Psychology of Gamification | Reflect Digital
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  • 27/07/2018
  • by Chris

Psychology of Gamification

Games have been a growing medium for a long time. With the introduction of smartphones and the ability to download apps easily, more and more people are able to get easy access to games. With millions of apps on the app store, the choice for a good game or app is endless.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the process of adding game elements to a setting that otherwise would not be game- related at all. A popular example of this would be football. For example, asking your friend if they want to play football for 20 minutes is a much attractive concept than asking your friend if they want to go for a jog for 20 minutes.

One of these has a set of rules and incentivises competition and reward, whereas the other is a fairly trivial and boring task with no immediate reward.

How do we gamify?

Gamification happens when we add some core rules into our marketing. As a general rule, games tend to have the following:

  • Game mechanics – These are the tools that are used in order to play the game. This also encompasses the rules and highlights how a game ends or is completed.
  • Dynamics – This is how a player utilises the game mechanics in order to fulfil an overall objective or goal. These can be simple, such as the use of dribbling in football in order to score a goal.
  • Game rewards/incentives – This is the payout for the player in the end. This can be done in the form of something physical such as an item in a game - a coupon or  achievement etc, through to an emotional reaction such as joy, sadness etc depending on the game itself.

There are a number of other things that could come into this, such as a narrative, competition and teams, however this mostly depend on the type of marketing you are looking to do.

For some real-world examples of where this has taken place, we could even take something as simple as the concept of a sport, e.g. playing football. At its most basic form, football is jogging, with the addition of a ball to kick (mechanics) or to pass (dynamics) to score a goal and win the game (rewards/incentives). Football is a little more complex than that, but you should get the general idea.

In marketing terms, we can take a look at loyalty cards from Starbucks for example. This has been put in place by Starbucks to promote paying for your coffee with their new app and doing so rewards you with stars, that eventually lead to better prizes. Breaking it down, we can see that the user needs to download the Starbucks app (mechanics) in order to pay for their coffee (dynamics) in order to earn stars that lead to rewards (Game rewards/incentives). Now that we’ve provided a few examples, let’s take a look into the psychology of this.

 

Gamification Psychology

Games have been a growing medium for a long time. With the introduction of smartphones and the ability to download apps easily, more and more people are able to get easy access to games. With millions of apps on the app store, the choice for a good game or app is endless. So, the question is, what keeps people playing or using certain apps? This is where gamification psychology comes into play, and how we keep our players (customers) coming back to us and interacting with our website/ brand.

 

Why do we play games?

People play games for a number of reasons, and there is a lot of research out there on why we play games - just do a Google search, trust me - but, we can boil this down to a few simple reasons:

  • Achievements – Trying to earn more points, being the first person to do something
  • Immersion – Being immersed in a game world that is different from our own
  • Competition – Defeating opponents, this can be done via high score, or a leader board
  • Cooperation – People enjoy creating communities and socialising within games as people work towards a common goal.
  • Fun – Probably the most important one of the lot! People play games to have fun... if a game is not fun, people will not want to play it.

Obviously, when designing a game for a consumer we need to take into account why people are playing these games and the type of game we are looking to create. Primarily, most games should be designed with fun in mind, however, we may only want some of the above traits in our game to fulfil our objective. 

Looking at an example we have done ourselves, our Find 50 game is a perfect example of how we have used some elements of the above points to create a game that will engage an audience in order to drive traffic and interactions. The game incorporates at least three of the above points, which include: 

  • Competition – Gaining bragging rights amongst your friends by being the first to complete it
  • Cooperation – Helping other people figure out the difficult clues to get the correct answers
  • Fun – The challenge of the quiz creates the fun, and the reward for that is the bragging rights for getting the clues correct.

These aspects interact with each other to encourage players to complete the quiz, to work alongside each other, and to also share their experiences throughout social media.

Keeping them coming back

So what keeps people coming back to websites, or apps or our other gamified marketing efforts? Most of the time it’s the reward. A lot of people are probably aware of Dopamine and associate this organic chemical most commonly with pleasure. However, to be more accurate, this is a chemical that actually balances incentive salience (fair warning there’s a lot of scientific jargon in there) which in layman’s terms means the value of a given reward in combination with the action required to attain it. A bit confusing, so here’s an example using our own Find 50 quiz.

Say that we change our Find 50 quiz. We already have a login system for the game that saves progress, so we could further incentivise registrations by introducing a basic achievement system. This is often used throughout games to encourage players to perform certain tasks. By introducing this system, we could award a player with a badge (that is appropriately football-themed) for creating an account and registering. This is an easily attainable goal, which in turn creates a sense of belonging and desire to then improve a player’s account.

Knowing the audience

Beyond knowing the audience of people you want to target with your marketing efforts, it’s also important to take into account the different gaming personalities that you may be looking to target, or, to keep these in mind so that you can create a game that is applicable to all of the groups.

The four player types are described by Richard Bartle, and is known as the Bartle taxonomy of player types. This was originally detailed to understand player types in early MMORPG’s (Massively multiplayer online roleplaying games) and MUD’s (Multi-user dungeons) and can be broken down into the following:

  • Achievers – These are players that want to gain the most points, level up, earn the most badges or complete the toughest challenges within the game world.
  • Explorers – These players want to discover the systems that govern the game and enjoy games the most when they are given time to explore and progress at their own pace.
  • Socialisers – These players enjoy the social aspect of the game. They gain the most enjoyment from a game when they have the ability to discuss with other players.
  • Killers – These players are purely in it for the win and thrive on competition against other players. These players will usually stop at nothing to gain the edge, and in some cases will resort to cheating to win.

