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Podcast 20: Should gamification be part of a larger strategy?

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Welcome to this week’s Question of Gamification. I’m An Coppens, I’m your show host, and I’m also the CEO or Chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation. This week’s question is asked to us from a variety of clients, and it typically goes something like this, is gamification or should gamification be part of a larger strategy?

When we get asked that question, it’s typically because people have heard that gamification is a thing. They like the concept, they like the fact that we can bring some of the game and play-like feeling into an organisation. But often it also means that they haven’t thought through why they want to implement gamification in the first place.

Start with why

I would say or answer that question with, yes, gamification should always be part of a larger strategy. In fact, I would even say strategy comes first, as opposed to gamification comes first. Now, gamification can be the strategy. I mean, that’s also possible. But in the end of the day, you need to have a reason why you are engaging in gamification, why you are even going there. You need to understand if it fits for your culture, if it fits for the type of problem you’re trying to solve.

Although I feel that gamification has a lot of power and a lot of benefits. It doesn’t fix every single problem that you may encounter in an organisation. Sometimes it’s simply a case of revising benefits, revising employee rules, or even very simple things as changing things around in an environment. It could be interpersonal related. The one thing you can’t gamify is your boss, typically speaking. At best, you can gamify the process, but gamifying people is another story altogether, and gamification in the best form should always be voluntary.

Make it voluntary

If it’s imposed, then as soon as that becomes known, it also causes a backlash of why people don’t want to engage or they rebel against it, or they game the system, etc. When you’re looking at gamification as a part of your employee facing strategy, I would definitely say it needs to be part of a well thought out strategy, whether that’s employee engagement, whether that is a very specific onboarding call, an onboarding strategy, whether that is showcasing how your organisation is a leader in the field. There’s a variety of reasons and a variety of things you may want to do as part of a strategy, and gamification could be one.

What we see gamification do and where it plays in and ties into strategy, is that it enforces or reinforces the message of your strategy.

Gamified on-boarding strategy example

Let’s give an example. Usually examples work better than me talking about the conceptual side of things. Imagine you have an organisation where people thrive when they’re self-sufficient, when they’re self searching for answers. Now, when people join the organisation, they didn’t always know that. Gamification was introduced to help them through and teach them from day one, “Actually, in this organisation, it’s up to you to make your career what you want it to be.”

What did the organisation do? Actually, they looked at staff turnover and they saw the ones that thrived were the ones that had adopted and became self-sufficient. The ones that left, and left quite miserable in some way, felt that they were left to their own devices and didn’t know what to do. They were never taught that, actually, self-management and self-sufficiency is the way to success. That was the strategic input then, that basically made the company decide, “Okay, we want to apply a gamification strategy to solve this.”

Now, they did test out other strategies as well. What they came up with was, from day one, and I think it even started before, the person joined the company, they were sent access to an app. In the app you received instructions, a little bit like a treasure hunt: “On day one, please find X place in X building, and meet person Y.” When they met person Y, person Y scanned their app, and basically they were given the next clue, the next instruction.

That way, they figured out that actually in order to succeed and in a very subtle way, they were being trained to say, “Actually, to get places in this company, this is what you have to do. You have to find your way. You have to find where things are, who the people are I need to speak to,” and sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it was a little bit harder, sort of hidden encryptic clues and all of that.

From a design perspective, that’s an ideal scenario to design with, because we have a very clear strategic objective, we can measure the before and the after, and you can set very clear indicators. Having people go through the onboarding adventure or quest or whatever you call it, gives you an idea of whether they’re able to make it to the very end because some of them may struggle. The ones that struggle are the ones you can immediately flag, “Okay, we need to mind them a little bit more than maybe the perfectly self-sufficient ones.

The perfectly self-sufficient ones probably got there anyway, and would have made it regardless, but they also give you a good indication that they might be that high potential person that’s going to thrive in this environment, because we know from previous analysis, that that was the kind of person that would. In some sense, making gamification the tactical approach to the strategic objective, I think is where it works best.

Gamification in learning should have choices and consequences

As a trainer and coach, I often used games and gamification as a tactic to bring more difficult concepts home, and to make people realize actually how you behave in a certain situation will have an impact on how you’re perceived later on. Strategy games, role playing games, so many on the market, will guide you through a whole number of dilemmas choices, and in the game they always have consequences. I see the same happen in a work environment. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have consequences in a workplace-based gamification for onboarding, for promotions, for learning, you name it.

