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Posts Tagged ‘Werbach

Gamification: Ethics, Disney, and Playbor

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It’s always seemed somewhat ironic that discussions of most systems, from gamification to genetic modification, always leave the issue of ethics until near the end. Of course, you can’t discuss the ethics of something until you have a clear idea of what it is you’re examining, so it might be a necessary evil.

In For the Win, Wharton business school professors Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter (and Werbach in his Gamification course on Coursera) examine the ethics of gamification. The childhood saying is that anything’s fun until someone loses an eye, but gamification can have a manipulative side. Werbach and Hunter refer to the practice of using gamification to amplify work effort as playbor, a terrific term that captures the essence of their critique.

One example Werbach mentions in both the book and the course is Disney’s use of a leaderboard to display performance statistics for workers in their laundry facilities. One of the basic tenets of business is that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, but there’s a real question as to when you cross the line from performance measurement to manipulation. When I had a summer job with a telemarketing firm back in the 1980s, did my target call, contact, and sale numbers amount to manipulation? How about sales quotas for bonuses? Or entering in at least a certain number of books per hour when I took a temp job helping a large independent bookstore digitize their inventory? In neither case was I compared directly to other employees (I was the only salesperson at a very small company), so it probably wasn’t an example of gamification, though I was aware of my performance in relation to my targets.

Ethics is always a tricky subject. In many cases, workplace treatment comes down to what can be negotiated between workers and management, either through union representatives or by workers voting with their feet. In a down economy, many workers are willing to accept conditions they wouldn’t consider in better times. There have been several articles on conditions in Amazon warehouses as well as a recent report on what might be an Amazon warehouse, that remind us how circumstances can give employers leverage over their employees.

Gamification: Deploy the Appropriate Tools

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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 took a wild stab at designing for fun in my last post. In this post, I’ll talk about deploying the appropriate tools.

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

Deploying the appropriate tools is where the cool concepts you’ve brought together become a system you can poke, prod, enter data into, and get feedback from. If you’re measuring data entry, you can automate the process. If you’re measuring geographic information or activity, you might program a mobile app to capture the data automatically. Otherwise, you need to create a system that combines automatic data collection with user entry. The specifics will change based on your environment and resources, but bear in mind that almost any system will require a significant investment of time, money, or both.

In an improv context, deploying the appropriate tools occurs in the context of creating your show and presenting your product. How you present your performances, from your venue to your costumes and format, shapes your audience’s expectations and reactions. Much improv comedy happens in restaurants, bars, and other spaces where the performance is secondary to the venue’s revenue stream. The venue often provides the space in exchange for a little rent or in the hope that the performers’ friends will eat and drink during the show. All the performer needs to do is put on their dark colored top, jeans, and soft-soled black shoes to get going. Troupes with dedicated spaces must pay attention to audience seating, bathroom access, and availability of snacks, drinks, and swag to buy at the performance.

You also have to create feedback mechanisms for the audience and performers. As I’ve said in other contexts, the audience isn’t there for the performers’ sake — they attended the show to have an enjoyable night out. Even your best friends wouldn’t see more than one show if the experience was so dire they didn’t enjoy themselves. You can get feedback from troupe members sitting in the audience and, in addition to watching the show, paying careful attention to the audience’s reaction. It’s easy to develop “laughing ears” where every reaction, regardless of how small, seems like a standing ovation. A teammate in the seats can help you see and hear what the audience really thinks. It’s your job to listen.

I’ll close out this section on gamification with a look at ethical considerations. Is it possible to use game mechanics to oppress your workers? Oh, yes…

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.