Friday, May 30, 2014

Gamification: Adding Mastery

This is my third post on gamification and motivational strategy (see Adding Purpose and Adding Autonomy). 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 mastery, the third of the three pillars of sustainable motivation according to Dan Pink.

Competence vs Mastery

Interestingly, the equivalent pillar in self-determination theory is "competence", which is on the same scale as mastery but not necessarily at the same level (competence only implies that one has basic control). A lack of competence in your work can be de-motivational, but this is frequently overcome by other motivational elements, such as status, power, and perks. All other things being equal, people are happier when they can perform tasks at which they are competent, or can practice tasks in order to gain competence.

Performing with, or gaining, mastery can also be motivational, but I don't think it is as ubiquitous. Many people I know are happy to avoid the problems and challenges that come from attaining mastery. Gaining mastery involves an opportunity cost of non-challenging activities such as watching television or posting flames on YouTube. Still, if a person must anyway devote time to something (school, work, etc), the opportunity to obtain mastery can provide a unique happiness.

Mastery of What?

Adding an opportunity for mastery requires you to identify the aspects of the task people will want to master. No one is dying to master buying things; giving out points for each purchase is not going to trigger a quest for mastery (it may trigger purpose, depending on what is being purchased). Similarly, no one is interested in mastering clicking on your sales brochure, tweeting your praises, or commenting more frequently. If you try to sell these as challenges to be mastered, you will invoke only contempt from your audience (or shame, at best). Mastery is for intrinsically interesting tasks that must be learned or performed.

To return to a previous example, if you want to sell the task "memorize bible verses", the mastery component will focus on a) memorization ability, b) textual understanding, or c) final grade. While these may look the same on the outside, they are all different skills. For memorization, the student is mastering the skill of memorization. For understanding, the skill is knowledge and understanding. The final grade is likely going to test either memorization or understanding. However, if the student is motivated by a grade, and not because of the desire to be a better memorizer or learn the material; this is not mastery, but purpose.

Gamification vs Playification

When you add points, levels, etc to a task, each point can provide quick, progressive, and positive feedback about a level of accomplishment. This "rewards" the brain on some level, not as some external award given to incentivize but by providing a milestone that reflects what you have accomplished (Nils Pihl and others). The hope is that the frequency, clarity, and immediacy of the feedback encourages you to complete tasks, or to perform additional tasks just like them.

When you add play elements to tasks, you make them more fun and more free. For creative tasks, this provides a less intimidating space to master a task; people given play and/or freedom (autonomy) will have space and time to do more than what is simply sufficient, allowing or encouraging them to pursue mastery. For work that is enjoyable intrinsically, this kind of playification is generally not required.

A well-designed gamification system requires you to complete a task within a certain time frame, or at least to check into the system on a regular basis, in order to provide a continuous stream of feedback.

Challenge Types

There are four types of challenges. Challenges are the obstacles to a task that require mastery.
  1. You versus yourself: speed, stamina, strength, calculation, courage. As your body and mind tackle challenges, they strengthen, making future versions of the same challenges easier.
  2. You versus a system: solving puzzles, finding solutions in complex situations, creating or fixing mechanical objects.
  3. You versus other players: competition, politics, relationships.
  4. You versus luck: spectating, gambling or risk taking.
Consider each of these types when designing for mastery.

You should already know the important research on flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. To summarize very briefly, too much challenge is frustrating and too little is boring. Flow is experienced in the happy middle.

And you should already know player type research, such as the ten player motivations [PDF] proposed by Nick Yee. To summarize very briefly: what drives one person doesn't drive another, and what drives one person today doesn't drive that person tomorrow. You may want to achieve a high score in a well-designed game, relax, learn, hack, beat or compete with other players, socialize, or whatever. A game that wants to appeal to more than a narrow segment must provide something for multiple types of motivations, some of which are not mastery.

Competition and Winning

If a player is competing against someone obviously better or worse than them, there is little competitive motivation. If there is a leader board, but a player will never, ever be on it, it usually provides no motivation. An exception to this is, for example, a group challenge to move your company from near the bottom of a heap to somewhere more respectable, whether in math literacy or recycling.

The very concept of "winner" can be problematic. It makes everyone else a loser, for one. If someone is really good at many things, but not the best at any one thing, that doesn't make him a loser. Certain people are particularly good at risk taking and looking flashy, but not as good at providing constant day to day quality service.

There are many ways to address these problems: Multiple winners that are based on anyone achieving a certain amount. For example, instead of "the person with the most points wins", use "anyone over 50 points wins". Multiple levels or types of wins: "50 point win", "100 point win", or "green win" and "blue win". This turns the single activity into multiple activities that occur in sequence or parallel, giving everyone continual motivation. Reset leaderboards at regular intervals, and make systemic winners ineligible to compete on them (give them other mastery tasks to perform).

The above is just a small sampling.

Can you think of other ways to provide a space for mastery in non-game environments? Comments are welcome.
Post a Comment