There should be choices in it, some that are more ideal, some that are less ideal, and some that are outright not desirable. Those chosen ones, if choices are made, there should definitely, by all means, be a consequence. Whether that’s a loss of a life in the game, or what it does, actually, deduction of some points or privileges, those things should be there. I think in today’s society, a lot of young people get nicknamed with old, under-privileged, et cetera, but think about it the other way.

Most of the kids that are entering the workforce today have played games at some point in life. Whether they’re actively playing online games, computer games, mobile games, or they’re engaged in sports, in my view, they all qualify. In each of those scenarios, they have learned to deal with failure, they have learned to deal with consequences.

Yes, they may have come through a softer part that they got to, where they needed to go with less struggle than maybe their previous generation or back in the good old days or whatever you call it, the war story that’s being bandied around, but they also have learned through the play that, in some cases, bad decisions have bad consequences.

Don’t, I suppose, put them in cotton wool, don’t hold back. If there are desirable behaviors and undesirable behaviors, let them know which is which. Because in the end of the day, we’ll only ever learn if we fail, and maybe that’s too harsh a statement. Some people learn from others very well, and learning from their role models, but a lot of the firsthand experience has given us insight because of the things we did wrong. Usually, it’s not because of the things we did right, because there, we don’t know for sure if we actually did it right or we were just lucky. Consequences feedback should be part and parcel of it.

Is gamification part of a strategy?

To answer the original question: is gamification part of a strategy? Yes, it should always be, and where possible measure it. Any good strategy usually comes with some element of resource management, some element of choices, that you’re weighing up. Then, if you weigh up, that gamification may be a good strategy to follow or a good tactic to follow, then it should have been made because the culture was right, people are open to play. The thing in the work environment, gamification will very often just look like nudges or an app that encourages you. It may not look like a Full On World of Warcraft or Monopoly or whatever other game you can think of.

It’s always way more subtle than that. It’s often just a simple guidepost through a process that gets you places. When you think of play in the workplace, I would say, don’t drive it too crazy. I saw one thought leader recently mention on LinkedIn, “Nobody comes to work looking to play.” Well, maybe. I would say, most of us come to work to do a good day’s work. If that can be done in a fun and an exciting way, that’s so much more appealing than if it has to be done in a really boring and non-exciting, non-motivational way.

Where I see gamification fit into that equation, is that it can actually make a process more interesting and encourage behaviors that you see as useful for the organisation. I mean, yes, we borrow concepts from play, does that mean it’s a Full On game? No, it doesn’t have to be. It can be, but absolutely, it doesn’t have to be. It has to be fitting with whatever culture you have going, has to be fitting with the people that you have, and it can be collaborative, it can be competitive, it can be any which way.

Those are the strategic choices you should be making when you’re deciding that gamification is part of a strategic mix, and when it’s part of the strategic mix, which of the things are you enhancing, which of the things would you like to put lesser focus on, how are you going to roll it out? There’s a whole strategic set of questions that comes with implementing gamification. It’s part of a strategy, usually an overarching strategy, that’s bigger than gamification itself.

Then you need strategic decisions at gamification level also, which are more choices around, “Okay, do we go collaborative? Do we go competitive? Do we go inclusive? Do we go specific groups? There’s a lot, a lot of choices that need to be made when looking at a gamified process delivery and gamification in the workplace.

I hope that answered the question, and I look forward to our next question. If you have one as burning and that you haven’t really dared to ask, by all means, send it our way, and I will do my best to answer. If you like our podcast, by all means, give us a great rating on whatever system you listen to us. Thank you for listening to the Question of Gamification.

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Inclusive design 101

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I wanted to bring the feminine voice to the world of gamification when it was largely dominated by men in 2012. One of my reasons was that a lot of the designs I saw early on were very competitive and didn’t appeal to me. I then researched whether this was just a hunch of one female or whether this was more widespread. In fact, it is more widespread and not even exclusive to women to not want to engage in competition all of the time at work. What I also found is that women are harsher judges of their abilities which will prevent them from entering a competition. Feeling feminine and masculine seems more of a spectrum rather than a gender rule and as I keep being told in projects it depends on the situation.

When embarking on inclusive design, the following basics give good guidance:

Inclusive environments will:

  • be responsive to people’s needs
  • be flexible in use
  • offer choice when a single design solution cannot meet all users’ needs
  • be convenient so they can be used without undue effort or ‘special separation’ 
  • be welcoming to a wide variety of people, making them feel they belong
  • accommodate without fuss or exception those who have specific requirements

The key to getting the mix right in gamification and user experience design is to engage with your users. I still find it fascinating that a lot of organisation in our work, do not believe in consulting their target audience. For us, it is an essential part of our process and it is what get’s us better results.

