Jeff Steffgen, User Experience & Design Director at mLevel, recalled how he and his brother endured childhood trips to the mall with their mother.
“We’d pretend all the cracks in the floor were hot lava, and it was our mission to get through all the stores without stepping on any,” he said during the May 15 Chicago Interactive Design & Development Meetup group presentation. “Making a boring task more fun and tolerable—that’s the essence of gamification.”
(The 1 hour presentation can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/jPFYzH_P2Yc)
He described three goals for the education platforms mLevel creates for clients like AT&T and US Foodservice:
- - Create a sticky, viral and engaging experience
- - Inject fun into everyday mundane tasks
- - Drive specific user behaviors
Then he took his audience four levels deep into the world of gamification.
Level One—Understanding Gamification
Other examples Steffgen mentioned were sticker charts that get kids to do their chores, corporate rewards programs and—ahem—stickers mounted in urinals to improve users’ aim.
Steffgen stressed the difference between “playing” and “games.” Games are structured by rules, and they have a goal—winning. He said, “Since work already has rules, all that’s left is defining what it means to win.”
That depends on the business, of course—but also on the players.
Level Two—Knowing the Audience
Steffgen described several ways designers break down their target audience:
- The Bartle’s Player Types—Killers, Achievers, Socializers and Explorers. Each seeks different rewards from gaming, and can be engaged through different channels.
- Gender. Men and women tend to like different aspects of games, and even respond differently to instructions.
- Age. Within “professional” age groups, the priorities and preferences of 25-35 year-olds can be drastically different from their older coworkers.
Every decision in game design depends on who’ll be playing.
Level Three—Thinking Like a Game Designer
When you work a controller, play a card or roll the dice, you might not have any idea how much game design theory goes into building what you’re playing. But designers like Steffgen take into account a mind-boggling number of factors, including:
- The mental abilities that make gameplay possible, like imagination and empathy.
- The needs and pleasures games fulfill for different people.
- Flow Theory—the balance between boredom and anxiety that keeps a game from being too easy or too challenging.
- The game space itself—from Mario worlds to Pac Man mazes.
- Objects, attributes and states of every element of the game.
- Actions, and rules for what results from every action.
- Chance and surprise. Every action must have some element of risk.
“Estimating chance is a skill,” Steffgen said. “The human mind can inflate some risks completely out of proportion, and some people will always use lucky charms or superstitious rituals. But with pure chance there is no way to control the outcome.”
Level Four—Planning for Gamification
How do you apply all that theory to a client’s needs?
Step 1 is defining your audience and your goals. Step 2 is determining which combination of validation, completion and rewards your players should pursue. “People need to feel that they’re moving forward,” he said. “Get this right and it will drive motivation and sustain engagement.”
Step 3 is analyzing the data—a step Steffgen said many people miss. “Companies get lost in the shiny surface mechanics, when the real wealth of gamification is actually in the data that can be produced.”
Sometimes, though, success is easy to measure. “There are always one or two players who’ll play 100 times in a row. They just have to be number one!”