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Enterprise Gamification - "Design" matters!

For those who are seriously interested in Gamification, if there is one critically important aspect that will decide the life and value of the initiative, it will be the 'Gamification design'. For a simplified Gamification pilot, design might just be points, ranking and few badges but for Gamification to be a strategic tool for the enterprise, designing is not a trivial affair at all. Design in Gamification solutions has a wide spectrum of elements that need to be carefully handled as the solution is done for a specific use-case.

As I dived deep into variety of Gamification solutions, I started to discover various design patterns that can be very helpful in making design decisions. Many of the Gamification projects being done around the globe in are largely experimental (so called 'pilot' projects) in my perspective and if the initial trial is successful, organizations will set their future path further from there which invariably will need to have answers to following concerns:

  1. How to scale the pilot solution to an 'enterprise-wide infrastructure' level
  2. How to evolve the features and experiences for the users to sustain the engagement while delivering the desired outcomes

This is where Gamification design becomes important to manage both of these concerns in an appropriate manner. Gamification design is not quite like the regular software design as far as my experience goes. 

From methodology angle, we can have some degree of 'formal requirements' captured but the solutioning for Gamification largely revolves around concept design, creative business thinking and little bit of what I call sixth sense of the Gamification designers. In such a scenario, it always helps to guide the sixth sense solutions with certain best practices that allow to validate the concept design and thought processes.

Let me provide some of such design considerations that I'm actively using to make design decisions and to review the Gamification solution designs:

  1. Extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation instruments - Motivation instruments are the factors that are specifically selected in the design strategy to capture the target user's interest and engage him/her for specific outcomes. Extrinsic instruments relate to external factors like monitory rewards, free gifts etc. Intrinsic instruments refer to factors that are driven by user's inner beliefs and psychological forces. Extrinsic motivation instruments are quick to influence but are not very long lived. Intrinsic motivation instruments are difficult to design, takes longer to drive the engagement but once activated it lasts much longer. The best design includes both instrinsic and extrinsic carefully interweaved in a manner to create a cycle of engagement wave where extrinsic motivation factors can quickly capture the user's interest, get them to cross the line of action and experience the 'new thing'. With that momentum and opportunity to engage the users, solution design should bring in the instruments of intrinsic motivation over a period of time. Intrinsic motivation ensures that engagement sticks for some time. As users achieve one level of engagement, once again extrinsic motivation instruments can be offered to on-board users for the next level of the engagement followed by intrinsic instruments to cement the user behavior shifts.
  2. Line between useful engagement and the distraction noise - during one of the early Gamification experiments that our team was conducting, as we sat for the review of the concept design, we all were beaming with the excitement for the metaphor design and various interesting Gamification ideas that were on the table. As we moved through the design review, we realized that in the specific dynamics of the scenario where this Gamification solution will be implemented, it still might have been an exciting stuff for the users  but Gamification design has many complexities, for example, there was a significant distance between actual work activity and the Gamification activity which will result into additional effort of mapping the work action to Gamification elements. Not only that, Gamification activities were not just 'gamified' work activities, instead were separate activities to be done apart from the work. This meant loss of productivity and effectiveness which will render this design useless from 'purpose' perspective. So we had to entirely redesign that concept to bring more alignment towards the work activities which in turn reduced the need to translate the Gamification events in order to connect to the work relevance. So the point is, in Gamification design, line between the concept being useful and being distraction is thin. While designing, Gamification team will need to scrutinize the barriers arising from the concept dynamics to ensure that the risk of distraction noise is minimized.
  3. Design orientation for delivering the tangible outcomes - Gamification is a very 'purposeful' design against specific business goals despite the fact that it deploys game dynamics which may sound like pure fun. One of the most important key design considerations in Gamification is the linkage between the changes in user engagement patterns through specific Gamification solutions and the impact that this changes creates on the business outcomes. Gamification design realization happens in a two-step process: first step links the specific Gamification design elements to the changes in the user behavior/actions and the second step links these changes to the business impact. Design framework should allow deliberate selection of the techniques and methods that have ability to demonstrate visible impact on the business metrics. For example, if an enterprise is considering Gamification of the helpdesk then the selected Gamification design should be able to influence the key performance metrics like customer satisfaction index, case closure lead time,  average duration of the customer call, number of calls needed to close the case etc. In order to do that, design will need to connect the desired change enablers (like leverage of the existing knowledge base, usage of the diagnostic tools, use appropriate communication style etc.) with the Gamification designs (like mission, competitions, rating systems, spot rewards etc.) using the motivation models.
  4. Unintended side effects - Even though  human psychology is a subject of scientific study, any design based on the broad psychological principles has enough room for unintentional consequences. Gamification designer need to be very careful about potential side effect arising from the influence of the specific expectation and behavior model  being set by the design. Gamification deploys a very basic 'action-reaction' model wherein, for every kind of action by the user, there is  pre-coded response by the system which defines the rules of the game. Over a period of time, this 'action-reaction' experience sets the mental model in the mind of the users which may reconfigure the people expectations. Using this mental model, individuals develop their own perception of the 'rules of the games' which may or may not be visible to the enterprise. There are big debates about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation tools that fall into this kind of design considerations. These perceptions may include the concerns like fairness, discrimination, exploitation, addiction, lobbying, materialistic orientation and many more. If a particular design promises good short term results but has inherent danger of setting the wrong perception of the value system then designer must pay lot of attention to address it adequately. Mental models are difficult to break and hence if Gamification design sets up wrong mental model of the individuals, it might damage the enterprise work culture fabric in the long run.
  5. Built for right kind of the engagement expectation - Gamification designs are all about engagement engineering. One of the key factors in the engagement design is the nature of the engagement that governs the user behavior and user expectations. Gamification can be done for an engagement that is short lived/one-time activity/isolated: for example, a survey, data collection exercise, user sign-up campaign, training course etc. The other type of engagement that can be Gamified is perpetual and continuous engagement: for example, idea development, performance management, knowledge management etc. Typically:
    • Short engagement Gamification will be experience focused while perpetual engagement will be impact/gain focused
    • Short engagement has very little opportunity to evolve the engagement profile while perpetual engagement offers rich opportunity to incrementally evolve and improvise the engagement profile of the users
    • Short engagement Gamification will be mostly visualization based or game based while perpetual engagement Gamification will be mostly theme based, metaphor based and often deploys rich story telling techniques
  6. Choosing the appropriate Gamification pattern - Designers have a wide spectrum of choices available for Gamifying an engagement. Depending on the profile of the target audience, budget available to invest and the value of the potential impact, designers can chose one of the following design patterns:
    • Basic Gamification: Just offers a simple implementation involving basic point system, badge system, leaderboard, social engagement, rewards etc. Design is highly reusable and primarily needs a backend engine for Gamification that can be integrated with the process/application being Gamified. It can be easily done in loosely coupled manner.
    • Metaphor based Gamification - To step up the Gamification intensity and make it more interesting, designers can chose a metaphor of a real-life pattern. Metaphor not only allows much richer engagement points, it allows to see the engagement activities in a different (and more enjoyable) perspective. Metaphor based designs are good for long term engagement type Gamification. It allows continuous and incremental addition of scenarios, features and experiences for users based on a specific model. Example of such real-life metaphors are stock exchange, car race, farming, adventure trip, world tour, Assembly factory etc.
    • Immersive simulation based Gamification - this takes the richness and intensity of the Gamification to further higher level. In this kind of pattern, typically designers will make use of the simulated virtual world models where users can have their virtual avatars interacting with complex virtual systems. Organizations will typically use this kind of Gamification for perpetual user engagement. Such Gamification designs are difficult to create but are highly powerful to engage users, keep them engaged through multiple interactive features and allows greater instrumentation of the user behavior models within the organization context.

Gamification design is an evolving discipline that tries to combine the science of user engagement with the art of user experience. One can be liberal in experimenting with designs without any explicit  design methods or one could chose to bring structured thinking across different design elements to make it more predictable. While today we might need both in order to practically adopt the Gamification as a viable option, going forward Gamification design will become a mainstream discipline along with user experience design and that simply implies - Design really matters!

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