So here is my question for you, where can you be more inclusive in your workplace based on the simple pointers given above?

 

https://www.gamificationnation.com/inclusive-by-design/

 

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Podcast 19: How to use our Gamification Card Deck?

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Rough and ready transcript of the podcast to date, just to get it out. We will improve it in the coming days with a bit of human touch.

Welcome to this week’s a Question of Gamification. And this week’s question is a question from Remco one of our clients who bought a gamification card deck. It’s our physical card deck that we designed a while ago, to help us to explain what game design is all about. For those people that don’t like games don’t play games don’t understand the beginning or the end have anything to do with game design. And also for an awful lot of people who just basically want to level up their skills and practice their game design. So both audiences buy our gamification decks, actually, to be perfectly honest.

For us, it was very much a solution to a need, because a lot of the time when I did HR workshops, and learning and development workshops, I had people in the room that actually admittedly said, I don’t like games. And I’ve never played games, or only when I had to when I was younger, did I ever play games.

In order to address that, and still bring them along on a journey, where they could actually end up doing a gamification design for their company, I needed a tool. So that’s why the gamification design card deck was born. And the first thing I always say is to find out what it is or aim your design at someone.

Now for the purpose of workshops, the other challenge was that typically, many people came with such a diverse set of audiences, that it was really hard to design something together. So I needed the card set that would address that.

So the first card sets that I would focus on is either it’s aimed at learners, in which case you have learner types. And it’s either aimed at employees, in which case you choose employee types, or the gamification is aimed at customers and then you aim it at customer types.

So let’s imagine we are working on something for our employees, which means we have the green cards in front of us. And we just decide, okay, which of these are most likely to be the employees that work for me in the company or work with me in the company. So let’s say we have the corporate career makers that work in the company. So I’ve chosen one card.

Now, typically, I say, you can choose however many that apply to your audience, and apply to the people that you have working for you. Now, so because we’re dealing across customers, learners and employees, one is ideal to start with. You can choose more than one, if you’re already a bit confident. Once you have three different types all playing together, what I would say is consider having specific experiences to suit each and every one of those audiences, because what you need for each of them for them to make sense and for it to be good and useful, maybe quite different.

So for the purpose of today, we have a corporate career climbers, so that’s our target audience, then every game needs to fit in a category. So that’s where the type of game cards come in. Now, I’ve listed 13 different kinds of games. But there are more and you know, mashups can work. So what I would suggest here is that you can pick up to maximum two of the type of game types.

If you’re an absolute beginner, you can pick only one, reason for that is you want to keep it simple when you start out, because the game mechanics once you start mashing them up makes the game more complex, makes it harder to create, makes it harder to do many things. So imagine that for this purpose. For our career makers, we have a resource management game.

Now, a resource management game is a game where you have to collect items, nurture items, and you have to make sure that you have enough resources to do everything that you need to do. So things like Sim City, things like Farmville are the types of kind of resource management games that we’re talking about here.

Now, for a corporate career maker, what could be the types of things that they would love to collect? Maybe it could be experiences, as in, you know, experience to do different types of things within the organization’s, level steps up on the ladder, because if they want to go from A to the top dog over the top position, you basically need to help them get there. And by giving them things to collect along the way, you may actually provide them that path to get you there. So once you have the game type, you know who you’re aiming it out, the next thing you need to choose is the win conditions.

So effectively, every good way game has win conditions. Now you don’t have to stick to the ones that are completely fitting to your game, you can be creative with that. And that’s why there’s a whole lot more than 13 of win conditions.

Let’s say I’ve picked winning streaks as one of my win conditions. And the second win condition is control. So I’ve chosen control. So again, up to two or three win conditions are manageable. Anything way beyond that becomes hard. Effectively, you only need one target audience, one type of game and one win condition. And you you have the bare bones of a game. So effectively, you could stop here. And you could say, well, actually, I have resource management with winning streaks and control as the leverage points and that’s enough. So in this case, what we would have is a game where if they have enough winning streaks and winning streaks are things that you get through regularity through consistency. So for example, showing up on time, every every day for six months, practicing a bit of learning every day for an expected an amount of time for an employee could be delivering all your projects in on time, on budget, etc.

