The first tool of the year that I wanted to discuss is Present.me which I heard of but didn’t use until this year’s EVO session. This tool was used for introduction by one of the moderators of Moodle for Teachers sessions and was embedded into the course Moodle. It looked really good and, most importantly, it built the online presence of the moderator so nicely. I find this crucial for an online course.
All you need to do to get started is either to create a new account or log in with your Facebook or Google account. Then you can choose the account type you like. See the screenshot below:
Now about psychology and, in particular, about motivation which are central to what makes gamification effective. Psychology needs to be discussed as people don’t entirely know what makes them do something and motivation is complicated as people are complicated. We are not motivated by the same thing all the time but we are motivated by different things at different times. So we need to think about our players, about different ways to motivate them and about how to deploy motivation in a systematic way.
Prof. Kevin Werbach mentioned two major traditions in psychology: behaviorism and cognitivism. Behaviorism is about looking at behaviours, looking at what people do. Cognitivism is about mental states, what’s internally going on in people’s heads. Both of them are very relevant for gamification.
Now behaviorism says that when we look at a person we know that there are feelings , thoughts and emotions inside but we cannot focus on those internal mental states as they are not scientifically testable. So the behaviorist program is to restrict ourselves to what is external which is called the black box. The idea is what we can test is what goes in from outside and what comes out. Although behaviorism has some limitations when we focus on gamification, it is still instructive for some aspects of gamification design.
The basic notion of behaviorism is two things. One is stimulus. Something which happens externally creates a challenge, opportunity or reaction and that reaction is called response. This is when we can see or observe a certain type of behaviour and that is why this is called behaviorism in response to stimulus. This was first tested by Pavlov in what’s called classical conditioning where he rang a bell and got the dogs to salivate. The idea in Pavlovian conditioning is that the stimulus is instinctively related to the response. So when the bell rings, it automatically produces this response of salivating whether there is food coming or not.
A more important kind of conditioning is associated with B.F.Skinner and is called operant conditioning which is about feedback loop. There is a stimulus and there is a response and based on this pattern there is learning. Subjects learn; they see the consequences of their actions and the consequences actually matter.
So these experiments have the notion that in certain cases people will respond to stimuli and will learn to make associations between two things especially if there are rewards. Observation is important here. We should observe what people actually do. If people respond to to stimulus in a certain way, we should learn something from that. Moreover, feedback loop is important. When the person involved sees some feedback, it produces some response and a process of action. Feedback tends to motivate behavior which is very important for gamification.
Now let’s look at FarmVille which managed to create what is called an appointment mechanic. The idea is that people know that they have to go back to their farm at certain times to water their crops otherwise the crops will wither. So FarmVille got people to learn, as a matter of habit, learning to regularly check their farms This is a behavioral kind of approach which worked well for FarmVille.
Although behaviorism talks conditioning and providing rewards, some benefits that seem valuable even though they are not tangible or worth any money, rewards are still only one piece of the game mechanics. Rewards are powerful and significant in gamification but they should not be the only thing to use in a gamified system.
But why are those rewards so powerful? This is related to brain chemistry, something called dopamine system – the structure of brain associated with pleasure and learning. Our brains release and reabsorb dopamine in response to certain activities (usually things that find rewarding or just surprising. It causes a learning process and makes people want to engage in the activity. Again this doesn’t always work or doesn’t always work for everyone, but when it does work it is the hit of dopamine.
If we talk about rewards themselves, firstly we should say that there are different ways to give rewards and there are many things that can be rewarded, so effective gamification will think about what can be rewarded, what kind of behaviour the designer want to reward and what the different options are. The goal is to give players/users a set of meaningful choices and a set of options to make the system feel more engaging. Secondly, there are different categories of rewards and one typology of different kinds of rewards is called Cognitive Evaluation Theory which comes from Richard Ryan and Ed Deci. What they developed is a typology of different kinds of rewards that can be used to motivate behaviour. One distinction that they point out is between tangible and intangible rewards. The second one is between expected and unexpected rewards. If the reward just happens, it is a surprise and our brain loves surprises which means that expected rewards are not so cool to our brain. The third set of distinctions is what rewards are dependent on: whether you get a reward without even doing anything, or you get one for simply engaging in an activity, or the reward depends on the completion of an activity, or rewards can be performance contingent, when the reward is given because the task has been done well.
In designing gamification the key is to think about different possibilities for rewards and decide on the most effective ones that will motivate players/users and will ensure that there is a meaningful and rewarding experience for those players/users.
