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Gamification is Grape Flavored

[lead]I am a gamer. I love to play video games and tabletop board games. I like team challenges and competitive contests. I like to clock the time it takes to drive home in hopes that I beat yesterday’s best. I like to see if I can add just one more piece to my child’s block tower.[/lead]

I can be motivated by offered rewards, real or imaginary. I am motivated by the knowledge that I ended the day without consuming any soda or got a high-five for fixing the microwave clock. These little, seemingly insignificant accolades alter my behavior on a daily basis.

As a developer, I am concerned with usability but also user motivations and the satisfaction generated from the websites I build. Gamification (the use of game design technique and mechanics) appears to be a great tool in website design to help engage users.

Gamification is like the grape flavoring in cough syrup. Adding grape flavoring to sand will not entice me to eat it. But adding some grape flavoring to cough syrup, something I need and want to take, makes it slide down easier. Gamifying something I have no interest or desire in doing will also not work. Gamification should be the extra rung in a ladder to help us get over the hump and do what we deeply desire.

Goal Driven Gamification

People run in groups to pressure themselves in finishing the marathon. People reward themselves for sticking to a diet to make sure they lose weight. Othe’s whistle while they work.

When we look at our clients’ customers, we need to ask ourselves the question what do they really want to do? They may really want to try out all the local craft beers or restaurants in the area. They may want to add tools and services that makes their goals easier. They may have a desire to learn and be an expert. They may want to become connected in a community. We should build tools and add gamification when needed to encourage these desires.

Game Design Ain’t Easy

Reward systems, motivational techniques, and game dynamics are complex and it is important to understand that. Successful games are built from well-established design rules and principles. Haphazardly slapping achievements on a digital application can often have the opposite desired effect.

Gamification should exist to give influence over your users’ actions. Should long term rewards be added to incentivize visits or unique content built to promote? Perhaps instantaneous gratification or feedback will help push users through the website funnel. The game mechanism should align itself with the goals and remove hurdles for the user to achieve both the business objective and the users’ objective.

A little grape flavoring can go a long way in helping people consume the medicine they desire. Gamification is the feature. Engagement is the benefit.

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