So whatever the case may be that’s relevant to your end user. So always pick tied back to your end user. So our corporate career climbers will want to know what are they measured in terms of the winning streaks so that they can climb the ladder so they want transparent, so we need to be able to show, okay, if I do that I get done. So that’s something they definitely want. Now, the other wind condition I chose here was control and control is an interesting one. So it basically tells you the power to control the territory of the game or power over others. And the virtue of leveling up in the corporate career actually would mean that, you know, you gain that element of control. But it could be a lot more trivial. It could be you can deliver karma to other people as in some something good. Or you can take away some things or negative, you know, you can again be playful around that. So they do these are game mechanics that give the feeling of progress that give the feeling of achievement. That’s why they’re called win conditions.

Every simple game from a puzzle to Candy Crush to World of Warcraft, to Fortnite to Minecraft have some elements of win conditions, they may be self imposed, or they may be explicit. So for example, completing a puzzle is effectively the win condition for a puzzle game. Minecraft, it may well be that you have built a fantastic looking item and it’s you that judges and it’s built. And then you have to hope that nobody comes and crushes it. In Fortnite, it’s a lot more finite. So it’s it’s you know, you you get basically ruled out by other players being the last one standing, the one that can do the victory dance is effectively what you will want in a Fortnite situation. So as it stands, we’ve chosen a customer type. So an employee type, customer type or learner type, we’ve chosen a type of game, always chosen to win conditions. So 112 so far.

And then you have these lovely, I think it’s about 60 something game mechanics. Now game mechanics, is what makes the game interesting. It’s what makes you come back, it’s what makes you play more often, it’s what engages you to take that next level step. Typically, what I do in workshops is I say you can pick as many as you like, but imagine that each card and each game mechanic costs you 10,000 of whatever money you’re in. So let’s say we’re in the UK, we have pound, so 10,000 pounds per card. In the EU, it’s 10,000 euros in the US it can be dollars in you know, you take it to the currency and make it a meaningfully high number. So let’s say we can pick five because our budget is 50,000 with a bit of extra for setup, and you know, the other game mechanics that we didn’t count for. So let’s say we have played Joker, bit of a treasure hunt, we have unlocking of new items, a bit of a team quest. And then let’s say we want the boss battle. So that’s my five. That’s my budget spend.

Now, realistically, you can use all as many as you like. And what I would do in a workshop with a client is we look at Okay, what are the game mechanics that are going to attract people in as an invite to come and play your game? Then the second step is what are the game mechanics I get them started. So there may be tutorial game mechanics in is your maybe little things you get them to do to have that initial boost and happiness that comes from hoo I won.

So what is the first first next step? Then there are game mechanics in the deck here, keep people engaged and coming back for more. So you know, you may have a couple of those. And then you need to decide if there is an end game.

So for example, in Minecraft or in Lego, there is no end game unless you choose there is an end. But in games, like Fortnite, there is a winner. So there is definitely a winner or loser. So if you are designing games for work, also look at what’s the part of the loser can they play again? Is it serious? Is it just trivial? Or is it just a game that keeps refreshing every quarter every month every year. So you know, there are more than one consideration to take into account when you’re using this for business. But let’s say we have the player Joker. So in a corporate career, you may have moments where you’re so busy, that you may have to play Joker not to lose your place. And because we had these winning streaks as part of our game, it might be really important to have a joker so you can keep your position in the control sense of things.

So the player Joker is to keep your standing in the ranking as it is, then I also picked unlocking of new items. Now these can be hidden, they can be unlocked through the things you do so imagine and it’s you know, you’ve succeeded at 10 winning streaks in a row or you have achieved 10 consecutive days of achievement. And you know, guess what, that works quite neatly with the control game element that we already had as a win condition because the unlocking of new items can actually give you the control over an area for example. The same with the treasure hunt. So I like treasure hunts, I think they’re they’re kind of cute. You can do them with augmented reality, you can do them in reality with clues, you could do them on email, you can do anything any, you know, completely digital. So they actually suit a lot of good things. So if you have a new communications campaign coming out treasure hunt, could be great fun. But a treasure hunt may also be a way of earning that control in your game. And in resource management. It’s a tool that unlocks may be special effects, special boosters, because effectively you are collecting treasures on some level, because we have a resource management game. And that could be competencies, or could be very job related items that unlock more responsibility, more abilities as such.

