What is Gamification?
The most widespread and accepted definition of gamification says something like, “the application of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage people in a non-game context.”
Some years ago, when I decided to use gamification in my new lifestyle, my main concern was how to break down game-thinking and game mechanics into understandable elements for professionals working in non-game environments. The idea was to get the most out of their experience to find game-based solutions.
Beyond Points and Badges
Personally, I believe that the role of game designers within this trend is crucial; they are the ones who have spent years thinking about and designing game mechanics so people will play and not stop playing games. However, if we consider gamification just in terms of earning points, badges and leaderboards, in the digital context, it´s true that anybody without gamification or game design experience could design such architectures.
I also used to think that earning points and badges was fun enough, but over time and after participating in many projects, I realized that there was more to it than that. While gamification was becoming the hottest new trend, I would design projects during the day and play videogames at night. It was then that I realized that in many of the greatest video game hits we could also take away points, badges and leaderboards, and people would still keep playing with that feeling that they can´t stop.
The purpose of gamification as a design concept is to develop behaviors where we´re not just playing but sharing on social networks, generating content or surveys, jogging, participating in training, or generating ideas to improve a product, to name a few examples. And that’s how I started looking for answers in dozens of books and papers on game design, on how to adapt this idea to non-game environments.
During that time, and in parallel, I had the opportunity to share my findings with other entrepreneurs and managers from small, medium and large companies, and through projects, workshops and events. This allowed us to validate the breakdown of the game design and apply it to current problems and challenges in the business world.
But complex questions kept arising such as… Where exactly is the fun? But what if I don´t know what really motivates our users, what makes them act? How can we create original and fun mechanics that are not just a copy of what we already know?
All these questions made me further research many more papers and authors. However, most of my questions could be resolved through “MDA Framework: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research” by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc and Robert Zubek. In addition, that work also gave us the confidence that it had been developed by real game designers who´d had a lot of success in their careers. It confirmed the idea that we could remove points, medals and leaderboards, and still create that feeling that we can´t stop playing.
In reality, what we were looking for was game thinking and game mechanics that gamification defines, in order to apply it to non-game environments, especially in companies where we had few users, behaviors to develop and platforms to implement, without forgetting Return On Investment.
As its name suggests, “MDA Framework” is a methodology used to design and investigate the game by breaking it down into three key elements: Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics, elements that answered many of our questions but lacked another very important aspect, the context.
According to Gartner, the areas where this trend is gaining most traction are customer engagement, employee performance, advanced education, personal development and innovation. Critical questions we ought to think about here are… Who are the people that are going to play? What are the desired and necessary behaviors? Which platforms? And of course, what is the business vision in terms of project returns and costs?
We were almost there as we considered how to apply game to a business perspective. But it was then, in several successive workshops, that these entrepreneurs and executives asked me for an overarching view of the model and not just a step-by-step alignment of mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics to our player. They needed a work plan that conceptualized the model and allowed the right questions to be asked at the right moment.
And so, the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder not only inspired us on how to represent the model, but also helped us to integrate the business perspective, and other contexts, to conceptualize and design solutions.
Now it just needed a name, and so Gamification Model Canvas was born, integrating game design and oriented towards the player and the business.
Long before it was published, we started to validate the model within companies, sharing it with professionals involved in gamification globally, and improve it over time. Then we realized that entrepreneurs, managers and game designers from around the world could bring good new ideas to the model.
So we decided to publish the work plan, and to our surprise the model went one step further and reached independent studies in game design to establish “play” as a desired behavior.
We are excited that people are downloading the canvas, using it and taking time to send us their feedback. Soon we will begin to publish new improvements and to give visibility to all the community interested in using the model to change the world through game.
But what does it consist of exactly?
How Does It Work?
Gamification Model Canvas is an agile, flexible and systematic tool to help find and evaluate solutions based on game design and to ultimately develop behaviors in non-game environments.
Gamification Model Canvas consists of nine sections that break down the key elements in designing gamification projects:
- Revenues: Describe the economic or social return of the solution with the introduction of gamification.
- Players: Describe who and what the people are like in whom we want to develop behaviors.
- Behaviors: Describe the behaviors or actions necessary to develop in our players in order to get returns from the project.
- Aesthetics: Describe the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when they interact with the game. This concept is the nearest to fun.
- Dynamics: Describe the run-time behavior of the mechanics acting on the player over time. This concept is the nearest to motivation.
- Components: Describe the elements or characteristics of the game to create mechanics or to give feedback to the players.
- Mechanics: Describe the rules of the game with components for creating game dynamics.
- Platforms: Describe the platforms on which to implement game mechanics.
- Costs: Describe the main costs or investment for the development of the project.
The set-up and order of the sections or boxes within the Gamification Model Canvas serve two different perspectives taken from the work by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek and Alex Osterwalder, and necessary to conceptualize the design of these types of solutions:
- Game perspective. This describes the position of the player and the designer of the solution. To the right of the Gamification Model Canvas is the player. For them, their first impression will be the game design elements, such as the aesthetics and dynamics, to hook them into the experience. To the left of the canvas is the designer who will need to create game experiences with components and mechanics, working out all the details of the experience on the selected platforms.
- Non-game perspective. This describes the search for project efficiency without losing focus on the value proposition for the player. The right side of the canvas represents the decisions that create value for the player. The left side of the canvas represents decisions in terms of cost efficiency and solution returns.
Gamification is not an exact science, nor is the creation of games, but rather a step-by-step process that considers the most important aspects in order to build solutions, validate and improve them in order to deliver success and effectiveness in results.