The importance of listening to your end-users

We are currently running through initial user testing for one of our projects. We held a live and online review so far (and more to come) of what is still a storyboard of the end product with the journey for end-users described. We want to validate that our design reaches the intended objective. Hence we took our project to our end-customer to receive valuable input. Here is a short list of what we would recommend doing with user research.

First level feedback

What a user test does it gives you first level feedback. Some of the comments made at the meetings were constructive and very useful. For us, it is also the first time the design goes beyond the initial project team and the decision makers from the client. It is the first time or target group will experience it, hence what they say is important to us.

Listen and probe for more information

It is always tempting when you receive feedback to explain your way out of it, but that is not the purpose of a user test. A user test is typically aimed at gathering all good, bad and ugly thoughts and ideas from your intended end-users. Probing to understand what would be better and what they really mean with their feedback is good. Defending and over explaining not so much.

How to decide what will change as a result?

When I look at user-feedback I always think about what will enhance the objective we are trying to reach and what will hinder it. The second question then is, is it feasible in our budget and timeframe to incorporate the changes suggested? If at all feasible then we should consider doing it, if not then we keep it for a later deployment or future use.

What must you implement?

Any point where you see a user losing interest or getting stuck purely because of your design, you must tweak to improve the experience. It may be a simple thing or more complex, but if they are already getting stuck at this early stage then we will for sure run into trouble later. If your user group has comments that more than one person brings forward, pay attention and check with other testers if they see the same issue. If they do, then you must consider changing it.

What can you discard?

I would find it really annoying if I gave valuable feedback but it didn’t at all get heard or incorporated. The virtue of inviting people for their opinion will give them a bigger interest in how your gamification design looks in the end. So when you are leaving things aside, I would say err on the side of caution and prioritise what is most to least important from a user experience perspective and that way decide on what you can discard or move to a later version. Items such as character looks, colours, specific words, are often the trivia that decision makers fall over but your end-user has no issue with and could be left aside.

No matter what you change or not, keep a respectful tone and environment so that everyone feels comfortable contributing. It is always a little scary to bring your precious design that probably took some time to be developed to a discerning group of potential critics.  Take it from the perspective that their constructive feedback will make your end-result better.

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What makes gamification fail?

Gamification in business has been tested by some organisations and proved incredibly successful yet in others, it has failed. What makes gamification fail?

The reasons why failure can occur may be varied and would need to be considered for each situation. Here are 3 of the most common reasons why gamification fails and as said there may be many more depending on the situation.

Not relevant to the end user

Gamification design should in every company include some element of user research, at least that is my opinion. When end-users are involved you can create a picture of what motivates them and what doesn’t. If you are just launching a gamified solution with the intent of it working first time without any feedback then relevancy to the end-user may well be the cause. You can still retrieve it when after roll out the behavioural data works as a guide to tweak your design.

I see this quite a bit in applications where quantity or frequency of use is deemed to be more important than a true key performance indicator. For example, when data entry becomes the rewarded activity as opposed to sales activity for sales agents. They don’t see it as rewarded unless it impacts their numbers. Whilst from a sales management perspective data entry matters, the reward should be at the end of the full process so the sales agent still feels it enables his or her job.  In this case, making it part of the rewarded series of activities makes sense not simply focused on the data entry part of it.

Equally, when some users start falling behind, they will lose interest in the gamified outcomes, simply because they feel they can no longer compete or win.  With separate milestones and intermittent quests, this could be avoided. In one sales organisation, the agents knew that if they took holidays in the quarter that their target was no longer within reach, so they didn’t bother pushing for it. Playing a holiday joker could have avoided this problem and given them a fair chance to reach targets.

Superficial gamification design

Superficial gamification is what became rife in e-learning when the learning management systems decided to add points, badges and leaderboard without exploring where and why they would or wouldn’t make sense. I think the initial wave of this is ending, which if you are a buyer of such systems should enable you to choose what to switch on when and for what reason.

One size fits all also fall under this banner of not relevant to the end-user. Trying to introduce competition in an environment where this is not the norm, for example, is asking for trouble, and it shouldn’t be surprising if the uptake is poor.

Adding game mechanics like confetti without intent is like throwing mud in the hope that something sticks. I guess it is a strategy where narrowing down can happen later, but in most cases start with game mechanics that have a reason for existing. If you can’t find a good reason, then simply leave it out. Also, explore if you are just putting a mechanic in or not because of your own personal preferences. Always go by what your target audience prefers.

No connection to objectives

Gamification just for the fun of it or because you can or because everyone else is doing it so we should too is, in my opinion, a mighty waste of money. If I don’t understand why I am doing something and don’t see the point in it, then already the reason for a task to existing may be questionable. Then adding game elements to it is multiplying this frustration.

Gamification works best when it is connected to outcomes and objectives such as key performance indicators. Very often gamification helps to create a sense of progression and gives feedback, but if you are on a road to nowhere does knowing your progress really matter?

Gamification may not be the best solution for everything and as a person entrenched in this field, it is important to me to also say this to clients. Sometimes other things are a higher priority.

If you have had a failed gamification process, feel free to book a strategy call to explore what may have been missing and what you could do to pull it back on track.


Keeping a gamification design fair for your intended audience

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What does gamification look like?

Lately, I have been networking far outside the circle of gamification enthusiasts and the general rule is that most people in business still don’t know what gamification is and what it could possibly look like. When you are working in the field for years, you tend to forget that what is normal for you may not be normal for everyone else. Or at the least, the terminology may not be familiar.

What is gamification?

