What is “Magnum Opus”? A Magnum Opus is a content creators most important work. And this blog post is a summary of my best research and writings on the topic of gamification. This is also a living breathing document and as I continue to think of new aspects, I will add to this post.
Gamification very simply is the application of game mechanics to non-game activities to increase engagement, participation and loyalty in the non-game activity.
I remember when I first heard about gamification, and subsequently became obsessed with the topic. It was at an IBM conference in January 2013 and I watched a presentation by Jane McGonigal. She shared some amazing statistics about the engagement of gamers in video games, but also got us to imagine if that same engagement could be applied to solving real world problems. I was hooked after the first five minutes and in my role as a Global Learning Consultant, and after experiencing one too many boring webinars designed to be data dumps of information, and not much real learning, I vowed to make all of the learning that my team created to be more engaging and gamified. Here’s the presentation I watched:
I try to gamify everything in my life. I have gamified this post in that I’m trying to hit the 6,000 word count — most of my posts are less than 1,500 words so as a Magnum Opus on the topic of Gamification I wanted to at least double that word count. It motivates me. Once I hit my word count goal, I feel good, but then I set a new goal. I realize it’s never-ending, but I don’t care.
It’s how I’m wired. I’m an Achiever (see Bartle’s Player types below).
I think all people are playing a gamified version of their lives. All humans have the ambition to master their surroundings, overcome obstacles and achieve greater levels of success and happiness. Mastery requires achieving goals and hitting targets. Earning money is a game. Setting a goal of buying a house or dating a special person is gamified.
I’m anticipating the gamified nature of promoting this post once it’s finally written. How can I get people to read it? How can I promote it to other groups? How can I get my network to promote it to their networks?
All of these questions require my creativity and unique perspective to achieve.
In the video above, Jane McGonigal said, “It’s inevitable. Soon we’ll all be gamers.”
2.7 Billion Gamers
There are 2.7 billion gamers on the planet. What is a gamer? Someone who plays one hour or more of video games per day. Let that sink in. Gamers invest 2.7 Billion hours PER DAY playing video games.
But, if we’re all completely honest, we are all gamers already. Some of us just don’t know it, because we haven’t really considered that life is a game.
We’ve all played checkers, right? It’s a simple game. But, have you played poker? Many more variables, aren’t there? You’ve got opponents who are using psychological manipulation–that bet your opponent placed–does he really have a good hand or is she just bluffing?
The more we make our gamification like poker versus checkers, the more motivational it will be. It’s called variable rewards. What makes poker so much more interesting is each hand played has different sized pots, different outcomes and different strategies. Each hand is like its own game within a game. Each hand you may be staring down a different opponent or set of opponents. You can go all-in or you can fold. It is infinitely variable.
Checkers, on the other hand, is just too predictable. It’s moves are so basic it is almost boring. Gamification based on a certain set of predictable outcomes more often than not eventually gets ignored.
We had a gamified learning platform in the company where I used to work that was based on the old Points, Badges, Levels and Leaderboard methodologies. Points were rewarded for the learner’s progress through a learning activity. Those Points were accumulated and converted into Badges. When enough Badges were earned, you advanced to different levels and then you could compare your results to your fellow employees on a Leaderboard.
It was novel at first, but after about thirty minutes, the predictability of it, like checkers, caused the learner to just ignore it. As mentioned earlier in the book, the variability of learner rewards, where the learner has a basic framework of expectations, but for which the rewards have surprises that pop into the reward mechanism, are critical for long-term acceptance and motivation.
Gamifying a Game
Speaking of Poker, I like to play this online game called The Governor of Poker. It’s a poker game with play money, and you can buy poker chips if you want, but they can also just be earned by showing up to the game every four hours and spinning a spinner where you can earn between 2,500 and 1,000,000 chips to be used in the game. The more chips you have, the more you can wager at different locations in the game, with different types of games and playing against anywhere from three to eight players.
Every sixth spin of the spinner allows the player to play for a big jackpot ranging from 10,000 to 10,000,000 chips. You can also climb levels, join teams, and there are new and different poker games being added all the time with different types of tournaments.