Because we’re dealing with corporate career makers, I added in a bit of a competitive element of boss battle, who knows most or who is best. And that’s where you invite maybe a colleague to be in a duel with you. And you decide on, you know, how you battle it out how, who’s the better of the two of you in a chosen area. So it could be about consistency, it could be about control. It could be about knowledge, it could be about projects, you know, you can set it as the game master you you set the controls. But you can also leave an element of freedom to the players where you can say, well look, you know, within reason you can have a boss battle once a quarter on, you know, who knows most and it could be a tournament style.

The one I usually include in game designs for companies is a team quest, where some of the achievements that you earn to win control or to have a winning streak is that you do something for the team. Most organizations I know depend on the team to deliver and to achieve the results. So therefore, team quests work really well. So that’s my five, that’s my budget spend. So now it’s off to design studio to make the game.

That’s how we would use the gamification design card deck. I hope that explains it a little bit, what we’re going to do is we’re going to create a challenge. And once a week, we’ll post three cards or maybe more to have you decide on what kind of game would you create for those cards. That way you’ll get the flex the muscles will take part in this we’ll get my team to take part in it. And what we’ll do is we’re going to get you to post ideas, and worked out game play based on the different cards that we choose.

In this case, we would have chosen the card called the corporate career makers, we would have chosen a resource management. And we would have chosen a win conditions of winning streaks and control. And then the five game mechanics, and one was to play a joker the other was boss battle team quest, treasure hunt, and unlocking of new items.

Based on these cards, what would you make? What kind of game? What’s the gameplay? What’s the narrative? How would you make that out? Where would you use it? Your call. So each week will set a different challenge. And you can join us in our group to give your version of what you would do with those cards with those names. And you never know. There may be prizes. They may not be, you may just enjoy it. Anyway, thanks for tuning in on this week’s Question of Gamification. So thank you for listening. Thank you for tuning in. And I hope that you enjoy taking part in our challenge. And if you enjoy listening to me and to the nuggets I hopefully share with you. Let’s hear your questions. Let’s have a review of the podcast on the system that you are listening to. We’d love to hear from you. And we’d love to answer more of your questions. So if you have a burning question about games vacation, send them my way. Thank you for listening,

 

Top 5 questions to ask before embarking on a gamification project

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Is there proof that gamification works?

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Is there proof that gamification works? is one of our frequently asked questions, still to this day. One could say that with a young industry, it is to be expected that there are critics which will dismiss that gamification can do anything for anybody. Personally, I have seen the results our clients get and it always astounds me when they then turn around and say please don’t tell anyone. The curse of working with non-disclosure agreements for most of our employee-facing work. I will list some of the ways that give me proof that gamification works.

Client results

80% increase in confidence in talking about a service to new potential clients because they understood what the consequences were for their clients. Thanks to a gamified experience we created.

40% increase in retention of specific examples because they were what caused them to win or lose a board game, which we created.

95% success in explaining a complex topic in a learning environment through the use of a card game. This results in people having the confidence to then engage and create for themselves, when before they were stuck.

17% increase in engagement online through a gamified interaction sequence for members.

Quadrupling of quarterly results thanks to management reinforcing small wins consistently throughout the quarter.

Social media evidence

The biggest display of gamification is in my view the social media industry. They have successfully managed to encourage us to post regularly, like each others posts, share them forward and comment or emoji on them. Progress bars, status names and onboarding quests were how they got you started. It is these channels that are making gamification mainstream and some are doing it better than others.

Facebook activity frequency

According to a Hootsuite survey, we spend on average 2h 16 per day on social media and that is with only 24% using it for work. The uptake of all social media is still growing, mainly thanks to the growth in mobile phone usage and internet access availability.

 

 

Academic research

More and more research is coming out with evidence to suggest gamification has a positive effect on learning, learning retention, it helps in stimulating diversity in recruitment, it is effective in encouraging us to stick for longer with exercise programmes over time, etc. Here are some of my favourite studies:

A study by Kara Behnke pointed out that extrinsic motivations are not universally harmful, and intrinsic motivations are not universally positive. A balanced combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations likely needs to be part of the course design for gamification to have a positive effect. The need to align game design with the goals of the learner were also identified as key. (Behnke, Kara Alexandra, “Gamification in Introductory Computer Science” (2015). ATLAS Institute Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 8. https://scholar.colorado.edu/atlas_gradetds/8)

A review of many of the research studies carried out about gamification by Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa found that the context in which it is applied mattered a lot and that there are slightly positive effects. (Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification. In proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, USA, January 6-9, 2014)

A way more comprehensive review of research by two of the renowned researchers Lennart Nacke and Sebastian Deterding can be found in their editorial piece on the maturation of gamification research.

