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Gamification

Game Mechanics in Gamification: Part 3

Mechanics in Gamification: Part 3

Entertainment1

Game Mechanics in Gamification: Part 3

We’re back! In this post we are going to cover 4 more game mechanics in gamified applications. We will break down Story, Feedback, HP/Stamina, and Challenges. Once again, we’ll give examples of how these mechanics work, what makes them effective, and either an example of how we have used them to help clients achieve their project goals, or a brainstorm of a potential use case.

Self Determination Theory Overview

As the gamification mechanics that we are talking about today will be analysed with the SDT (Self Determination Theory) framework, we’ll cover some key concepts in this quick review.

SDT has a focus on three psychological needs and explains how the fulfillment of those needs can impact personal motivation. An increase in the fulfillment of these needs will help move an activity from being externally motivated to internally motivated. External motivation is where a person performs an activity due to pressures from outside themselves, and internal motivation is when a person performs an activity because they enjoy it or find value in doing that action. 

Competence:

Competence is a person’s need to feel like they have the ability to do well at the activity they are engaged in.

Autonomy:

Autonomy is a person’s need to feel like they have a choice in what they do and that the choice matters.

Relatedness: 

Relatedness is a person’s need to feel like they are a part of a community and that they contribute to the group.

With a quick review of Self Determination Theory under our belt, let’s break down some common gamification mechanics. 

Story

How is the story a gamification mechanic?

Stories as a gamification mechanic is when a designer will add a storyline that progresses along with the user. This could be classified as a progression system, but has the added benefit of tapping into the innate draw stories have over us. 

A story system doesn’t have to be directly told to the user. You can also have a significantly deep story that is initially hidden from the player. An example of this kind of storytelling would be in the Myst or the Dark Souls Series. Within Dark Souls, the majority of the story of the world is told through item descriptions and optional character dialog. There isn’t any narration to the player, except through the opening cutscene which sets the world and the player’s goal. The purpose of the story in Dark Souls is to provide a deep mystery that is an optional bonus for any player who chose to explore it. 

A more classic example of a story based system would be a point and click adventure such as Space Quest or King’s Quest. These games use story to give direction to players as well as being a draw for players to enjoy. 

There is a third kind of story as mechanic as well — it’s collaborative storytelling, which can be found in tabletop RPGs and Improv. With a tabletop RPGs, players usually bring their own characters and choose how to interact with different situations. Players may help particular characters, who then in turn returns the favor later in the story. Alternatively, they may have fought and defeated that character leading to an entirely different story playing out.

 

Effectiveness of stories in gamification

Depending on the implementation of your story system, it can provide additional value. As a baseline, humans are natural storytellers, and we are drawn to stories. A well written and enthralling story has proven to be some of the most engaging media ever. As a caveat, any story in a game also carry the same risks as stories used in any setting, but let’s dive into what the mechanical benefits there are. A good story often engages people by being unpredictable, covers relationships between characters, have clear goals with failures and successes. There is a reason people still read and write stories in the digital era. By being a naturally compelling part of our history, people find stories to be enjoyable to follow along with.

If you go towards the hidden story approach, the user can explore and find bits of story they string together over time. From there, you get to piggyback on the existing benefits of the rewards as a mechanic, where the addition of rewards that build on top of each other reinforce the value of other pieces. By having your rewards provide worldbuilding and an engaging story, it makes them more attractive for users to follow. With this kind of mechanic, your world building and story doesn’t have to be real time. For example, a player could be collecting journals of an explorer as they follow them along, or discover snippets of lore about why the world has the names and buildings it does.

A collaborative story can be incredibly engaging, which will create a story that people will share in the future. The benefits from this method are an increased sense of competence, relatedness and autonomy by the user. Users who are engaged in an ongoing story where choices matter and impact future events and characters in the story hits a home run for each component of SDT theory. Relatedness comes from the shared storytelling and being able to help their fellow players. When players are able to make choices that leave an impact on the world they feel a real sense of Autonomy. Competency can depend on the Game Master or central storyteller and how an action is resolved. For example, if a player wants to jump over a river how do you determine the result? Some games use dice, but you could also use any number of skills or knowledge checks. 

