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What are proven gamification techniques that promote collaboration? I don't mind whether the specific techniques come from educational sites, or pure game sites or some other source. I want to understand the techniques better. In the educational context I want to encourage more learners to be teaching each other and I want to encourage teachers to do more together than they can do on their own.

The sites Wikipedia, Khan Academy and StackOverflow have different strengths on collaboration vs competition. I'd like to better understand what it is about their UX that makes these differences. I'd like ideas that come from other sites too. Then I'd like to be upping the game of collaborative gameplay for educational sites.

Anyone able to identify what UX elements promote collaboration?

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Great question! –  Rahul Jun 10 '11 at 16:47

3 Answers 3

We built an online game last year targeted at middle and primary school students with the goal of helping them learn maths. The idea was that they would challenge each other to answer math questions. Much of the design was inspired by StackOverflow.

Some principles we used:

  • Competition inspires collaboration. In games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, competing and collaborating with each other can change at a moment's notice. This can be a lot of fun: one moment I'm helping you jump across a gap, the next I'm bopping on your head so I can get the coin in the air. The competitive element makes the collaborative aspect more fun.
  • Effective copy can reframe a feature. Instead of asking each other math questions (boring), on our site you challenged your classmates to answer a question. It was like a dare: if you can answer this super hard math question, you'll get props (implicit reputation) with the person who challenged you.
  • Low barriers to entry allow people to build upon others' work. As Jeff mentioned in his post about the design goals of tag wikis, merely allowing anyone to write and submit some content is what made Wikipedia so successful. Even if the first entry is terrible, that will draw in someone else who can't stand the low quality and will take steps to improve on it.
  • Some things are inherently more fun with multiple people. Although you can play games like World of Warcraft by yourself, engaging in battlegrounds would be boring alone. By its very design, WoW makes collaboration a core element and involves explicit rewards for doing so. Teaming up with other players rewards you with more experience, and allows you to complete challenges which would otherwise be impossible. Crafting items is hard, but not impossible, without materials supplied by other players, etc.
  • Passive collaboration is still collaboration. Solving a math problem together, during class, can be fun and rewarding. But the design of the game needed to support the fact that sometimes a student will log in at home and ask someone to solve a problem independently. Requiring real-time collaboration introduces a "what came first: the chicken or the egg?" problem where we wouldn't have enough concurrent players until there were enough players active. So being able to collaborate on something on your own time is an important facet to bringing people into the system.

I'll come back and edit in some more as I think of them.

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Lovely - particularly like insights about interaction between competing and collaborating and challenge. Also drop-box style of collaboration being a must have - important even when there already are many players. –  James Crook Jun 10 '11 at 20:51

I think you're looking at one really good example here on ux.stackeachange.com - where players in a given space are given tools to not only add value, but to have the ranking or their value democratically monitored and adjusted by the community.

Essentially there are 3 motivations in the game space that stem from the "I'm Awesome" perspective:

  1. Personal Accomplishments - How awesome am I?
  2. Relative Accomplishments - How does my awesomeness stack up to those around me?
  3. Competition - Head to Head metrics between individuals and communities.

Techniques for personal accomplishments are:

  1. Percent completed-ness - this is where an individual needs to complete baseline requirements to reach 100% - these accomplishments can be fixed or gated for specific milestones (rankings) to show one's awesomeness to the community, or just a simple set like LinkedIn's "is my profile complete?" metric.
  2. Activity Counts - any number of actions performed can be tracked and assigned values, the more these actions occur, the greater the value. Some level of validation to mitigate "gaming the system" would be a good idea.

Techniques for relative accomplishments:

  1. Present graphing elements and percentages to show the individual's performance relative to the whole, or parts of the whole that would act as an incentive to up one's game. The more important it is for that individual to be at the top of the game, the harder they will work to improve their relative performance.

  2. Regular or intermittent updates to changes in activity in a) the community and b)individual performance relative to the community

Techniques in competition:

  1. Direct competition where individuals are tasked to compete for top placement. Individual or groups will work hard to prove their awesomeness and to earn the top rank recognition for how awesome they are.
  2. Head to Head metrics - patterns of use or activity overtime can reveal trends - these trends can be used to make head to head comparisons between individuals or groups to show +/- rankings in a given metric. If properly assigned to the desired behavior, this reporting mechanism can be used to help drive incidental competition. - As an example, one smart meter console design featured floors of a building competing for the best energy efficiency, solely based on regular reporting of their collective energy usage.

How can these methods enhance collaboration?
Given the "I'm / We're Awesome" motivation scheme and its inherent "competitiveness", you would have to use these techniques to promote collaboration. The moment one is placed in a group and metrics for success are driven by the groups achievements - individual members of the group are incentivized to co-operate/collaborate to up their collective ranking.

It's tough to fully address this in pure fundamentals. At a certain point, you have to look at specific tasks or collaboration models. I can think of a number of variables here.

System Objective
In 2009, I worked with a major systems integration and management consulting firm with
globally distributed workforce of 111,000 employees world wide and 700+ active clients. The firm's Business Process Management system off custom off the shelf systems and custom applications stitched together in a .net and SharePoint portal. Our task was to design a framework for their BPM system that would not only optimize the user experience to drive efficiencies in all aspects of system based business processes, but also as a cultural touchstone for the organization. The system aimed to revolutionize how the firm leverages technology to manage operational workflow, project collaboration and delivery and knowledge management.