What more and more studies are having in common, is that context and goals of the end-user are important. If gamification is simply a sprinkling on top of a range of game mechanics because everyone is doing it, then we can nearly say with certainty that the results will be hit and miss. If however we have put thought into the design and placement of specific game element for specific purposes and a blend between these two then we are onto something potentially positive.

How to know if you got it right?

My first instinctive answer will be, what does your end-user say? And then I would also say measure the numbers. What was the picture before and what is the picture after? We like to start with the question, how will you know if this program is a success and then we measure the success against what we set out to achieve.

 

Is gamification in learning really working?

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How to decide whether to use characters and avatars in gamification

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In gamification design, we are typically adding game elements to a business process. People don’t need to step out into a game world but rather stay involved in what they were doing all along. Sometimes narrative can help but other times a character or avatar can be used. We occassionally get the question, when is a character or avatar useful and when is better to stick with regular text or forward ndging through game mechanics. Here are our top reasons to include a character or avatar in your gamification design.

Top reasons to include a character or avatar in your gamification design

Guide

A character can act as a guide through a process. Those of us old enough remember Clippy the helpful annoying assistant that travelled with the early version of Microsoft Office. As a concept the intention of giving help is a good reason to have them, having the character randomly pop-up makes it annoying. Some companies opt for text based on-boarding on new tools with speech bubbles indicating what you should do next and in others we have used and seen avatars representing the company guiding people through the process. In some of our learning related quests we use relatable or specifically chosen characters to give instructions. Especially if in real life on the job, a person will give you direction, then using it in learning and other communications seems like a natural extension.

Personification of something desired or undesired

Away from and towards motivation are strong reasons why we do or don’t do some activities. In gamification we are often tasked to steer people away from undesirable behaviours and towards desired behaviours. By creating a character that represents this undesirable, we can create a bit of fun narrative to help people build a new habit. We are working on an application called Stressy, where the monster Stressy is a monster character representing your stress levels. The key is to keep your monster in check. A bit of stress will get us functioning, but too much over sustained periods of time will become toxic. So we encourage people to take focused action to destress.

We have used characters in compliance and certification training that has to be renewed. In some professions a yearly course or renewal of a certification has to be taken to be allowed to use certain equipment, carry out specific duties, etc. Think of the care professions, health and safety personnel, firemen, etc. In a care proposal we used a flower that blossoms when all your certifications are up to date. Once specific areas of your work represented by the flower petals started to come up for renewal the flower would start to wilt and the petal for that specific skill would eventually drop when it is out of date.

Cultural or organisational fit

Some companies have a leading figure or historic figure that played a great role, who can be the guiding character for communications, learning etc. Using a living person as a character can well add a dimension that people pay attention to. For one company, one of the senior executives was used in augmented reality and through a number of clues people would discover where she would show up next. The purpose of this was a launch campaign for a new product, team and some exciting new information. It was only revealed in a peace meal way and teams across the company had to collaborate to unlock the challenge. This worked because the person was senior in the company and known to spread important news, but also the company culture of collaboration across borders was essential to make it happen.

When not to use an avatar or character

No value add

When there is no extra value gained by having the character there. In each of the above examples the character had a purpose and were a good fit. The acid test is when you start asking yourself ‘why’ is it there. When pilot testers are asking you why a certain character or avatar exists, you must equally find out why they are asking and whether they find it a useful addition or not. I think in the example of Clippy, he was useful at times to help you do something, but the fact that he intruded and popped up when you didn’t need him made him annoying.

Interruption

As we already alluded in the previous paragraph, having a character that interrupts someone in mid-flow is never appreciated. Most of us don’t respond well to pop-ups and interruptions of any kind, hence having a character or avatar doing it will increase frustration levels. Most characters, avatars and I would even say bots, should let the user know they are there, but hide when not in play or not needed. Unless off course a pattern interrupt is what you are specifically trying to achieve.

Unrelatable

When a character is unrelatable either by what it triggers in terms of feelings or because it is so far away from what is acceptable in a specific culture, then I would say don’t use it. Imagine a frivolous Pokemon in a military setting, to me that just doesn’t fit, however a captain or commander that is more lifelike would work. Again use your pilot testers to give you feedback. If they have very strong reactions against a character, then dig deeper and find out why and potentially consider removing it. When you want to personify a feeling, it is typically better to use an abstract character like a monster or friendly ghost instead of a human avatar. That way you avoid creating bias against people that look alike.

 

 

 

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