Sunday, June 08, 2014

Gamification: Adding Fun

This is my fourth post on gamification and motivational strategy (see Adding Purpose, Adding Autonomy, and Adding Mastery). A successful strategy can use some form of gamification, as well as other tools, to develop and enhance motivation from within.

In this post I present how to provide opportunities for fun.

A gamification process is empty if the process is not compelling. Adding points and so on must be complemented with fun. Too many gamification procedures leave this as an exercise for the reader. They tell you to add fun, but they don't tell you how to do this. "Make sure it's fun! Tweak it until it is!" [1]

You can create fun in a gamification system by luck; I wouldn't rely on it. Odds are high that luck won't be on your side and your system will fail, as most do.

You can create fun by stealing a tested game design from an existing game and slapping a new theme onto it with some gamification extras. This is a popular choice for many designers, and it has the benefit of presenting game mechanics that requires little or no further explanation to its users. The drawback is that the original game is also accessible to the player, and probably already has a bigger fan base (their friends already play it), so they will probably only play with your system if they are forced to (or the theme is killer).

Alternately, you can create fun by designing and testing a good game. For this you need a game designer who understands fun. First time game designers often fail at fun. Successful, proven game designers have a decent track record for creating subsequent games that are also fun. Once you know how to find fun, you are more likely to find it again (not always, but more often than people who never find it in the first place).

Any design for fun requires extensive play testing with a wide variety of people types. Different people have different ideas about what is fun. Don't expect the same interest in a particular activity from the CEO, the graphic designer, the call center operator, and the 8th grade student.

The elements of fun include the following:
  • Socializing: Many people's idea of fun is sharing time and conversation with family and friends. A game can be a backdrop against which they socialize. Either the game itself becomes a topic of discussion (such as humorous party games) or it simply keeps the hands occupied and fills in the pauses in the conversation. Winning or losing might be entertaining but irrelevant to their motivation for playing. Examples: parties, meetings, cooperation (less serious), eating or drinking, downtime.

    You can build social activity into gamification by having competitive or cooperative activities that do not require the players' undivided attention while they complete the tasks. Play can be set during group activities, such as a meal or "fun day". Interaction is key.
  • Entertainment: Entertainment can be be either thoughtful or mindless, such as Sudoku, Candy Crush, YouTube, gossip, conversation, action/adventure movies, fantasy, and so on. Dramatic entertainment can be fun even when it is serious or poignant (though perhaps not when it is morbid).

    You can include entertainment by splicing in entertainment media (adding sound or movie clips), by creating dramatic stories around which to hang your activities, or by providing simple, non-challenging game play with well-build, accessible achievements, levels, and bonuses.

  • Aesthetics: Many people's idea of fun includes aesthetic or sensual pleasure: art, music, film, eros, food, nature, and other such things. In gamification contexts, this also includes well-presented graphics, pictures, or sounds.
  • Recreation: Many people's fun includes sport, exercise, vertigo (swings, balancing, alcohol), and so on to be fun, while others find these to be work or painful. Many people don't have the necessary abilities to partake in these kinds of activities.

    You can include recreation with any activity that requires your body to participate, from treasure hunts, to races, to physical touch (use with caution).
  • Challenge: See my post about adding mastery. Despite what you might have understood from reading Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun, challenges are fun for some people at some times, but not for all people at all times. Challenges are the best fun for personal growth; our brains are wired to see and solve safe problems. But many people simply don't want to expand their brains, especially after they have spent a day already using them at work or school. For these people, challenges are not fun.

    Example challenges include puzzles, pattern matching tasks, trading, auctioning, racing, cooperation, and competition.
  • Humor: Comedy, laughter, funny or inappropriate graphics, pictures, or sounds. Most people describe comedy, pratfalls, or anything else that makes them laugh as fun, or having fun. Examples: humorous stories or characters, funny roles or costumes, ridiculous challenges.
You can remember these elements by their acronym: SEARCH.

[1] Some gamification proponents claim that acquiring points is inherently fun. This ill-conceived notion might lead to a short burst of interest from someone who discovers a "game-like" system in a non-game context, but this interest will quickly fade (all the more so as gamification becomes more ubiquitous). Worse, a person lured into a "game-like process" that is not fun can feel betrayed, demotivated, and disappointed, leading to the exact opposite of gamfication's intent.


Lisa. said...

What about the chance to be "evil" without actually doing anything wrong? lying, deceiving, taking over the world, building a dead body from parts...all parts of our denied selves?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

While it's true that people (kids especially) describe certain bad behavior as "fun", you wouldn't want to incorporate that into a game (unless it was simulated, in which case it would fall under entertainment).