Lastly, a storyline to follow can provide users with a sense of relatedness. If players are engaged in your story, then you get the motivational benefits of rewards as continuing the story becomes reward for users every time they do an action that allows them to experience more of the world. 

How stories are used in an educational game

Dialect is a card game designed by Kathryn Hymes and Hakkan Seyalioglu. The goal of the game is to explore creating a language in isolation and what it means for that language to then be lost. It is an excellent example of using storytelling as a gamification mechanic to teach the players about what it really means to lose a language. The game starts with setting a reason for the players to be isolated from the rest of the world. Players then create new words depending on a prompt card and some aspect of their isolation. Throughout the course of the game players will develop their own dialect, which will essentially die at the end of the session. It shows what can be lost when a language goes extinct.

Dialect
Dialect game, designed to show how a language dies

Feedback

What is feedback?

The feedback system is how you present to the user what impact their actions have within your application. The implementation of a feedback systems work has a huge impact on how any other game mechanics affect your users. This is because the way in which you set your feedback will determine how the user understands their actions. As we are pulling mechanics from games we are looking at how games will display feedback. 

For feedback systems, the scale of importance of the feedback is important. Has the user accomplished a goal that would take some time and dedication, or did they make a common action that would increase their points? On the other hand, too frequent feedback can turn an intended reward into an annoyance in some cases.

How does feedback motivate users?

Feedback is one of the most important considerations when you are working at gamifying an application. Why? Because without users having any point of reference, on their actions, they will be robbed of the chance of engaging with your mechanics. 

Imagine you are playing a Mario-like game and you jump on what looks to be a new enemy. They flash green, so what does that mean? Did you hit the enemy? Are they invulnerable? Did they heal? Is there a weak point you need to hit that isn’t indicated? From this example do you want to play this game? Would it matter that later on it has some amazing set pieces you get to experience if the gameplay keeps prompting confusion like that? I know I wouldn’t play that game because I can’t tell what’s happening. My actions don’t seem to matter, and I can’t tell if I am doing better or worse.

How feedback promotes engagement

Let’s take a look at how the use of an effective feedback system helped researchers to develop a game that led to multiple scientific breakthroughs in biochemistry. Foldit was designed as a puzzle game where players try to fold protein structures as small as possible. Their score is updated in real time, so when they move parts of the protein their score will either go up or down. The choice to have a real time feedback system like that gives players the tool to understand what how they are progressing towards a solution. Afterwards, players would have their solutions evaluated in the game and the highest scoring solutions would be tested by researchers to determine if the proposed protieve fold was a native state. They also have two different leaderboards which organize people into two different groups. Soloists and Evolvers, who either develop their own solutions or improve upon others. Giving users feedback in this distinction between play modes gives users a categorization to follow, and promotes both methods of play. As such, the Foldit project has been running since 2008, and has formed 21 scientific papers.

A beginner problem in Fold.it

HP/Stamina systems

What is a HP/Stamina system?

An HP/Stamina system is one where you are looking to restrict user actions that will return over time. The most common example would be an energy system where users take actions that have a cost of energy. The goal of this mechanism is to have users use your app on a daily basis without using it for a long period of time each day. This kind of mechanic requires specific intent to use effectively. When designed poorly, these systems can reduce user enjoyment if they want to use the app for a long time. To mitigate this risk and promote more daily user activity, you can look at introducing daily rewards.

Effectiveness of HP/Stamina

So HP/Stamina mechanics are designed to limit the amount users can play your game. Why can it be an effective mechanic for gamification? Let’s break down the different benefits for limiting user actions. 

  • Scarce resources: It develops a sense of scarcity. In moderation, every choice the user makes has a cost. The user has limited interactions to progress with their goals, which leads to users carefully planning out how they want to achieve their in-app goals. 
  • Retention: It creates a daily drive for users to return. If your gamified application has a progression system that users find compelling, then having a limited resource such as health or stamina will prevent people from binging to achieve their targeted goals, but encourage smaller, incremental progress. By doing a daily interaction, the user is more likely to develop a habit which naturally becomes internalized over time.

