Gamification is a design tool. You might call it a buzzword or a temporal rage but it is gaining proper academic support.
The most concise definition that I have come across is:
Gamification is the use of game element and game design techniques in a non game context.
Gamification needs voluntariness (if you are forced in a Points,badge system it is NOT gamification), learning or problem solving aspect (if not, then it is just play) and, it needs a balance of structure and exploration. Finally, you need to think of your users as players and make the activity fun.
Systems like stackoverflow and foursquare are using points, badges and leaderboards (PBLs) as their game elements for user engagement. Foursquares model is extrinsic since you can get discounts and such, but, like SO, there are other forms of gamification which use intrinsic rewards.
While designing for intrinsic rewards you need to think of three characteristics of intrinsic motivation:
- Competence: Ability of the user to achieve something within the activity
- Autonomy: The user should be able to make meaningful choices
- Relatedness: Can the user relate to the activity? (going green, etc.)
Fitocracy is a good example of a gamified system working on these elements:
- PBLs should be used for intrisic motivation (badges meaning nothing outside the system and cannot be used to purchase stuff)
- When you're taking challenges, you are getting in better shape and feel good about yourself. This keeps you self-motivated to do it.
- The user should be the one calling the shots. You are not supposed to guide the user step by step. Let the user pick his/her own challenges.
- Fitocracy involves a social aspect which makes it easier for people to keep going. It is better with friends/groups AND you're not in this alone.
Fitocracy also maintains good activity loops:
- Engagement loop: (Motivate -> challenge -> feedback) repeat
- Progression loop: It is a journey for the person from his current level (may be beginner or intermediate) to mastery(or higher). You take challenges, you rest, challenges get harder, and once a while you do a big challenge and looking back you can see how much you have progressed which acts as self motivation
Now talking about behavior design, one of the widely accepted models is the Fogg behavior model:
Behavior happens when motivation, ability and trigger happen simultaneously.
B = mat
The 2 activity loops I mentioned above tie in quite well with Fogg's model.
The engagement loop ties in with the motivation aspect and the progression loop ties in with the perceived ability aspect.
I bring this up because it basically reinforces the argument that gamification can be and is used for behavior design and the secret ingredient is fun.
Well-designed games are great at triggering, putting something in front of you at the right moment. Understanding your user's behavior, how people react to the system and looking at the analytics data provides guidance for giving them the right triggers at the right moment to encourage them.
Richard Ryan & Edward Deci, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Deﬁnitions and New Directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 2000 (Overview of self-determination theory concepts by it primary developers.)
Sebastian Deterding, Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right, Google Tech Talk, January 24, 2011 (Presentation explaining the Self Determination Theory case against behavioral approaches to gamification.)
Essential read for gamifiaction and game design: Rules of play by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen
Another rockstar in the field: Jane Mcgonigal She does not like to use the term gamification ;)
TED talk - Gaming can make a better world.
You can hear Jesse Schelle from CMU and a leader in the field talk about it (in a sarcastic manner)
BJ Fogg's website (Stanford professor and expert in behavior design) - A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design (paper)