System Framework
The basic structure of the system is profile based, meaning each individual manages a personal profile and execute tasks presented to them in their personal dashboard. The profile is outfitted with social networking hooks and role based permissions and context awareness. By this, I mean that depending on who the individual is, what they are doing, what they have done or have yet-to-do, the system will surface tasks localized to their region, office, division team, and role. Their dashboard provides them with status updates and task alerts while providing them with 100% completions, expected delivery dates and past due alerts, as well as social and business networking and content management wiki notifications. Each notification links the user directly to the specific task.

Collaboration Opportunities

  1. We designed the system to help individuals manage their own required tasks, project based team collaborations as well as social and professional interactions within the organization. Using project workspaces, teams can manage project documents and artifacts, by assigning status, due date and owners. Tagging and system taxonomy provides quick access to relevant knowledge management repositories.

In this way, the system helped foster and drive internal team collaboration as well as cross organizational collaboration.

  1. The context awareness of the system would allows a team member from Chennai, en route to join a project site in New Jersey to view colleagues in the NJ area who may have come from the Chennai office, went to their university or shared other attributes, like previous employment, expertise, or hobbies to provide them with immediate intra-organizational networking opportunities before they arrive.

While system-based feedback cycles could be instantaneous, the user-based interactions and collaboration cycles vary based on the complexity of the task and how frequently they are responding to their individual alerts. Adding mobile alerts and severity status indicators help bring these cycles a little tighter.

A quick note on Xbox Kinect or Live
In contrast to high levels of complexity and slower feedback cycles - systems like XBOX Live and Kinect allow for real-time collaboration in gaming. There are a number of games where team mates have to co-ordinate their actions to achieve a task, whether it's moving left/right or jumping in unison to control a shared raft, or some other type activity. While a campaign might be longer in cycle, the individual tasks that require collaboration are smaller and the feedback cycles are instantaneous.

Bottom line, there is a wide range of variability in solutions to the broad topic of "Gamification in Collaborative Learning" that need to be more specifically considered on a case by case basis, which is why I tried to keep my descriptions more general and fundamental.

I'll noodle on it a little more - but the more that the individual "reputation" based accolades are derived from collaborative behavior - team contributions, team recognitions (votes etc.) the more likely you can inspire collaboration. My premise is that we're all very ego driven, even when contributing to a greater common good, one's individual recognition is still a primary motivator - which is only enhanced by a collective achievement of their respective group.

Hope this gave you some ideas. - Good luck! - J

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excellent answer. you may also be interested in "What aspects of psychology does Stack Overflow take advantage of?" –  Jin Jun 10 '11 at 18:05
    
This answer reminds me of Kathy Sierra's recent blog post, "Pixie Dust and the Mountain of Mediocrity": gapingvoid.com/2011/06/07/pixie-dust-the-mountain-of-mediocrity, especially the part about being awesome. –  Rahul Jun 10 '11 at 19:21
    
this was just an off the cuff response based on my observations and experience in social web tools. I'll have to read these article you pointed me to. Thanks guys. –  Jon Fukuda Jun 10 '11 at 20:16
    
I like this too. Could you add more about the collaborative side? The "I'm Awesome" on its own promotes competitiveness. –  James Crook Jun 10 '11 at 20:36

[This is CW - to promote collaboration]

Summary

  • Quests can promote collaboration.
  • Giving badges more visibility than numbers can promote collaboration.
  • Framing writing as improving a larger document rather than replacement of a smaller document promotes collaboration.
  • Access-Rights are an important form of reward.

Collaborative Subgoals

WoW has quests. The different types of character FORCE collaboration to be able to achieve some of the goals at all.

Wikipedia has opt-in special interest groups, called 'projects'. They have their own badges, and sub community. Subgoals include getting a page to featured status, with the resistance that makes it a challenge being from experienced wikipedians applying the rule set.

Visibility of Rep

In Wikipedia rep is concealed - it's not visible on activity pages. This reduces the immediate pressure for competition. However, barnstar badges (awarded by other community members) and personal profile badges (self nominated) are very visible, once you go looking into a user's rep. This pushes towards community activities since that's what the badges are for. The concealed rep promotes a longer term attitude to rep.

In StackExchange numerical rep and badge count are highly visible, "worn on the sleeve". It's on most activity pages, and it's visible on leader boards.

Numerical rep dominates the more community oriented badge-rep positionally, visually and numerically. This increases pressure for rep-competition.

In LinkedIn the only collaborative activity is building the network. Rep (number of connections) is highly visible. So are recommendations (strong links) and group membership (self nominated badges).

Best vs Improvement

Most SE numerical rep comes from giving a better answer than someone else. As this rep is so visible it promotes competitive activity to increase rep relative to other people.

Rep in Wikipedia is given for improving a document. This promotes collaboration.

Bounty Systems

The bounty system in SE works towards collaboration. The basic trade is 'I answer this question I know about, in exchange you answer a question I care about'. However, it simultaneously engenders intense competition.

Access Rights Rewards

In Khan Academy collaboration through being a mentor is rewarded with 'access' rights to the power tools of the mentoring dashboard. The more people you mentor the more impressive your dashboard. The student side of the collaboration is rewarded through faster progress through the levels - and attention. Without mentors Khan academy would have the problem that 'no one can see my progress'. Collaborative content generation is not yet gamified.

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