Use of a HP/Stamina system in Habit Trackers 

There are lots of different habit trackers out there, but they all tend to use a hidden stamina system. When forming habits, an important principle is that each day at max you can complete your daily goal once. A famous example of daily habit tracking effective comes from Benjamin Franklin. He sought to improve himself in 13 different virtues. Everyday, he would mark on a grid if he met his goal for each virtue. Over time, while he would fail in some virtues, he had fewer instances of failure and improved overall. The restriction of only completing or failing a habit once per day is what makes tracking impactful. If you had multiple chances at failing to meet your goal each day, it wouldn’t help you build a habit. Scientific research shows that you need at least 18 days of working at a habit to truly develop it. Hence, if these tracking principles are used in the design of a stamina or HP system, a gamified app can help users develop a daily habit gradually.

This is how Benjamin Franklin would track his successes in trying to complete his 13 virtues. Each dot is a day where he felt he accomplished his goal

Challenges

What are challenges?

Challenges can be similar to achievements, but can provide a greater degree of signposting. Quests in games such as World of Warcraft are an excellent example of a challenge. Giving the player several different tasks gives the player separate goals and the ability to choose how they go about completing the tasks. You can also lean challenges into being a more difficult option for players to strive for. These can be having users use less resources, or restrict some of their actions to provide a more interesting experience.

How challenges adds value in gamification

In gamification, challenges are a great way to provide scaffolding for your users to make progress towards an overarching goal. By making a challenge multi-part, you not only provide an end-goal like an achievement, but you also direct the player on how to achieve the goal. An example of what this looks like is a quest in a roleplaying game, where the player has to go to meet with a hunter, then talk with a herbalist, then defeat a griffin. If this resulted in just a single achievement, this could lead to players attempting to fight a powerful griffin while being underprepared. By making it a quest (series of challenges), players get directed to characters and shops that will help them prepare for the big fight. While you could have made each step separate achievements, you would end up with a massive list of achievements. Setting challenges as a multi-step quest provides an excellent form of signposting and can be combined with rewards and achievements to provide users with great guidance and goals for them to follow. 

Challenges can also be used to show players how they can increase the difficulty level so that they can remain in a flow state. An example in the same roleplaying game setting would be to pass a level without harming an enemy or to beat a level entirely in stealth. The best designed versions of this are where users have a large variety of tools to use to accomplish this challenge, and the level is designed in a way where all the tools are not required.

You can also have specific challenge levels or areas that more experienced players can engage with if they want a more difficult challenge. Depending on the number of these more difficult options you have, it may be more effective to have achievements for beating one, half, and all challenge areas then an achievement for each. 

Challenges in a gamified engagement 

For this example, we are going to look at how Gleam.io uses challenges to improve social media engagements. When you enter a Gleam.io sweepstake, you are presented with a list of challenges you can do for additional tickets into the sweepstakes. As the user’s goal is to maximize their chances in a given sweepstakes, the list of challenges gives users a direct strategy to increase their odds. While none of these tasks are difficult, they follow into more of a quest style of challenges as described earlier.

When each challenge be clearly identified as to what needs to be done, users get a direct sense of what their task is and how to finish it. The Gleam.io feedback system provides users a clear indication when they have completed each task. With this quest-like structure, it’s no wonder that with over a million contests they’ve had over 3.5 billion entries. For scale that means for every contest, they had roughly 3,000 interactions which bolstered the hosts social media coverage across all platforms.

This list of challenges encourages users to promote a sweepstakes

Closing thoughts

I hope that you have found this series informative on using different mechanics in gamification. It’s been a fun exercise writing out why each different mechanic can be useful in gamification. There are many other mechanics that don’t have as much research behind them, but would be fun to speculate on their effectiveness. If you’d like to read such blog posts let us know by leaving a comment!