Let’s move on to reward schedules which refer to when the reward is given as opposed to what it is or what it is based on. Behavioral studies suggest that the structuring of reward schedules has significant implications for the psychological reaction that the rewards produce. There are several possible reward schedules. One is continuous reward. It is given for every incidence of the action – it is automatic. The other kind of reward is a fixed ration reward when a reward is given when something happens a certain number of times. The third kind of reward is fixed interval reward (let’s say after each second unit of a course). The fourth category of rewards is variable rewards which is on no fixed schedule. The other three kind of rewards, although they still have some psychological value, can become predictable, and thus dull, as the brain can pick up the pattern. But this last type is the most interesting out of all of them because as we said before our brain loves surprises. However, this type of reward should not be given for doing something that nobody can do, because then it would make it unachievable and players/users may just give up before they can get this type of reward.
However useful behaviorist approach is, there are some serious limitations to it. One of the problems with it that it leaves out what people think or feel or what is going on in their heads or what really motivates them when they act in a certain way. Now game thinking, we said, is about putting the player in the centre, but if we take a purely behaviorist approach, we might move away from the notion that the player is a human being, so this focus on rewards tends to have some problems as well.
One of the problems with this kind of system is that it may be designed to manipulate people, to make them do things they may not necessarily want to do. It may become like an addiction to them, which is already not a good thing. If we can design a gamified system that may addict people on this rewards system, then that does not mean that we should. Prof. Kevin Werbach compares this kind of behaviorist approach to that of casino owners.
The second problem with this is what is called Hedonic Treadmill. The idea here is once we start focusing on giving people rewards in order to give them pleasure, we will have to keep doing it. Because if people learn to respond to rewards, they are only going to respond to them. And as certain rewards get familiar or boring, we will have to come up with new rewards: make them more interesting, more challenging. So this can put a significant burden on the designer. There are some studies which look into what actually happens when dopamine system is activated. The studies showed that the dopamine system is not really about rewards, it is about anticipation of rewards.
If a gamified system focuses too heavily on rewards, it tends to miss some other kinds of benefits that can be delivered through a gamified system. PBLs are about status and not everyone is interested in or moved by that. We do things for many other reasons: social reasons, altruistic reasons, tangible reasons; so these need to be exploited as well.
The alternative to behaviorist approach is Cognitivism which focuses on opening up the black box to find out what really motivates people to behave in certain ways. In order to understand this, we need to distinguish between different kinds of motivation and rewards. In particular, we need to think about two broad categories called Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is about doing something for its own sake, not because there is any external stimuli, but because we find it rewarding, engaging, fun, or motivating. Here we are not focused on the consequences or any other kinds of benefit that we might get.
Extrinsic motivation is about doing something for some other reason rather than the activity itself. The reasons may be different: it could be money, fame or fortune; or it might be because somebody asked you to do it and you value the person so you do it for them. Gabe Zichermann talks about four kinds of extrinsic reward motivators which he calls SAPS: Status, Access, Power and Stuff. Status as a motivator is what makes us think that it is cool, this is done with leaderboards in particular. Access is about getting access to something that other people don’t have: content unlocking could create the feeling of gaining access to something. Power enables users to do certain things that was a result of their activity: for example, edit other people’s posts or submit posts bypassing moderation. Stuff is about tangible rewards, real things that the user can get in response to their actions. However, motivating these are, we still need to keep in mind the problems discussed above.
The biggest danger of rewards system is that it can actually demotivate by crowding out intrinsic motivation that was already there as it acts like an extrinsic motivator. This is sometimes called over-justification effect and it’s a danger in any kind of system that uses rewards: a substitution effect where the intrinsic motivation goes away and is replaced by a less effective and problematic extrinsic motivation of rewards. The studies discussed in the link for ‘over-justification effect’ demonstrate this quite well.
In the 1970s Ed Deci and Richard Ryan developed the basis for Self-Determination Theory – a comprehensive theory of human motivation which, through many studies, has shown that people are not necessarily always motivated by rewards and, in fact, intrinsic motivation is a more powerful and more effective way to encourage people to act in certain ways.
The screenshot of Prof. Kevin Werbach’s video lecture explains the spectrum of motivational types.
Amotivation is when the users have no motivation whatsoever, they are totally indifferent to the activity.
The broader category of extrinsic motivators is in the middle.