The definition I use for gamification is the application of game psychology and game dynamics and game mechanics to a non-game situation such as business processes.

In more real terms this definition translates a bit like this into an example. The game mechanic of a leaderboard may by default introduce the game dynamic of competition, which also by its nature brings in a whole load of psychological and behavioural elements for users of the process. A leaderboard in learning may track those that log in most often, which then encourages that kind of behaviour more. (btw ideally it should be set to track what you want more of and logging in may not be most appropriate)

Where have you seen gamification

Gamification has crept into a lot of our applications and most people don’t realise it is gamification. So here are some examples of applications you may have been using for some time:

LinkedIn example

LinkedIn has used gamification from the early days (and so have most other social media platforms). If you think of the game statistics shown in any game in what is called the heads up display is shows your scores. LinkedIn shows me my scores in terms of profile views, post views, activity, likes, etc. they don’t just show me once but in several places. The frequency is subliminally encouraging me to pay attention and improve on what I have in numbers.

On my LinkedIn profile, when I look at my profile or try to improve it I see the private dashboard. There I also find my status of “All-Star” which used to measure profile completeness and how you do against your peers.

what does gamification look like


Zoho CRM – achievements

In my customer relationship management system, I have a set of achievements to collect all related to sales and customer relations. They are triggered by regular sales activity. As a systems administrator, I can set more achievements and create rules to earn them.

Zoho CRM achievements - what does gamification look like


The language learning application Duolingo has been gamified from the start. Some of their game elements are used to encourage regular to practise because they know regular practice improves language ability. In fact, they want you to do a little bit every day. As an interesting fact, the longest standing unbroken practice streak was 7 years.

I earn levels based on practice and mastery of vocabulary. Keeping up the practice unlocks new vocabulary and increases my levels of mastery.

what does gamification look like

What makes something a game then?

What all the above examples have in common is that you stay in the process of social networking for LinkedIn, you enter the regular sales information in Zoho, you continue your learning in Duolingo. The game elements are shown as a result of activities in the business process you are doing anyway. That is what makes it gamification.

For it to become a game, you would need to leave the process and enter a game environment. For example, a business simulation you actually are playing in that environment and may pick up achievements and learn in the environment. But typically this includes a debrief to extract the true learning and make the links back to your real job.

Games provide a safe environment to test and learn new skills in. Gamification gives you the nudges and reinforcement of behaviour you want to encourage more of whilst people remain engaged in their daily work. I hope you can now recognise gamification a bit more in your daily use of apps and work software.


Gamification for diversity and inclusion

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Storylines that work for business gamification

In gamification design, the narrative or storyline is often what makes a campaign or intervention stick together. Most great games, movies and books similarly have story arcs and plots that make them engaging. In my upcoming book ‘winning at the infinite game of learning gamification,’ I am dedicating a whole chapter to story arcs that work for learning. And as it is International Storytelling day today, here are 3 top storylines that I think can work in business gamification from marketing to learning etc.

1. The quest

A character goes in search of a person, a place or a thing and in their search they overcome obstacles in order to find what they are looking for. Each action taken has a cause and effect, in other words, a reason to exist. The decision points and their consequences are what makes the quest and interesting storyline for many business uses.

2. The adventure

An adventure plot is much more about exploring. Adventure stories take you into the world, an ever-expanding bigger, wider world with new and strange places, and strange events, things that you have never done before. The hero goes in search of fortune, it’s never found in their back garden. You, you have to travel in order to find it. And your hero should be motivated by someone or something to begin the adventure.

3. Rivalry

Who doesn’t like an interesting bit of competition or rivalry? In a rivalry plot, the source of your conflict should come as a result of an irresistible force meeting causing a struggle for power between a protagonist and antagonist. The two adversaries should be equally matched. Although their strength need not match exactly, they should have compensating strengths or powerful companions, which can balance out the fight.

General rules for picking storylines in gamification

Here are the questions I recommend asking before you start your story-driven design:

  • Does it suit my topic?
  • Will my target audience benefit from it? If so, how?
  • Is it on brand? is it portraying values we want to portray?
  • Will the story arch enhance the gamified experience?
  • What game type matches your storyline?


What is social media teaching us about social gamification?

Remember to apply for our Board game design mastermind

Board game design mastermind


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What are win conditions and end games in gamification design?

In both gamification design and game design, we want to know the end game from the early design phases onwards. The end game typically is constructed at the beginning based on the chosen outcomes for the project as well as the win conditions selected for the game. Understanding the difference is not always that easy for clients that are unfamiliar with game design in general.

Imagine you are creating a gamification design related to the recruitment process, the objective is to attract more people to apply and enter the process. The gamification design hence is about attraction and encouraging people to enter the recruitment process to earn the right for an interview, which would be the end game. The win conditions are related to entering the process and then successful milestone completion of tasks to do with the recruitment process. The ultimate win obviously also to unlock the right to be invited for an interview.

The action or conditions that equal ‘game over’ is what we call in technical jargon the end game. The celebrations and encouragement to someone there and to indicate they are winning are the win conditions.

Win conditions and end games

In a board game like Monopoly, the win conditions are around buying as many streets and build houses and hotels on them in order to earn the most money. The end game is when only one person is left in play with probably all the hotels and lots of money and the others unable to play on due to lack of money to pay rents on the other players’ streets.

When we work with companies on their gamification design and game designs, the objectives of the project become part of either the end game or the win conditions. Typically the end-game is when you hit success and the game stops running. You can then decide to play again or run the gamified process again for a different role for example.

If you want to learn to apply this theory to a board game, consider taking part in our board game design mastermind:

Board game design mastermind

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