You know what to expect in the game, and yet you don’t. The very nature of poker provides an infinite variability in players, scenarios, and wagers.
It’s very addicting.
And these addicting features in a game can be used for good when we gamify a learning platform.
Just dropping Points, Badges, and Leaderboards into a game without thought to the overall game design, including the backstory for the game and graphic design elements, leaves the learner dissatisfied and unmotivated by the gaming elements.
We even created our own version of this type of poker game, where every three hands played, players watched a short instructional video, followed by quiz questions, which when answered correctly, allowed players to spin a spinner and win some more poker chips for the game. This kind of back-and-forth between learning and the game made it very desirable for the learner. As the learner progressed in the poker game, they achieved different levels, indicated by a vertical progress bar which when it hit 100%, the learner got a Badge for that level. There was also a Leaderboard, which when combined with a competition with prizes, really motivated learners to keep on learning.
This is so much more motivational than just giving the learners ten different videos to watch and telling them they were mandatory.
We also had great success with a quiz game that taught employees through short video clips extracted from a longer 24-minute video. We extracted 30-second clips and gave the learner a question based on the clip. If they got it right, then they added ten seconds to their timer. The timer was used at the end, where the learner could shoot baskets. The more time they got, the more opportunities they had to shoot baskets and get a higher score. We didn’t provide a leaderboard, but people started posting their scores in the comments section of the game. It was so simple. But the variability of it based on time and shots completed made the game exceedingly fun, and in no time at all, we had over 15,000 downloads with an additional 5,000 people watching the 24-minute video in just one month’s time.
Setting Goals and Challenges
I mentioned earlier about setting goals for myself to increase my LinkedIn connections to 10,000. This personal goal was a type of gamification.
During my time as a Learning Consultant at my former Fortune 100 company, I learned early on that people got pretty bored with just standard Powerpoint slides filled with information. They wanted something more dynamic and engaging.
Gamification was a way I learned would help motivate people.
In fact, after watching Jane’s presentation in 2013, over the next five years we created hundreds of Learning Games with over 250,000 downloads and 150,000 unique users. Many of these were simple quiz-based games (like Jeopardy), but others were more complex, including simulation games.
Speaking of simulation games, think about how important flight simulators are to help pilots experience all types of scenarios that you would never let them do in a real airplane, but for which we are glad they train for, even if that one-in-a-million airplane mishap were to occur. Think of the Miracle on the Hudson pilot landing in New York Harbor. Aren’t you glad pilot Chesley Sullenberger learned how to land a plane on the water in a simulator? Read about game simulations further on down in this post.
Earning a Badge Helps Me (and You) Push Through.
Gamification, at its simplest form, gives people variable rewards to motivate them. Such motivation systems include: Points, Badges and Leaderboards.
I know for me personally, badges are a great reward system. They help me push through finishing courses I normally wouldn’t have done. I have taken several courses in Coursera and finished only 2–Learning How to Learn taught by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski and, ironically, a course entitled Gamification by Professor Kevin Werbach.
In contrast, I have earned 21 digital badges requiring me to take over 100 hours of coursework. What kept me going? Earning a badge. Watch this short video on how badges are effective, but only if they represent meaningful work:
Let’s face it. During any new learning that we undertake, there are points in the process where we fall into the Pit of Despair–those concepts which aren’t familiar to us and we really have to struggle to acquire the new knowledge. It’s built into how our brain processes things. Our brains are actually designed to reject new information if it is not needed for our immediate survival–the flight or fight response.
So new information that is not needed for our survival is cast aside. It is actually more efficient when predators are looking to take us down as a tasty meal, that we keep survival information at the forefront of our minds–note to self, when I see stirring in the grass and hear a lion roar, it’s time to grab my spear, congregate with other hunters and get ready for a fight.
I can’t do justice to the entire topic of badges in this post, but I have written a 30 page eBook on Badges if you are interested and it includes access to a free Python and Data Science Course with 26 hours of video: http://bit.ly/uc-opportunity
Take the Lead!
