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How comms pros can improve user experience with gamification

by | Oct 18, 2018 | Analysis, Public Relations

We love games. Sports, video games, board games, trivia games—we can’t get enough of them. Often we think of games as a distraction, but games can be used for more than just entertainment. We can learn, teach, and grow from gamification.

Gamification is nothing new. As social animals, we often make games out of everyday tasks. Teachers use competitive flashcard games to teach children multiplication tables, video games make typing, math, and spelling epic quests, and parents make reading a bedtime adventure.

What makes games attractive?

Why are we so attracted to games? Charles Coonradt, author of The Game of Work, explored this topic at some length back in the 1980s after noticing that people would rather pay to pursue a recreational activity or a sport than be paid for a skill they had already acquired. There are five major reasons why games are more attractive according to Coonradt:

  • Games have clearly defined goals. In life and in work, we usually have vague (or even nonexistent) directives.
  • Scorekeeping and scorecards are better at consistently measuring performance.
  • Feedback is constant.
  • There is more freedom, or personal choice, when implementing methods of gameplay.
  • With games and sports, constant coaching and mentorship is expected.

Games and work

You may think of organizations like Google or Pixar, who are famous for their fun work culture.

You may think of Apple, a company that is loved for the meaning and empowerment it gives users. These are far from the only companies using these tactics, however. In Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life and Work, we see that even major (and very serious) investment firms like Bridgewater use some forms of gamification to help their team members thrive.

“We needed a way to make the data that showed what people were like even clearer and more explicit, so I began making ‘Baseball Cards’ for employees that listed their ‘stats,’” writes Dalio about helping his employees develop and organize. “The idea was that they could be passed around and referred to when assigning responsibilities. Just as you wouldn’t have a great fielder with a .160 batting average bat third, you wouldn’t assign a big-picture person a task requiring attention to details.”

Gamification to improve user experience

When we think of user experience, we can fall into the trap of thinking of only ease of use. While ease of use is definitely a facet of the user experience, it isn’t a compelling reason by itself to engage with a product.

Yu-kai Chou, author of Gamification, outlines eight core drives that make up the gamification framework. These elements are part of human-focused as opposed to function-focused design. In totality, these elements are referred to as Octalysis, a term coined by Chou himself.

The eight core drives are as follows:

  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment
  • Empowerment
  • Ownership
  • Social Influence
  • Unpredictability
  • Scarcity
  • Avoidance

The drives at the top are positive motivators, the drives toward the bottom of the list can be, when weighted improperly, have negative consequences over the long term. There are many ways to integrate these core drives into your design, but it will take a degree of lateral thinking.

To imbue meaning on a webpage, you might just employ a call to action, one that gives the user a sense of greater purpose. When you buy an Apple product, you’re joining the resistance to the status quo, the marketing message implies. Another example could be Tom’s Shoes, which declares a pair purchased is also a pair donated. Customers buy more than just the shoe, they give to a greater cause.

Conclusion

Designing user experiences with gamification is about understanding what motivates humans, and using those motivations to make your product more compelling, engaging, and meaningful.

Knowing how to combine these elements takes patience and practice. But, with a bit of dedication is more than possible.

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Tania Brooks
Tania Brooks is a business journalist with a focus on emerging technologies and emerging markets. She used to work as an overseas operations coordinator for Unilever. You may contact her on Twitter.

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