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Gamification: Don’t Forget the Fun

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My previous set of posts described elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors. I just examined how you can devise activity cycles for user interactions. In this post, I’ll talk about the ever-elusive concept of fun.

As a quick review, the authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

What is fun? Dictionaries tell us it’s a sense of enjoyment or pleasure, which is a straightforward enough definition. When you gamify a business or personal process, such as eating healthfully or completing daily assigned tasks, you want to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

Designing for fun isn’t easy, so my best recommendation is to look for best practices in the industry, visit as many gamified websites as you can, and scour the literature for every example you can find. Many companies have gone before you, so you should do everything possible to learn from their successes and failures. The one hint I can give is that you should acknowledge your players’ actions. Congratulate them and make them feel good about what they’ve accomplished. That step might not seem like fun, but it rewards the player’s action and helps establish that undertaking the desired activity creates a positive reaction.

Always bear in mind that you have different types of players with different goals, whether to explore the world or to specialize in an area and unlock achievements as quickly as they can. You might consider displaying different congratulatory messages for different types of players.

Like all designing, designing for fun is an iterative process. After you implement your system, monitor player activities and feedback to see what you can do differently. Buy key players coffee and ask why they like what they’re doing, how they encourage their friends and coworkers, or why they stopped playing. Every bit of information you capture will help you make your system more rewarding.

Gamification: Devising Activity Cycles

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My previous set of posts described elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors. I just examined how you can describe your players using personas. In this post, I’ll talk about devising activity cycles.

As a quick review, the authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

In a gamification context, activity cycles are the actions you want your players (teammates, customers, co-workers, etc.) to take. You can think of activity cycles as patterns of interaction with your site that represent a task or series of tasks taken to completion. As an example, consider how you check in at sites on FourSquare. Your activity cycle involves pulling up the app on your phone, having it sense your location, and giving it permission to check you in at that location. You can also earn badges, receive special offers, and be named Mayor of a location by checking in there more than everyone else.

Some sites have longer activity cycles. TeamSnap offers a website where you can track your sports teams’ rosters, schedule practices, track attendance, and record game results. You can even assign team members (or their parents) tasks such as bringing snacks to the game. TeamSnap’s also useful for improv groups who want to track practices, send messages, and schedule shows. (Full disclosure: I’m good friends with several TeamSnap executives and my main improv group, ComedySportz Portland, uses their site to track our activities.)

Businesses have activity cycles in all aspects of their operations. Client generation, sales tracking, and customer service all lend themselves to gamification. In some sense, businesses that track sales performance and use other measures to rank their employees already use elements of gamification, but many times those scenarios take on the tenor of the “motivational speech” Alec Baldwin’s character Blake delivers at the start of a monthly sales contest in the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross. In that contest, first place is a Cadillac El Dorado, second place is a set of steak knives, and third place is “You’re fired.”

Some bosses thrive on intimidation and insult, but that approach goes against the spirit of gamification. If you want to gamify successfully, you can’t forget the fun.

Gamification: Describing Your Players

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My previous set of posts described elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors. I just spoke about delineating target behaviors. In this post, I’ll talk about describing your players.

As a quick review, the authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

The Gamification course’s final written assignment asked us to create a reasonably detailed gamification plan for a company with a business model similar to Airbnb and other shared-resource mediation sites. I described my typical players using a set of personas that captured a range of user backgrounds and motivations. The prof changes his example scenario every time he offers the class, so I don’t mind giving you this segment of my answer.

As the site grows to include thousands of players, it would be impossible to break them down into a small number of categories. However, it is possible to create personas to characterize typical players that will engage in the ShareAll system. The following paragraphs describe four personas that represent the players.

Andrew: Andrew, a 43 year-old white male, is in upper management at a small web-based services firm. He can work wherever he has an internet connection, so he travels frequently and uses ShareAll’s lodging and car rental features when he does. He has been known to perform a quick pickup or errand for other members, but does so infrequently. Andrew is a focused user who sees ShareAll as a provider of specific services.

Helen: Helen, a 62 year-old African-American female, retired from a 35-year career as a clinical psychologist. She uses the task-running elements on the ShareAll site to have members pick up her groceries once or twice a month and to rent a car when she travels. She has also listed her basement apartment on the site, which brings in the occasional renter. Helen appreciates the convenience of the task providers and the income she generates when she rents out her apartment.