References:

Review of several studies about gamification in the wellbeing space.

Johnson, Daniel & Deterding, Sebastian & Kuhn, Kerri-Ann & Staneva, Aleksandra & Stoyanov, Stoyan & Hides, Leanne. (2016). Gamification for Health and Wellbeing:A Systematic Review of the Literature. Internet Interventions. 6. 89-106. 10.1016/j.invent.2016.10.002. 

Self Determination Resource

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2021). Self Determination Theory. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/

Examples Referenced

Gleam.io

https://gleam.io/

Benjamin  Franklin virtuous

http://www.thirteenvirtues.com/ 

Foldit

https://fold.it/ 

Dialect

https://thornygames.com/pages/dialect

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Mechanics in Gamification: Part 2

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Game Mechanics in Gamification: Part 2

 

We’re back! In this post we are going to cover 4 more game mechanics in gamified applications. We will break down Achievements, Leaderboards, as well as both Competitive and Cooperative Social Interactions. Once again, we’ll give examples of how these mechanics work, what makes them effective, and either an example of how we have used them to help clients achieve their project goals, or a brainstorm of a potential use case.

Self Determination Theory Overview

As the gamification mechanics that we are talking about today will be analysed with the SDT (Self Determination Theory) framework, we’ll cover some key concepts in this quick review.

SDT has a focus on three psychological needs and explains how the fulfillment of those needs can impact personal motivation. An increase in the fulfillment of these needs will help move an activity from being externally motivated to internally motivated. External motivation is where a person performs an activity due to pressures from outside themselves, and internal motivation is when a person performs an activity because they enjoy it or find value in doing that action. 

Competence:

Competence is a person’s need to feel like they have the ability to do well at the activity they are engaged in.

Autonomy:

Autonomy is a person’s need to feel like they have a choice in what they do and that the choice matters.

Relatedness: 

Relatedness is a person’s need to feel like they are a part of a community and that they contribute to the group.

With a quick review of Self Determination Theory under our belt, let’s break down some common gamification mechanics. 

 

Achievements

Invader Crusaders Achievement Badges

What are achievements?

Achievements involve a specific goal being set for the user to reach a badge or positive feedback when the user reaches the goal. Achievements have requirements that can either display them to the user or have them hidden. Having achievement requirements be visible creates a guidepost to the user, while a hidden achievement is a secret goal that they may have to search to unlock. Achievements have proven incredibly popular in recent years, to the extent where most major video game consoles and marketplaces have implemented achievements as the norm. This is because players have found achievements to be compelling and rewarding, where they actively seek to collect more. One motivation behind this trend is that players want to have a large collection of achievements that they can show off to their peers.

Effectiveness of achievements in gamification

From a review of several studies that analysed the effectiveness of gamification in gamified applications, it was shown that achievements tend to fulfill both the competence and relatedness needs that are outlined in Self Determination Theory. Achievements fulfill the competence psychological need by reinforcing an accomplishment set within the game. Relatedness is also fulfilled as achievements can provide a collection of special events that are easily shareable with others, often being a source of pride for users.

Achievements can also be used to encourage users to pursue a greater level of challenge or an alternate way to play. This can allow users to strive for a greater challenge if they find the basic difficulty too easy. On the other hand, alternate methods of play can be not only a greater challenge, but can introduce someone to a new way to approach the challenge. For example, in a role-playing game with swords and magic, an achievement may be a magic-only level that offers players a new gameplay experience. As players explore the game in a new perspective, this might inspire them to play again in the future using a blended approach with their new favourite spells. Who knows – It might become their favourite way to interact with the game. 

How achievements are used in an educational game

We created a set of achievements for Invader Crusaders, a custom web game to educate youth on invasive species. In this game, we designed achievements to encourage players to beat every level and demonstrate their mastery of the gameplay. Some achievements are earned through completing varied level difficulties, and even beating a level without having any invasive species left on the map. For a player to accomplish this, they would need to be smart about using their actions as well as choosing the best response to an encounter with invasive species. This approach was effective in motivating players to complete more of the game while enhancing their knowledge of invasive species.

