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.
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 is a person’s need to feel like they have the ability to do well at the activity they are engaged in.
Autonomy is a person’s need to feel like they have a choice in what they do and that the choice matters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
– Zach Bearinger, Game Designer at Raccoopack Media
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
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