Timothy: Timothy is a 22 year-old Chinese-American male office worker who is taking a year off before going on to graduate school. He earns a good supplemental income by signing up for the task-oriented side of the ShareAll site, mostly by running errands but also as a driver for individuals who need rides to the airport. He has rented a car through the site on a few out-of-town trips, but he is not a frequent user of the site outside of his tasks. He networks with his friends to get as many referral Shares as he can. He also cares deeply about his reputation and does his best to provide excellent service. Timothy is working hard now so he can get an advanced degree without worrying too much about paying for his groceries when he’s back in school.

Steph: Steph is a 28 year-old white female who works as a waitress. She usually gets 24-30 hours of restaurant shifts per week, so she makes herself available for tasks such as house cleaning during her off hours. She also travels around the U.S. when she can and has used the ShareAll site to find rooms in the cities she visits. Like Timothy, Steph networks with friends to general referral credits. She does her best to earn money when she can to improve her life.

As the ShareAll site increases its player base, we can analyze their demographics and activities to create more meaningful segments and personas.

Many companies use personas to describe their customers, so take a look at these brief descriptions in terms of goals, backgrounds, and behaviors to get a feel for how you can create your own personas. What was fun for me, and is often fun for improvisers and business people alike, is including people you know in your work. Andrew is a good friend of mine, and Helen (not her real name) is establishing her professional credentials as a clinical psychologist. I see her having a long, successful career after she finishes jumping through the hoops required for licensure.

Gamification: Delineating Target Behaviors

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My previous set of posts described elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors. My previous post covered defining business objectives. In this post, I’ll talk about delineating target behaviors.

The authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

Defining business objectives is the most abstract element of the process, in the sense that the results (increase attendance or driving more visitors to your site) are long-range goals that  result from other efforts. Delineating target behaviors means identifying the specific actions you want your players to take. For example, you might want your players to fill in their profiles completely, perhaps showing a progress bar like the one LinkedIn uses. You can also reward behaviors such as inviting one’s friends to join a site, making purchases, and attending events.

In an improv context, you should think about what you want your audience members to do. Of course you want them to attend your shows and tell their friends how brilliant and funny you are, but you should also focus on what you want them to do during the show. For example, how do you get suggestions, and how does the process affect the suggestions you get? How do you reward audience members for following your instructions, and how do you correct them if they don’t?

Businesses of all types, whether manufacturing, web services, or theaters, must structure their offerings to get the desired responses from their customers. It helps to know what those responses are.

Gamification: Defining Business Objectives

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My previous set of posts described elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors.

The authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

Defining business objectives seems like an easy step — you want your customers to buy your products or engage your services. In this context, though, you’re thinking about the business objectives for your gamified system. You might want to retain customers or build brand loyalty. These objectives are more general than target behaviors, which are covered in the next item. Improv groups face the same challenges when they try to define their business objectives. Obviously you want to encourage customers to be loyal to your brand, but what other goals do you have? Do you want them to become active consumers of theatre in general?

It’s often tough to distinguish between business objectives and target behaviors, but Werbach and Hunter provide a useful exercise for identifying business objectives. (p. 87) They encourage you to make a list of what you think are your objectives; then, go through the list and cross out anything that’s a means instead of an end. For example, “Build brand loyalty” is an end but “Have visitors view the company’s mission statement” is a means.

Working through this exercise will bring your business objectives into better focus. Plus, if you’re like me and don’t always distinguish between objectives and behaviors on the first pass, you’ll find you’ve identified several target behaviors, too.

Gamification: The Six D’s

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I’m most of the way through the Gamification course I’m taking on Coursera. I’ve learned a lot and hope to apply some of the techniques in my own work.

Much of the course’s material appears in For the Win, written by the Coursera professor Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter (both of whom are faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School). My previous four posts discussed four elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. The authors also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors.

The authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

My next six posts will address these D’s one at a time, starting with how to define your objectives.

Improv and Gamification: Potential Conflicts

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Their final item, potential conflicts, addresses how game elements can come into conflict with organizational goals and intrinsic (internal) motivation. The traditional management case study of conflicting elements is suboptimization, where an employee focuses on a specific task to the detriment of the overall project or even the entire enterprise.

As an example, suppose you’ll receive a substantial bonus for releasing a product to market by a specific date. It’s natural for you to evaluate your incentives and get that product out the door regardless of what corners you need to cut. If the product’s not as a good as it could have been, your employer must take a substantial portion of the blame. After all, they structured your incentives in a way that rewarded you for focusing on the subgoal instead of releasing a quality product.