Leaderboards

Bear in Mind Leaderboards

What are leaderboards?

Leaderboards in games and gamification have their roots in pinball machines and arcade cabinets of the past. It is a way to rank players based on some aspect of their performance: This could be time, points, levels or any other measurable aspect. Leaderboards have even been used by players to further engage with their favourite games in new ways. For example, speedrunning is where players time themselves to beat a game as fast as possible, and has become a huge community with players competing to see who can get the fastest time. 

How do leaderboards motivate users?

Leaderboards have a great strength in starting friendly competitions between users of an app. In doing so, all three psychological needs from Self Determination Theory are fulfilled. It fulfills relatedness by showing users that their actions have an impact on their goal of being on the leaderboard and that they can visibly rise on the leaderboard. Competence is satisfied as users rise in the leaderboard, which is a signal for users that they are reaching the intended goals of the app. Finally, autonomy is fulfilled with leaderboards as users can choose to push for the leaderboard ranking or not. Even if they choose not to pursue topping the leaderboard, having the choice to do so still provides the user with a greater feeling of autonomy. As described earlier, even unofficial leaderboards such as those used in speedrunning, apply extra motivation to play a game and continuously improve the user’s skills. Leaderboards can drive those users with a competitive streak to continue engaging with an app for far longer than they initially would otherwise.

Leaderboards that motivate learning

We used leaderboards in our workplace training app, Bear in Mind. The leaderboard shows who has done the best throughout the training, and can influence participants to play through the training scenarios again so that they can improve their score. This also has the benefit of creating a friendly competition, rendering a sense of community as users engage in the app.

Competitive Social Interaction

Pokemon Go's Teams

What is competitive social interaction?

Competitive social interactions are where players can directly interact in a competitive manner. Examples include users comparing in-game abilities or resources, leaderboards, a skill challenge, or area control. In some cases, highly competitive interactions can be a direct competition between players or teams of players. This is a very open category, but you can think of the different teams in Pokemon Go and how they compete for different gyms, or even playing against someone in arcade games such as Street Fighter.

Effectiveness of competitive social interaction

Competitive social interactions can be an excellent way to increase all satisfaction of the three SDT psychological needs. In interacting with other users, competence tends to be fulfilled when users have similar abilities as opponents. Fulfilling autonomy can be as simple as giving users a choice of opponent or as complex as different approaches to how they face the competition. The relatedness need is satisfied as the motivators of using the app now includes interacting with others.

Competitive social interaction: Getting better at sports together

An example of a competitive social interaction that would provide a fulfilling feature for users would be in an app to help users get better at penalty shots. In solo mode, the app would have users film their penalty shots, where each shot would be tracked and scored depending on the shot’s speed, trajectory and placement. The app would provide specific placements for the users to try and hit, and would actively provide tips to improve penalty shots. The app would help promote deliberate practice by defining points of success while providing drills and effective feedback.

The competitive social interaction in this example would involve two users engaging in a challenge. Each user would film themselves taking 10 shots, and the winner would be determined by who has the highest score over 10 shots. You can also have specific goals for challenges, such as all corners, or fastest shot regardless of net location. This direct competition would encourage users to work together to improve their scores over time.

Cooperative Social Interaction

The Conqueror's Race Progression

What is cooperative social interaction?

Cooperative social interaction is where users work together as a team to accomplish goals. This is typically done in games where users can work together against the environment, bosses, or other players. At times, the cooperative social interaction is against other players, but it mainly focuses on how players work together. This can be as indirect as summing the individual actions of users for a total team score, or as direct as having different archetypes that synergise when players work together. An example of cooperative social interaction in games would be playing a co-operative board game like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, or Spirit Island. 