Another gamification technique is the use of Leaderboards. Leaderboards are great because they help us with our natural desire as humans to compare ourselves to each other. After all, how well do you know you are doing unless there is a standard in which to compare?
We created several learning games where there were scoring mechanisms built in. We didn’t have a leaderboard in the learning game, but a score was generated based on the number of correct questions you answered, which led to more time to play a basketball-shooting game, which allowed you to score baskets. People started posting their high scores in the basketball shooting game in the comments.
We didn’t have a leaderboard, so people organically created one for themselves. I remember the first comment someone posted was, “I just got 43 points on the basketball game. Can anyone top that?”
And speaking of points–especially points which allow you to Level-Up–are great for motivation. I have earned points in learning games that just keep adding up, and after I hit certain self-imposed targets, such as, “I want to get to 1000 points,” if there isn’t a next level, then I am no longer motivated by just getting more points.
There’s a game I’ve played called Adventure Capitalist which provided the leveling-up from a basic entrepreneurial enterprise (Lemonade Stand) up to a major corporation (Oil Company). There were about ten levels in between, and the only activity you had to do was keep clicking on certain activities. It was highly addicting.
Basic leveling-up can be used in motivating learners to keep going.
Another thing to remember is that humans really love Variable Rewards. Once we know what to expect after we achieve different levels, even this can be boring. This principle is what makes slot machines so addicting to us.
The Final Word – Hooked
Iyr Nyal, in his book Hooked, explains that rewards are great, but they can be a disincentive if they are predictable. He describes how the anticipation of a reward satisfies our daily itches, including boredom, loneliness, stress, fear, etc.
The Hook Model he uses in his book is composed of four phases:
- Trigger – The actuator of behavior. There are four external triggers: Paid, Earned, Relationship and Owned. Internal Triggers are subconscious – Boredom, Stress, Fear, Loneliness, etc.
- Action – The Behavior done in anticipation of Reward
- Variable Reward – The Hook’s ability to Create a Craving
- Investment – The User does a Bit of Work
By implementing these principles into our gamification, we can make learning not only fun, but also addicting!
2. It All Rises and Falls On a Good Story
Everyone loves a good story. We grow up with them. They help us transport our emotions, feelings and inner spirit into a very pleasant space inside the world of our imaginations.
The problem is that in the business world, we often cut the “heart” out of our stories. We sanitize them with names like “Case Studies” or “Client References”. These assets are critical to winning client business, but if we remove the emotion out of these assets, we remove the power.
Why do we do this? I believe that in the business world, we think that only our intellect should guide us in making business decisions. In the business world, the emotional side of humans is viewed as weak or ineffectual. So we remove the emotion from a story to make it more suitable to the intellect.
When you begin a presentation with “Let me tell you a story…”, it resets the listeners mind to engage their imagination in ways that “Let me show you a Case Study…” will never do.
I watched a great presentation made at an IBM conference in 2014. The keynote speaker is Tim Magwood. Tim’s bio reads:
“Tim has the mind of an entrepreneur, the heart of a coach & storyteller and the soul of a singer/songwriter.”
Although the video is a bit grainy, his tips and stories shine through. Tim’s skills at delivering stories (he’s a pretty good singer too), reminded me of this tip for success from Professor Scott Galloway at NYU Stern – “Be an Expert where others are not.” (LINK)
Why is the story so important on a gamified platform? It’s what keeps gamers engaged and invested in the game.
Here’s a few examples from the gaming world:
- If we didn’t know that the pigs were stealing the birds eggs and that is what made them so angry, Angry Birds would have just been a game about calculating launch angles and would have quickly gone in the dustbin of interesting games.
- If the Princess didn’t need to be rescued by two plumber brothers, Mario and Luigi, then Super Mario Brothers would have ended up like so many other side scrolling leveling up games: installed and played once, never to be played again.
Stories make us care. And, they keep us coming back for more to achieve out objectives. This works for games. It works for education.