In improv, you can suboptimize by going for the joke instead of playing a good scene and letting the laughs come naturally. I was especially guilty of this practice early in my career, but I’ve gotten away from it. The idea is that you want to keep the scene moving forward smoothly instead of stopping it with a joke. A joke’s punchline is an artificial endpoint that stops progress, pulls focus from the scene, and forces everyone to reset. Are jokes always bad in improv? No, but they make everyone’s job harder, especially when more than one person is going for the joke in a scene. Then it’s a travesty.

Improv and Gamification: Structure

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Werbach and Hunter use the structure element to ask:  “Can the desired behaviors be modeled through a set of algorithms?” For San Francisco firm Keas, structure comes in the form of challenges participants undergo during the workday to improve their wellness, Microsoft gamified identifying translation errors in Windows 7 dialog boxes, and airlines provide better service as you accumulate more miles.

Measuring results in improv is a less exact process, but ComedySportz gets around the problem by having the audience vote to see which team gets the points for a pair of competing games.  The idea that the show is a competition, where the players try to win but don’t care if they lose, provides a hook that makes the experience more than simple entertainment.

For businesses, organizational performance is often based on revenue, market share, and similar targets identified by the executive team. Individual employee performance is measured versus criteria set for each employee, but how do you provide an overall structure for a project, department, or division? Chip manufacturer Intel uses a Plan of Record, or POR, to identify goals and, in some cases, methodologies at all levels of the enterprise. That which adhereth to the POR is blessed; that which doth not is condemned.

Developing a structure to measure performance can be difficult, especially when applied to creative workers. Don’t feel compelled to gamify a process — the best gamification structure might be none at all.

Improv and Gamification: Meaningful Choices

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

The second item, meaningful choices, is a foundation of well-being and self-esteem. Everyone likes to feel that they have some control over their lives — that their choices make a difference in how events turn out. Improvisers’ choices have direct and immediate impact on the show, for good or ill. Your scene partners can find ways to exclude you, of course. A former member of our group was a guest performer in another city, but the other players on the team apparently didn’t care to have him around. They were polite to him before the show, but after he exited a scene, one of the other players stepped on stage and said “You know the guy who was just here? I killed him.”

So much for collaboration.

It’s little better to have teammates ignore offers you make within a scene, preferring to wait for another player to come on and further the action. It’s hard to make progress when no one listens to you, even if you are the junior member of a group.

The same considerations hold true for the office. I’m not saying less experienced workers should be given complete autonomy, but they should have their opinions given a fair hearing. There’s very little that’s more demotivating than disappearing into the bowels of an organization and losing the connection between your work and a company’s success. Of course you can add points, badges, and levels to attach some (albeit artificial) meaning to their tasks, but Werbach and Hunter point out that it’s possible to gamify work unethically, in such a way that the “game” structure works against the employees’ best interests. Much like the sales competition in the movie version of David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross (first place is a car, second place is a set of steak knives, third place is you’re out of a job), you can use gamification for good or evil. One of their colleagues turned down such a consulting assignment. Rightfully so.

Improv and Gamification: Motivation

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In my previous post, I mentioned four basic elements of gamification put forward by Wharton School faculty members Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter. Those elements are:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Motivation is tricky. I’ve stated my belief that all motivation is internal, but I  admit it’s a reductionist and curmudgeonly view. Many individuals, particularly extroverts, gain energy by interacting with others. Yes, you can argue they use these interactions to stoke their personal fire, but the truth is that the external forces affect their performance.

I’ll still use my “all motivation is internal” line at parties, though. It’s fun to argue and often leads to interesting discussions.

Gamification uses game elements such as points, badges, and leader boards to set goals, measure performance, and reward individual and team success. One example, which is near to my heart because I’ve written books for Microsoft Press since 2001, is how Microsoft used gamification to get their employees to identify errors in Windows 7 dialog boxes. Windows 7 is available in 35 languages, meaning that the dialog boxes and other text was translated into tongues as diverse as Chinese, Swedish, and Polish. Microsoft tracked which teams (usually members of the same business group) discovered the most errors and posted their names on a leader board displayed in the tool. Some team leaders decided to focus their efforts on the contest, which led to impressive performance.

Improvisers receive feedback from their audience immediately, usually in the form of laughter, but also as appreciation for what’s been done. Some performers can be thrown off by a quiet crowd, especially if they feel they’re having a good night but the audience just isn’t laughing. If you’re not getting the audible feedback you’re used to, check for eye contact. If your spectators meet your gaze and smile, you’re doing fine. They just prefer to express themselves quietly.