How cooperative social interaction adds value in gamification

Cooperative social interactions are also a great tool for fulfilling all 3 needs of the Self Determination Theory. As a natural part of working in a team, the needs of relatedness and competence are satisfied, provided that users feel that their contributions are useful and are going towards a common purpose. As long as users feel in control during the cooperative aspects, they will find their psychological need of autonomy satisfied. If your implementation of cooperative social interaction gives users a direction and a real sense of being on a team, users will find it highly rewarding and will continue to use your app.

Cooperative social interaction in a gamified education setting

An interesting use case for cooperative social interaction is for group projects in school. To start, let’s say that the project involves students working together to research and then build a diorama and presentation. Drawing inspiration from role-playing games, we would design several roles that students take on during the project. Let’s go with a Scholar, an Artificer, and a Performer. The goal of each role is to enable a student to be the one in charge of the project for each of the three phases: Research, build, and present. 

Scholars would be in charge of the research phase of the project. They would receive specific questions that need to be answered for the project to succeed. Sources would need proper documentation as well as a plan for who is researching each question. Collections of notes showing what the research told them would be assembled and cleaned up by the scholar.

Artificers are in charge of making the diorama, so they will make a plan for collecting materials, what’s in the diorama, and who’s making the different parts. Their documentation would be a breakdown of the parts of the diorama, materials list and a show of who is making what.

Lastly, the performer is in charge of the presentation, they organize a practice, presentation plan, and assembly of the final report. They are the one responsible for how the presentation goes, and how well their team was able to show what they learned and get the final submission together.

With a class system like this, it gives each student a defined role that will help them feel in control for a different part of the project. Each student will also evaluate each other during each phase. Each project will not only give the students a grade, but also cumulative experience in their current role. As the year progresses, students will try all the different classes in multiple projects. In addition, to achieve mastery of a class, students would need to perform well in teams. Students are pushed to be the best teammate possible in order to master all the classes. This system is designed to get students involved in their learning and to be interested in teamwork. It isn’t about a competition, but to work together to create a stronger bond with their classmates. This theming and setup will fulfill the three psychological needs outlined in SDT theory for each student.

 

Closing thoughts

Well designed gamification features, when aligned with the user goals of an app, serve as a powerful motivator for users. Notably, fulfilling many needs of the SDT theory with one mechanic can result in a considerable return on investment. As well, a custom designed social interaction system helps to set apps apart from the competition, with the added benefit of forming a community around the app. Fun fact: This type of gamified mechanic is one of our favourite design spaces to work with at Raccoopack Media.

If you have a project you’d like to gamify, please let us know in the contact us portion of our website, or email us at info@raccoopack.media!


– Zach Bearinger, Game Designer at Raccoopack Media

References

Johnson, Daniel & Deterding, Sebastian & Kuhn, Kerri-Ann & Staneva, Aleksandra & Stoyanov, Stoyan & Hides, Leanne. (2016). Gamification for Health and Wellbeing: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Internet Interventions. 6. 89-106. 10.1016/j.invent.2016.10.002. 

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2021). Self Determination Theory. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/

Saul, M. (2021). What is Operant Conditioning and How Does It Work? Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

Examples Referenced

Pandemic 
https://www.zmangames.com/en/games/pandemic/

Pokemon Go
https://pokemongolive.com/en/

Bear in Mind
 https://www.safecarebc.ca/2020/02/27/remember-to-bear-in-mind/

Invader Crusaders

https://raccoopack.media/iscbc-invader-crusaders/

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Mechanics in Gamification: Part 1

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Game Mechanics: Part 1

This is the first in a three part series to show how different gamification mechanics work, what they are effective at, and use case examples. We will cover Points, Levels, Rewards, and Progression in this post.

Points

Bear in Mind Points Mechanic

What are points?
Points are one of the oldest and most identifiable mechanics that predates video games and board games: Sports. Keeping track of soccer goals is a form of points and it shows points as a feedback system for positive performance. In other cases, points can also be a spendable resource for players as this increases the perceived value to the user. A gamified example of points that you use everyday are points that you earn by using your credit card or a loyalty card from a supermarket. These points are organized under a points system, which determines how the points work, how they are earned, if they are spendable, and events that increase or decrease them.

