motivated activity. E.g.: Young driver insurance.

The slides of the presentation here.

Smart Gamification : Designing the Player Journey (41min)

  • Gamification is using game techniques to make activities more engaging and fun. The focus is in the user experience. But game techniques is not the same as core experience, the game builds around the core experience.
  • The player journey is the experience/progression over time, where you deliver to people special powers or privileges when they’re ready for it, when they’ve earned it. Good games give people something to master, a learning experience. E.g.: for Quora, mastery is knowing how to ask a good question, one that will get voted up and get popular. The needs of the player are different along the journey.
  • The novice needs onboarding : a tutorial, a series of quests, you need to introduce the key features of your system during onboarding and give the user a sense of progress. The expert knows the ropes. He needs fresh content or fresh activities (when you log into facebook, you get fresh content all the time), alternatively powertools and customization if focus is not in the contents. Masters need exclusive access, activities and unlocks. They want to be closer to the game designers and influence the development (they have a notion of property out of the investment they have put into the experience, my phrasing). They are a great resource if they’re energy can be fed to the community because it will stimulate recruitment of novices and sustain a loop in the experience.
  • Social actions are the building blocks of social engagement : 1) who are the players interacting with? (is it family, friends, unknown players, ..) and 2) what’s their preferred social style? From Facebook gaming, 3 main styles have bore out : competition, cooperation and self-expression.
  • Competition‘s verbs are bragging, taunting and challenging, … and scores, leaderboards and such game mechanics are used to create the competitive environment. It goes for comparison and struggle to finish first. Cooperation is on the rise, with verbs like share, help, gift, greet. Self-expression is not an obvious style at first sight, but many users are looking for customization, selection, designing, creating, … It’s aspirational.

Case-study : Why does Foursquare work?

  1. core activity has an intrinsic motivation : people like checking in and have that history (more than being a mayor). there’s an intrinsic fun, particularly when other people see it, you don’t feel so alone.
  2. progress mechanics light the way : they get you onboarding with badges and once you pass that they have something else, there’s mayorships and then there’s a record of progress by registering achievements and rewards.
  3. social actions aligned with social needs : the need for the competitor type to compare achievements is fulfilled by the information spread within the player’s social circle.

Smart gamification : Key questions

  1. vision : what’s the key benefit? where’s the fun (motivational drive)?
  2. playstyle : who’s playing? who are they playing with? how do the players want to engage?
  3. mastery : what does it mean to play well? what are your players optimizing? what skills are they learning? what’s driving them to keep playing?
  4. progress : how do players know what to do? how will they know if they’re playing well or poorly? what are the key metrics for progress?
  5. engagement : what activities and events will re-engage your players through the lifecycle? what do you offer for masters that is different than for newbies?

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Cognitive load : from knowing your user to designing for him.

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Since I moved to Paris, I got used to waiting for the bus knowing exactly how many minutes I must wait for the next one to come. Now, whenever I travel to a city where the bus doesn’t show that information, I feel vaguely lost because I have to take a few steps to deduce how much time I’ll have to wait for the next bus by looking at the schedule that typically is affixed on the bus station. Experience design and the cognitive load approach helped me understanding this problem.

David Lieb, one of the creators of bump, one of of the most innovative (and cool) apps both in its technology and the UX, explain why our product isn’t as simple as we think. As he puts it :

“Minimizing cognitive overhead is imperative when designing for the mass market. Why? Because most people haven’t developed the pattern matching machinery in their brains to quickly convert what they see in your product (app design, messaging, what they heard from friends, etc.) into meaning and purpose. We, the product builders, take our ability to cut through cognitive overhead for granted; our mental circuits for our products’ patterns are well practiced.

This is especially pronounced for mass market mobile products. Normal people already have to use more of their mental horsepower to cut through cognitive overhead. Now imagine the added burden of having to do that while on a crowded bus, or in line at Starbucks, or while opening your app for the first time while eating dinner with a friend and texting another. This isn’t 1999 when your users were sitting in their quiet bedrooms checking out your website on a large monitor while waiting for their Napster downloads to finish; they are out in the real world being bombarded with distractions.”