Here’s a storyline we used to describe six principles we wanted our leaders to learn:
- Deliver the Minimal Viable Product (MVP), then iterate
- Experiment, scale up or let go
- Seek and tell the uncomfortable truth
- Challenge your assumptions
- Address unproductive patterns
- Create a safe environment for breakthrough insights
Watch a demo of the interactive comic book we created to communicate these principles:
BONUS: If you don’t have a Story, Pixar has a tried and true formula for all of their hit stories that they have developed with everything from Toy Story to Monsters, Inc. to Finding Nemo. Here’s their formula for Phenomenal Storytelling:
Know your Gamer
Below are the four gamer types identified by Richard Bartle in a paper he wrote in 1996, identifying players by their preferred actions within a game. Although each type is distinct from the others, successful games and learning game platforms have elements of all of these types of actions. These types are self explanatory:
- The Killer thrives on defeating competitors.
- The Achiever thrives on accomplishing goals.
- The Socializer thrives on interactions with other players.
- The Explorer thrives on exploring the environment.
3. Tips to Gamify Anything
Here’s my Top 5 Recommendations to Gamify Anything:
1. Progress Bar – this technique is used in games and in business websites. Salesforce does this on their Trailhead learning platform. They show you a simple progress bar indicating what percentage you’ve completed in the different modules you have completed within a Trailmix:
2. Levels – Have a way to display what Level you are on. The more tasks you have completed the higher your level. This is a point of comparison that you can share with others. Levels also benefit when there is time pressure to achieve the level. We incorporated count down timers in learning games to help learners be fully engaged to advance to the next level. Here is another example from Salesforce Trailhead showing the different levels you can achieve based on badges and points earned:
3. Collections – human beings like to collect things whether they are coins or Pokemon. We like to achieve collecting sets of things and making them complete. An important game mechanic for this is to display what has been collected so far, but also show those items that still need to be collected. The popular Pokemon Go game was very effective at incorporating collections into their game:
4. Badges – badges have been in existence in many different organizations – the Boy Scouts and military have used them for a long time to reward achievements. Giving someone a sign of completion of a larger task that is difficult to achieve is usually associated with a badge. Badges are usually rewarded when a pre-defined list of tasks or skills is completed. To find out what digital badges you can earn through IBM badges: LINK
5. Leaderboard – comparison to others is human nature. Whether at an individual level or team level, we like to know how we compare. Due to privacy concerns, some are opposed to individual names being used, so in this case, you could share your score’s contribution to a team leaderboard.
By the way, ORGANIC Leaderboards, are the best kinds of leaderboards there are. What do I mean by “Organic”? Those are leaderboards that are instituted by the players themselves. As an example, the badges leaderboard seen here (https://bit.ly/badgesnext) started out with just 10 people on the leaderboard. When I first posted this blog post last fall of 2018, I only had 10 people on the leaderboard. It has now grown to over 100 people. How did it grow? People saw the leaderboard and wanted to be on it! They let me know their name and badge totals and I added them. I get 2-3 people per week letting me know they should be on the leaderboard. That’s learner engagement!
The Salesforce Trailhead Learning Platform very effectively incorporates all of these motivational gaming elements including Points, Badges, Levels and collections:
The Power of Game Simulations
I played golf for the first time recently in over a year. I quit playing because I had an injury called “Frozen Shoulder“. It took about a year to heal with some physical therapy, stretching and just letting my body heal itself.
Surprisingly, I scored the best score I’ve had in the year prior to my injury – I shot 80 with three birdies! The only “golf” I played was at TopGolf while on vacation in Texas. TOPGolf (TOP stands for “Target Oriented Practice”) is a simulation for golf — you hit your ball from a driving range to exact targets 25 to 215 yards away. Each ball that you hit has an RFID chip in it that measures the precise place that it lands and communicates it back to a video game display terminal. It is fully gamified where you can get points for your accuracy and compete against your friends.
There are several golf games you can play. Most of the games give you 20 balls for each player that you take turns hitting in sets of 5 balls. It allowed for competition among our family even though we had different skill levels, because the targets were placed at different distances so as to give everyone a shot at scoring well.