Effectiveness of points in gamification

The scale a points system uses can have a significant effect on how the point will have on users.  To illustrate this, a tight points system where users earn points with a maximum of 5 has a different effect than a points system providing points with a maximum of 100. With a tight points system, you get to make each point worth more, which can lead to users planning to earn more points. A high volume point system can provide the user with more autonomy in how they choose to earn their points.  

Based on studies about gamification in the wellness space, self-determination theory is frequently used by researchers to analyse the effectiveness of points. Self-determination theory focuses on motivation and how fulfilment of three psychological needs can make an activity something people enjoy doing. Points in gamification fulfill a psychological need for competence.

Competence helps users feel like they can complete and perform tasks that they are assigned to do. Studies show that points which award users for taking correct actions are effective in helping users continue practicing those actions.  Depending on the system, users can be driven to mastery of tasks as gamification helps them clearly determine if they have improved at the task.

How points is used in a gamified project – Bear in Mind
We used points in our Bear in Mind project, a gamified app for mental wellness built in collaboration with SafeCare BC. Bear in Mind is a digital training app which has scenario-based learning for continuing care workers. For this project, points are an excellent solution as it allows awarding users points for taking different actions. More specifically, users are presented with on the job scenarios. Responding to a less effective action rewards users some points, but an excellent solution gives a greater amount of points.

Levels

Invader Crusaders Level Mechanic

What are levels?

Levels in gamification have two different definitions. They are user leveling and environment leveling.

User leveling has many ties to role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. After players get a certain amount of experience in the game, players level up and become more powerful. A gamified example of user leveling would be Duolingo’s level system where after each lesson you gain experience and level up your rated linguistic skill.

Environment leveling is found in games like Pac-Man where each level increases the difficulty for users. A gamified app example of environment leveling is also found in Duolingo. As the user gets more comfortable with a language, the problems and translations increase in difficulty in each lesson. The user is challenged with new words, and longer sentences to translate.

How levels motivate users in gamification

User leveling gives users a sense of progression and proof of them moving forward. In gamification design, this often involves promoting a user’s avatar strength, which establishes a feeling of improvement over time. The user is also reminded of where they started to contrast against how they have grown and improved.

Environment leveling has a goal of keeping users in a state of flow. Flow is a feeling where you have an appropriate level of challenge for your skill level. An important key to having great flow ranges is providing users some options to allow them to tune a general difficulty to their current skill level.

Use cases of levels in gamification – Invader Crusaders

A hypothetical user leveling example would be a fitness app. For this example, imagine your avatar in the game is a superhero, where the superhero has real world attributes such as strength, speed, flexibility, and coordination. Each fitness activity you register will increase one or more of these attributes and will level up their hero. You can also send your hero out on missions that require your hero to have certain levels in the attributes. The heroes might encounter extra challenges on their mission that can impact the success or failure depending on their attributes.

An environment leveling example is showcased in our client project developed for the Invasive Species Council of BC – Invader Crusaders. This is a web based educational game designed to have different levels unlock as players advance. As players prove mastery over simple levels, they are motivated to continue on to levels that provide a greater difficulty with more aggressive invasive species and advanced challenges.

Rewards

Cook to the Beat, Reward mechanic

What are rewards, and how are they different from points?
Rewards can include points but unlike points rewards tend to be given unexpectedly, as opposed to being given after every completion of a task.  An example of rewards would be stickers given out in a classroom. 

Why rewards are powerful

Rewards are a strong mechanic and have even spawned genres of mobile games where the rewards system is one of the more compelling draws. Looking into the self-determination theory framework again, we can see that rewards have the strongest correlation with competence and not as strongly with autonomy and relatedness. In other words, they work best at reinforcing the ability of the user. This does depend on how the rewards are used however. If you have a way for users to display rewards to other players, then it would also have an impact on fulfilling the autonomy subsection of SDT theory.  