Cognitive overhead, or cognitive load, is best explained by John Sweller :

“In essence, cognitive load theory proposes that since working memory is limited, learners may be bombarded by information and, if the complexity of their instructional materials is not properly managed, this will result in a cognitive overload. This cognitive overload impairs schema acquisition, later resulting in a lower performance (Sweller, 1988)”. (from this blog post)

There’s a structure to which our brain organizes the information and processes it, particularly, there’s a process to which our brain processes new information and learns, this is the human cognitive architecture. The aspects of cognitive architecture relevant to visually based instructional design are working memory, long-term memory, schemas and automation.

“Working memory plays an essential role in complex cognition. Everyday cognitive tasks – such as reading a newspaper article, calculating the appropriate amount to tip in a restaurant, mentally rearranging furniture in one’s living room to create space for a new sofa, and comparing and contrasting various attributes of different apartments to decide which to rent – often involve multiple steps with intermediate results that need to be kept in mind temporarily to accomplish the task at hand successfully. “Working memory” is the theoretical construct that has come to be used in cognitive psychology to refer to the system or mechanism underlying the maintenance of task-relevant information during the performance of a cognitive task (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Daneman & Carpenter, 1980).” (here for a complete reading on working memory)

Long-term memory is central to the cognitive process as it brings elements to the working memory to provide for comprehension (here to explore further LTM) and in its different forms retains parts of knowledge in the brain for later (more than just a few minutes) to be used.
Schemas, are of particular interest to the designer, particularly image schemas. “Knowledge is stored in long-term memory in schematic form and schema theory describes a major learning mechanism” (Sweller again), continuing to quote :

“most researchers now accept that problem solving expertise in complex areas demands the acquisition of tens of thousands of domain-specific schemas. These schemas allow expert problem solvers to visually recognize problem states according to the appropriate moves associated with them. Schema theory assumes that skill in any area is dependent on the acquisition of specific schemas stored in long-term memory. Schemas, stored in long-term memory, permit the processing of high element interactivity material in working memory by permitting working memory to treat the many interacting elements as a single element. As an example, anyone reading this text has visual schemas for the complex squiggles that represent a word. Those schemas, stored in long-term memory, allow us to reproduce and manipulate the squiggles that constitute writing, in working memory, without strain. But, we are only able to do so after several years of learning.”

Through significant repetition, schemas can become unconsciously stored in the long-term memory and are brought effortlessly to the working memory, when required. This unconscious automation is achieved by practice  :

“Everything that is learned can, with practice, become automated. After practice, specific categories of information can be processed with decreasing conscious effort. In other words, processing can occur with decreasing working memory load. As an example, schemas that permit us to read letters and words must initially be processed consciously in working memory. With practice they can be processed with decreasing conscious effort until eventually, reading individual letters and words becomes an unconscious activity that does not require working memory capacity.”

And this is a fundamental piece for interaction design. It’s by best grasping these automated processes that significantly reduce the working memory load or schemas that are best implanted in long-term memory, it is by recognizing these social patterns that the designer will achieve the most rapid cognition of the user, it is how he will best achieve the intended usability.

And that is where the role of the marketeer enters (closed article). If the designer can best translate the usability goal into an experience, meaning he can optimize the interface and physical/mental process given the constraints of the user’s schemas and automations, it is the role of the marketeer while user researcher to provide these constraints and highlight priorities because he’s the one who knows who the target is and what schemas and automations the user has stored in his behavior.

As it turns out, when I first moved to Paris, I had no schemas concerning the bus indication as part of the whole process of taking the bus. But that process could be optimized. Before, when I got into the station I would just wait for the bus to come. Once I acquired a new schema my memory  became filled with an alternative process of how that experience can be and eventually became an automated process searching for that number of minutes I’ll have to wait. Going back to the old schemas now is just not that good experience…