What was interesting to me, while I was on the “real” golf course and visualizing my shots at different distances, I kept reflecting on my shots at TOPGolf. Golf simulation at TOPGolf gave me repetitive mental pictures and confidence to hit my shots that I used at the golf course.
I have never had this experience after practicing on a regular driving range where you hit your ball to targets and where there is NO FEEDBACK. At a driving range, you just see flags with distances – Yellow is 50 yards, Blue is 100 yards, Red is 150 yards, etc. But you just have to use your own estimation if you are hitting your golf clubs to the right distances. It is very inaccurate — that is why “Driving Range” Golf feels much better than “Golf Course” Golf. Unfortunately, it gives you a false sense of skill level.
With TOPGolf your shots are measured with extreme accuracy and the FEEDBACK loop is quick. If you hit it to the center of a 10 yard diameter ring, you get more points than if you hit to the edge of the ring. And the screen at TOPGolf gives you an exact point where your ball hit in relation to the target.
This was a very real example to me of the power of accurate simulations to boost real world performance.
We have always pushed the boundaries for an engaging learning platform. Our learners have told us they want three things from their training:
- Shorter Training Sessions
- Interactive Engaging Training
- Ways to apply the training in the class
Learning is more than just watching videos and being tested on facts. We have contended and believe that learning embedded in a game can be one of the most meaningful ways to learn. Why? Because the Learning Platform provides a way to APPLY new knowledge, to try, to fail and try again. The true GRIT that gamers display in their tireless mastery of games is truly compelling – many commercial video games require hundreds of hours to complete and master.
There is no permanent failure in a Gamified Learning Platform because the learner can play multiple times until mastery is achieved. For more information on how games help learners with learning Problem Solving Skills, see the Youtube Video: Principles of Gaming by James Gee:
And, the Gamified Learning Platform is FUN! And because it is fun, learners use the platform over and over again.
Knowledge learned and verified through a test taken at a point in time may not be permanent knowledge. As soon as the test is passed, if the learner no longer needs the knowledge, it may soon be forgotten. This type of testing only rewards those who are good at memorizing facts for brief moments in time.
Learning Activities that promote the application of the knowledge through repetition and skill development is the knowledge turned into the most desired result – deep understanding and wisdom. Knowledge acquired in this way with it’s subsequent application to problem solving will not be forgotten. It is often in the struggle with new knowledge, the persistence to understand the deeper meaning, that it is fully grasped. This type of grappling with knowledge and applying it in business use cases presented through our Learning Games will positively impact our business. BONUS: To see how repetition helps in learners applying new knowledge, check out this blog post entitled, “Boosting Learning“.
I like this quote from Whitney Johnson in her blog post : “What to do when you hate to hate learning”:
“ As we put in hours and hours of practice, hypergrowth begins, learning accelerates and increasing competence breeds confidence. Feel good neurotransmitters like dopamine are released; what was initially challenging and even painful becomes a delight. Then, as we approach mastery, our growth decelerates; we achieve competence, even excellence, but we no longer enjoy the same rush of pleasurable brain chemicals. Stagnation, boredom and complacency may result, and performance may decline. If we don’t jump to a new learning curve, the plateau may become a precipice .”
This is why it is important for us to continuously learn — we need to keep pushing ourselves to new areas of “hypergrowth” and Learning Games provide a platform for this growth.
Since the modern learner is “Overwhelmed, Distracted and Impatient” with less than 30 minutes a week to devote to training, shorter bursts of microlearning certainly makes sense (Source: LINK ).
Our goal is to drive deeper understanding and application of the learning content. If we make the Gamified Learning Platform fun and enjoyable, we believe that learners will play and learn from the platform during their travel time, down time or free time.
In summary, GRIT is required in Learning — let’s make the Learning Platform FUN!
On the topic of GRIT required for deep learning, I was reminded of a great quote by our 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He gave a speech in Paris in 1910 entitled, “Citizenship in a Republic”, but more commonly referred to as “The Man in the Arena” speech:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ” (Source: LINK )
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