External Regulation is when users don’t really want to do something or maybe they are indifferent to it, but they do it because someone tells them to do it.
Introjection is when we take external motivators and make them our own, mainly because other people will think that I am cool.
Identification is when we take external motivators and make then our own but not because it is important what other people will think, but because we can see some value in it. This is when it is somehow aligned with our own personal goals.
Intrinsic Motivation is when the users do the activity for the pure reason of loving it., because it is rewarding in itself. This is the strongest motivation because it takes nothing external to get them to do the activity.
Now all of these may come useful in gamification, but what we should think about is how to utilize these different kinds of motivations appropriately and how to push towards approaches that are more dependent on intrinsic motivation. Under self-determination theory, there are three characteristics of intrinsic motivation: three factors that when they are present suggest that the activity is worthwhile. One of these factors is Competence which is about a person’s sense of ability, the sense that they are accomplishing something, solving problems, overcoming obstacles. The sense that they are achieving something within the activity. The second one is Autonomy which is about a person’s sense of being in control. Users should feel that it’s them making the choices. And the third one is Relatedness, the sense that the activity one is doing is somehow connected to something beyond themselves that could have some meaning, sense or purpose. Fitocracy demonstrates this quite well.
Now to game elements. According to Prof. Kevin Werbach, game elements are regular patterns that appear in any game. They can be extracted from a game and applied to a gamified system. When you try to create a gamified system by introducing game elements to it, what you are trying to produce is a certain kind of experience which is not the same as the game itself. The best example of a gamified system would not be the one that uses the most elements but the one that uses them most effectively.
Prof. K. Werbach has developed a framework for gamification elements in a form of pyramid which can be seen on the screenshot of the professor’s video lecture. The notion of the pyramid is that we have a few dynamics, a larger number of mechanics and even a bigger number of components.
At the top of the pyramid are the game dynamics. These are the highest level conceptual elements in a gamified system. These provide the framing for the game. So, for example, constraints which offer meaningful choices and limit players’ freedom; emotions which games can produce ( from sadness to happiness); narrative – the structure that pulls together the pieces of a gamified system; progression – the journey that the player takes; relationships – people interacting with each other.
At the next level are the game mechanics. These are the elements that move the action forward. Some of the game mechanics are challenges – some goal to reach; chance – something that makes the result random; cooperation and competition to have the notion of winning and losing; feedback – very important for players to see how they are doing as this drives them to continue; resource acquisitions – things like rewards, things that can be sold/bought or exchanged.
Finally, game components are at the lowest level of the pyramid. The examples of the lowest level are examples of elements higher up. So, for example, achievements, as opposed to the general idea of challenge, giving the player some rewards attached to doing a set of specific tasks – that is the achievement; or avatars/badges – specific visual representations of those achievements, etc.
There are some game elements that are more common than others and are more influential than others in shaping typical examples of gamification. These are represented by the acronym PBL – points, badges and leaderboards. However important these three are, gamification should never start and end with these three only.
Points are a way of determining how well someone is doing in the game. They can show the relative position of one player against the others or define winning. They can connect up with rewards as well as provide feedback and/or display progress.
Badges are visual representations of one’s achievements/level. They are button-like graphic that go on a profile page or some place where other players can see them. Badges can represent anything and motivate a certain behaviour. Badges also function as credentials and they are a status symbol. (For more information about badges read here).
Leaderboards are about ranking. The feedback these provide is on competition. Not to disappoint their players a number of social games have introduced personalized leaderboards where players see their name in the middle not at the bottom of the leaderboard. Another option of this is friend leaderboards where one competes against their friends not against complete strangers. Think of the leaderboard in FarmVille on Facebook for an example of this. However, learderboards can also demotivate or make them less willing to engage because of the stress they put on players.
But game elements are only a starting point for gamification. By just randomly throwing them into a gamified system, one won’t be able to make it fun and engaging. What makes the elements successful is the way they are put together and that often involves resources some of the higher level. If there is a heavy emphasis on PBLs, rewards may be overemphasized. Rewards are not the same as fun; they aren’t wrong but if they the only thing then there is a danger that the system will not generate the necessary level of engagement and may not actually draw in people with different kinds of motivation.