As you can see, although your marketing efforts may not be the development of a large multiplayer game, it is worth considering these persona types and categories when planning your marketing campaign. 

Taking the Find 50 game again, we can say with some degree of certainty that our quiz applies to the following:

  • Socialisers – With the use of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social tools, players are able to easily ask for answers and share their own answers with players of the game.

To a lesser degree, we can also say that the Find 50 quiz closely relates to two other player types:

  • Achievers – Being able to see your score slowly increasing from 0/50 to 50/50 is an achievement in itself, and whilst there is no concrete feedback in terms of badges or achievements they can save to a user’s profiles, players will screenshot their progress and share it with their friends.
  • Killers – Some players will thrive on the early hours of competition when the quiz launches, to be the first person to complete the quiz. This could resort to combing through forums and message boards to get answers they are missing. In respect to the Find 50 game, there is a lot of overlap between this category and the achievers category.

Putting it all together.

So, we now know why people plays games, how to keep them playing games, and the types of people that are playing games. By now, you can probably put yourself into some of those categories in regards to the type of player you are, and what kind of games you enjoy. So how do we use this knowledge to gamify our content and keep our customers interacting or wanting more?

For this example, I’ll be looking into our Find 50 quiz, and how we can use football to create an engaging game.

The premise of the Find 50 quiz is to engage users in a difficult challenge where they must use a series of clues to guess 50 football clubs. Once a user has found all 50 clubs from the clues, the game has ended. For marketing purposes, we would like to track the users that are taking part in the quiz, and therefore, we have a registration and login area.

We have already identified from earlier, that our quiz will appeal to the following user groups:

  • Achievers – The idea of having a difficult clue-based game is perfect for the types of players we will be targeting.
  • Socialisers – With the nature of the quiz and how easily shareable it is via Twitter, message boards and Facebook, we are looking to target an audience that looks at socialising and creating a community within the game.
  • Killers – People that want to be the first amongst their friendship groups to get it done, the people that want the bragging rights of saying that they have completed a hard quiz and were the first to do it or do it faster than othes.

Knowing this, we can make some changes to the game to further encourage this behaviour and to further incentivise them into spending more time with the game. Knowing that we will be targeting achievers, a basic achievement system that rewards people with badges would be the simplest implementation. 

As an example, we can have badges that reward players for completing tasks (which increase in difficulty) and are football themed:

  • Made the squad – Register an account with Find 50
    • This creates a simple incentive to encourage people to sign up. It encourages achievers as it’s the first achievement to gain, and it will also encourage socialisers, as the wording of “squad” and the idea of signing up to a squad will tap into their want for community.
  • GOAL! – Successfully guess your first clue
    • For reasons above, this will satisfy all types of user as it is a relatively easy badge to achieve. With 50 clubs it is likely that a user will be able to guess one.

From here we can create sub-sections of goals that relate to the various groups, such as:

  • Full time – Complete the Find 50 quiz
    • This badge would be one of the final ones to collect and would be the ultimate reward for the achievers for completing the game.
  • Substitute – This badge could be awarded for sharing a clue you are stuck on online via Twitter or Facebook, and would encourage the socialisers.

The implementation of these badges could change in terms of design based on the difficulty of the badge in question. This could easily be done by using a bronze to gold system as it ties in with the theme of sports, is instantly recognisable, and users will users - at a glance - how worthwhile their achievement is.

To encourage players that are mainly on the killer personality, or achievers that are looking for a tougher challenge, we could also include leaderboards and time trials that persist throughout the Find 50 suite of games. This will give them something difficult to reach for, and also create an elite social club within the game. Examples of this could be:

  • Man of the Match - Finish the Find 50 quiz first
    • This would incentivise killers and achievers to complete the quiz as quickly as possible.
  • A one-half game – Finish the Find 50 quiz under 45 minutes
    • This badge will create a sense of community for both killers and achievers as they would become part of a club that completed the game quickly, giving them social status within the game.

 

Final Thoughts

It’s possible to apply gamification to almost any aspect of marketing. In our Find 50 example, we can improve the quiz itself with some simple feedback and reward systems to further incentivise gamers of different personality types, to encourage them to interact with our brand both within the website, and through social media. 

Giving players a feedback system of achievements will reward different types of players: It ensures that if the player is a hardcore quiz player, they should feel that they have challenges they can strive for to show they are the best. If someone is playing for the fun of it, they may be more interested in looking at the social aspect of sharing answers around. 

It is important to figure out what the strategy is when gamifying your business. In our example, the aim of the gamification would be to encourage more visitors to the site and to interact with the website and brand; spreading awareness throughout the web in turn.. If you were looking to drive sales, you could further incentivise the quiz model with points and badges so that players can redeem points in-store for discounts or free items, much like the Starbucks reward card.

Gamification is a broad topic, and this just scratches the surface. Understanding how customers behave and how to tap into the different player types can dictate what type of game you create. Understanding what games are appropriate to your brand is something further to discover. Above all, ensure your game is fun and you will find success.

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