Meaningful Gamification – Slapping on Badges won’t do the Trick
Over the course of the previous blog posts, I have made multiple statements about how simply copy-pasting certain game elements cannot create the sort of engagement gamification normally attempts to achieve. However, it is this engagement alone that can create a long-term, beneficial effect for the activity that is being gamified. To that end, I will speak on the term “Meaningful Gamification” that I recently encountered. I advise anyone interested in the subject to take a look at the paper.
Meaningful gamification is a concept that was introduced in the paper “A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification” (Nicholson, 2012, p.1) and which is a clear reaction to the tendensy to simply move a basic point system from a video game environment into a different context. The author argues that one of the causes of the criticism concerning gamification comes from “putting the term “game” first, implying that the entire activity will become an engaging experience, when, in reality, gamification typically uses only the least interesting part of a game – the scoring system.”. This also illustrates that there are far more effective ways to engage users and have them interact with the non-game activity than a scoring system with little meaning. Offering only external, simple rewards such as points, would begin to stump creativity and motivation as the users become drones that merely do the baseline minimum to get the rewards they have been promised, which is entirely the opposite of what gamification strives to accomplish.
In the book “Gamification by Design” (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011), the authors illustrate that internal motivation for the task at hand being more important than extrinsic rewards holds no grounds and that gamification can control the behavior and performance of employees by adding these rewards and neglecting the motivation the people have for the activity being gamified. This way, they would in fact be crossing the line from an application that attempts to engage users and motivate them into an application that just feeds them treats whenever they do good.
As is also stated in the book (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011, p. 27), giving these rewards would also make the users relient on them and the activity would revert into an even bigger chore than it had been before if these rewards were taken away, thereby creating an endless task-reward loop. This is in direct contradiction to the goal the author proposes, the goal of meaningful gamification, which will attempt to perform user-centered gamification that has value to the user and, subsequently, does not depend on a steady supply of small rewards.
Meaningful Gamification can be defined as being:
“Meaningful gamification is the integration of user-centered game design elements into non-game contexts.” (Nicholson, 2012, p. 5)
This definition’s main feature is the insertion of “user-centered game design”. This implies that the designers every decision needs to be based on the needs and goals of the users, not those of the organization the application is being developed for. Meaningless gamification, one that merely uses points in a way not-tailored to its target audience, is the exact opposite in that it is organization-centered. Organizations would look for the fast and short-term approach, applying a simple patch to the existing problem and seeing a quick increase in the effectiveness of their application. However, this increase would be short-lived, as such patches would reduce the internal motivation of the users, causing the engagement to drop once again.
User-centered design also implies that designers need to supply a wide variety of gamified activities to address the needs and wants of as many users as possible. Because meaningful gamification desires a deeper engagement, it becomes highly dependent on the individual, and each individual’s interests are different. Naturally, common ground exists, but having a few elements in place that speak to more specific desires can only benefit the application. Another method is to give the users the opportunity and the tools to create their own content, urging their creativity to motivate them. Often, this content can be shared among like-minded users. In essence, a connection needs to be made between the user’s own interests and the gamified activity, giving a positive influence to the user’s experience when partaking in the activity. This would result in a long-term benefit for the organization, instead of the previous short-term benefit. Not only will it improve the organization’s experience, but also that of the user, thereby ensuring that the activity has become enjoyable and has thereby been gamified.