Further Reading – MDA Formal Approach to Game Design
After leaving Google the founder of Dodgeball Dennis Crowley created FourSquare which was a similar platform to Dodgeball but it was also different from it. While Dodgeball wasn’t very popular, FourSquare became really popular and we can see many people nowadays checking into places through Foursquare. What made it so popular was the fact that Foursquare was gamified, unlike Dodgeball which didn’t offer any incentives to its users whether they checked in or not. You could see where your friends checked in but there was not much else you could do. As it didn’t offer much variety, it didn’t seem to engage people as much as Foursqaure did. However, Dodgeball was very social and allowed users to compete against their friends and to see where they were. But what Foursqaure did was to create a sense of progression by implementing a concept called Mayorships. There are also badges that indicate users’ status and their progress and/or leadership. Foursqaure also built a system which made it easy to notify friends on Twitter or Facebook about one’s progress which created the sense of competition and made the act of checking in more fun. They also introduced special purpose badges and leveling up for checking in at a conference or a health club ot at an airport a few times. It is still just checking in but now it has become a more varied activity. (More on this here)
A takeaway from this story is to view a business problem or a problem in any other context in the same way that a game designer would think about the challenge related to creating a game. So whatever your goal is and whatever problem you have to solve, think about that as a game. If it were a game that participants were playing, what would you do?
Start by thinking about people involved in your system as players. This means that you should build your system around your players who should be in the middle of the game, because to players the game revolves around them, it’s no way about who built it or what purpose it is supposed to serve. So your business should be built in a way that your players are at the centre.
Secondly, your players do not only need to have a feeling that the game revolves around them but they also need to feel that they are in control. So think about how to create a system where players feel that they are in control and they can make their own choices.
Finally, the goal of a game designer is to create a sense of play for a specific purpose. Play is a feeling of free motion with a set of constraints and the purpose is to get the players playing and keep them playing.
Now about some basic design rules. First of all there is the face that players need to be involved in a conceptual journey, i.e. their walk through the game needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end and ideally in some sort of progression. Basically the steps are onboarding (getting the player into the game), scaffolding (providing the necessary training) and mastery at which players feel that they have achieved and/or accomplished something. (There is a very clear example of this in Zombie vs Plants game.) Secondly, there should be balance – not too hard, not too easy; not too many choices, not too few choices, etc. Balance is something that a game needs at every stage. Third design rule for gamification is to take something that is not game-like and make it feel game-like by creating an integrated experience. (Read a review of Turntable.fm to get a feel for this).
While creating gamified systems it is important not to forget about the aspect of fun which is what makes playing engaging and makes us want to continue doing whatever it is we are doing. So the categories of experiences that we would create the feeling of fun are as follows:
- problem solving,
- chilling out,
- imagining and daydreaming,
- role playing,
- and just being silly.
Having taken the course in Gamification on coursera.org, I took a while to read and re-read a few articles before getting down to blogging about it. Although the course mostly focused on gamification of businesses the concepts are still very useful to know about in order to apply to education gamification. I decided to summarize what I have learnt through a series of blog posts and then try to think of how to apply all this in education.
As Professor Kevin Werbach said: “Gamification is often misunderstood and is not always the best or right solution. (See GamifyForTheWin.) Gamification is not about making everything a game. Gamification is the opposite as it says that we are still in the real world and that we should find elements in games which can enhance the experience that we are having, find a meaning for those experiences and make them more rewarding by creating motivation.”
Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts. An example of this is Nike+ which turned sporting and physical exercise into a more enjoyable and rewarding experience by employing game elements to motivate achievement.
Game elements are a toolbox – the tools that you work with to create a more rewarding pr motivating experience for users. These are: points, levelling up, badges, avatars, resource collection, leaderboards, etc – parts of a game that can be pulled out and re-used in non-gaming services.
What we do might still be game-like but the rationale for the experience is something outside the game; some purpose that has a validity or an intention independently of the experience of the game which is non-game context where the objective is outside the game. So gamification is about creating contexts which involve a combination of game elements, game design and purpose other than playing a game.
We were told that without understanding what games are, we won’t be able to understand what gamification is. Bernard Suits says that every possible game can be defined based on 3 concepts:
- games have a pre-lusory goal – there is an objective to a game;
- games have constitutive rules that turn the activity into a game;
- lusory attitude – players follow rules voluntarily even if they limit their freedom.
Games create a boundary between us and the real world, they put us into a magic circle where the rules matter. When we are in that magic circle, we follow the rules more than the rules of of the real world. The challenge for gamification is to put the users into that magic circle and if they feel that it is important and it matters, they will be motivated to play and to respond to the incentives that a gamified system provides.