02 Dec 2014

Gamification in action

Categories: Gamification, Concept development

Here at Label305 we’re always on the look-out for innovative ways to create a compelling digital experience, no matter the product. With projects ranging from designing apps for tourist hotspots, to developing digital tools that track and improve sports performance, we’re always facing the exciting challenge of how to make things more effective, and more engaging. And, if it’s not too much trouble, more fun, too ;).

Tl;dr: Gamification has tremendous potential for making countless tasks more engaging and fun, but it has to be done right or not at all.

The case of FairLingo

When Sam van Gentevoort of Vertaalbureau Perfect(a fast-growing translation service) came to us with an idea for an online platform that crowdsources translations, we got really excited. This would be a platform that gives everyone the opportunity to turn their translation skills into cash, from stay-at-home moms to exceedingly qualified professional translators. An idea innovative in its own right, yet we couldn’t help but wanting more. How could we make Fairlingo as much fun as possible, while ensuring translation quality? This is where we dove into the fascinating world of gamification. Indispensible in helping me find the aswers were Jesse Schell’s excellent book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, and Kevin Werbach & and Dan Hunter’s For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. These books opened a new world to me, and I quickly got acquainted with a vital and necessary change of perspective.

Not users, but players

The first thing that has to be done when considering gamification is throwing out the term ‘user’, and bringing in the term ‘player’. This seems trivial, but I assure you, it’s not. Below is a short comparison of both in terms of the cause of use or play, what they want out of the product or game, and what they need for the experience to be what they’re looking for.

User

An illustration of a user
  • Motivation: Perform tasks to reach a goal
  • Wants: As few obstacles as possible. Tools that simplify tasks
  • Needs: Most effortless path to goal

Player

An illustration of a player
  • Motivation: Be entertained, to have fun
  • Wants: Enjoyment, rewarding experience, obstacles to overcome
  • Needs: Challenges, positive feedback

The term ‘user’ triggers a certain kind of thinking. When considering the term ‘user’, thoughts like ‘the highest priority is fun’ or ‘exciting challenges should be built in’ are not the first things that come to mind. However, when you think of a ‘player’ chances are those thoughts come running to the front of the line. You also need to know what makes something a game. How is it fundamentally different from, say, work, a job? Essentially it’s the element of ‘voluntariness’. A player cannot be forced to play in the true sense of the word. You can drag someone into a game and make them go along, but then they’re not really players. Players choose to go along with a game because it’s fun. They will keep coming back if the game is also intrinsically rewarding to them. Keeping in mind that you need more than just fun is important, or you will find high adoption of your game paired with equally high drop-out rates. Ensuring the experience is intrinsically rewarding is the key to keeping your players coming back for more.

Points, Penalties, and balancing

After getting these fundamentals down it was time to move on to the real stuff. The people on the platform will translate texts and check each other’s work for mistakes. In doing so they make money, but we made it more fun by also introducing a points system. The points system represents a player’s skill and experience. Points are given for doing good work, even more for excellent work, and the fewer mistakes you make the more points you get to keep. The more points you get the closer you are to getting to the next level, where the player will get access to more difficult and better-paying texts, as well as be offered more work. But how much points should you get and when? How many points should a player lose for misspelling a word, or missing a deadline? This was pretty tricky to balance. From an experience point of view a simple rule of gamification is that a player should feel like a winner most of the time. So, most events should be rewarding to the player. Obviously we’d have to give the players points most of the time and take them away fewer times. Clear enough, but that still leaves the balancing problem. After all, from a business perspective you can’t make players feel like winners without taking their performance into account. Last but not least was the question of the number of points we’d give. Should a player get a 100 or a 1000 points for translating an average paragraph of text? This is important, because size matters, at the very least from the perspective of perception. Small amounts are, well, small. But easy for our brains to keep track of. Large amounts seem impressive, but are more difficult to work with, and can make a point in general seem rather worthless.

The solution

An example of a points scale based on percentages

I decided to sidestep the ‘size’ problem by drawing up a points scale based on percentages. This made it a lot easier as I could just ask myself what the single best thing was a player could do. This event would represent the highest amount of points, 100%. Similarly with the single worst thing a player could do, that would represent the highest penalty. Then, I just placed all other points-related events along the scale, which resulted in balanced distribution of points in a very visual way.

You’ve probably noticed the big gap in the middle. This exists to emphasize the bonuses given for exemplary skill. Players will not try to do things flawlessly if it’s easier to get the same amount of points by doing something a lot less difficult twice.

Conclusion

Applying gamification is more complex than you would expect at first, but do it right and you could see people lining up to do something in the context of a game that they would normally stay far away from. However, not everything lends itself to gamification. But whenever it does it holds the potential for the most rewarding user experience possible.

Written by: Alexander van Brakel