To maximize the effectiveness of rewards, it is useful to look at B.F. Skinner’s famous Skinner Box Experiment. This was an experiment in operant conditioning where an animal was placed into a box with a mechanism which the animal could trigger. The animal would receive a reward if the mechanism was triggered correctly, or punished if it was incorrect.  Skinner tested giving the reward at a fixed ratio, a variable ratio, a fixed interval, and a variable interval. It was found that a variable ratio yielded a steady, high rate of responding correctly, as compared to any other ratio. The takeaway is that this applies to humans as well, and explains the psychology of rewards in gamification.

Rewards in games and gamification

In Raccoopack’s original rhythm game title, Cook to the Beat, players gain rewards after completion of a level. The rewards have different rarities, and even includes accessories which can be added to the player’s avatar. This design encourages the player to explore more content inside the game as they find ways to earn more rewards.

For a gamification example of a rewards system, an idea would be a mobile app that is designed to encourage kids to read more. As kids track books that they have completed and are currently reading, they would get some rewards after completing a book. The number of rewards would depend on if the book is within or above their reading level, number of pages, and how many books they have read within a 2 week period. To give the rewards a greater sense of use, we would have the rewards be used in a competition between different schools to see which school can get the most points.  

Progression

The Conqueror's Race Progression

What is a progression system?

Progression involves two parts. The first half is a framework for progression, and the other half is giving users effective feedback as to where they are at.  

An excellent example of a progression system in gamification would be the virtual run challenges that The Conqueror offers. Most of the races provide a target distance, virtual postcards, an interactive progress map as well as planting real trees for each 20% of your goal. These races are designed to give rewards as part of their progression system. Having the 20% increments and a visual map showing your progress are the core of their progression system.

Progression as a motivator

Having a well defined progression system is an excellent tool for helping users move from their current state towards your app’s desired end goal. A well designed progression system fulfills the psychological need of competence. By outlining what a user needs to do to progress, and letting them know when they have made progress will help the user feel competent. A consideration is to ensure that if the task has a mode of failure (such as in a diet), then the user is guided back onto the progression path in a positive way. 

Use cases of progression systems

We used a progression system in Invader Crusaders, which features levels that can be unlocked. As players beat certain levels, they unlock more levels with increasing difficulty.  

Another use case of progression systems would be a gamified app to help users with their goal of writing a book. Our progression system would likely start with users choosing if they want to write a book without planning, or plan their book first.  

We’ll go with the planning version for this example. The next step would be to organize the planning of the plot, characters and world. Each of these would break down into digestible chunks to provide a positive momentum to the writers.  

After this planning portion, we would have a roadmap for writing the rough draft, breaking down by chapter or pages. There would be reminders on pacing to ensure that the writer is introducing their characters, plot, setting, and hooks at a reasonable pace.  

Once finishing the rough draft, we would move the users away from a progression mechanic to another one focused on editing, as the end goal wouldn’t necessarily have the same path through as writing the book had.

Closing thoughts

One of the takeaways from this blogpost is that there is studied evidence of game mechanics providing increased engagement with digital applications. I hope you found this first post about game mechanics in gamification interesting and insightful. If you have any feedback or comments please let us know through our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages. We’ll have a new post in a couple of weeks outlining more mechanics and their use in gamification! 

– Zach Bearinger, Game Designer at Raccoopack Media

References:

Review of several studies about gamification in the wellbeing space.

Johnson, Daniel & Deterding, Sebastian & Kuhn, Kerri-Ann & Staneva, Aleksandra & Stoyanov, Stoyan & Hides, Leanne. (2016). Gamification for Health and Wellbeing:A Systematic Review of the Literature. Internet Interventions. 6. 89-106. 10.1016/j.invent.2016.10.002. 

Self Determination Resource

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2021). Self Determination Theory. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/

Skinner box design 

Saul, M. (2021). What is Operant Conditioning and How Does It Work? Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

Examples Referenced

The Conqueror
https://www.theconqueror.events/

Duolingo
https://www.duolingo.com/

Cook to the Beat
https://cttb.raccoopack.com/

Invader Crusader
https://raccoopack.media/iscbc-invader-crusaders/

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