According to gamification guru Gabe Zichermann, it’s all about understanding that "if you can make something more fun, and include notions of play, you can get people to do things they otherwise might not want to do." Of course this shows an inherent dark side of gamification -- when the purpose is to manipulate users and foster addiction, there are serious dangers of misuse. But when used for good, people's psychological desires for pride, competition, and community will drive them to engage and participate in ways that are beneficial to them, not only to brands. Gamification done right taps into people's most basic desires. Zichermann says it's "75% to 25%, psychology to technology."
Michael Wu, Ph.D. discusses the relevance of the Fogg Behavioral Model in thinking about gamification. The model outlines three required factors that underlie any human behavior:
What you have to remember is that all three must converge at the exact same time. The trigger for users to act must come at a time when they feel motivated and able. Triggers are all about timing, and ability is about making difficult tasks seem simpler and more manageable. Motivation is perhaps the toughest link, and providing positive feedback is helpful. But what truly motivates people in a game situation? A vague idea of points, badges, and rankings might not cut it.
The basic Feedback Loop gives a good idea of what's needed to keep people continuously motivated. It consists of four basic stages:
1. Evidence (data)
2. Relevance (data processing)
3. Consequence (data defining)
4. Action (data usage)
When you see yourself rack up steps on your fitness app, for example, that’s the evidence. It’s important that users are given information in real-time. Relevance enters in when the data is understood as meaningful to the user. If you were told your score was 3,500, but you didn’t know out of how many, or what it was based on, it would be meaningless. The consequence stage is about the stakes. For instance, if Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t kill the boss, it’s game over. This is how we know it’s time to act!
Michael Wu shows how countless psychological and behavioral models can inform gamification. Abraham H. Maslow published the now famous "Hierarchy of Needs" back in 1943. The human needs are:
1. Physiological (basic needs)
2. Safety (health, security)
3. Belonging (love, friendship, family, social cohesion)
4. Esteem (self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect)
5. Self actualization
You can see how three, four, and five can all be touched on in a digital gaming context. Wu also explains how the motivators that author Daniel Pink focuses on (autonomy, mastery, purpose) inform gaming motivations, and B. F. Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism sheds light on the importance of rewards.
Perhaps one of the most interesting examples is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow, developed in 1975. According to Wu, "Flow is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where people become totally immersed in what they are doing. People experiencing flow often forget about physical feelings, passage of time, and their ego fades away."
In order to achieve Flow, the right level of challenge must be maintained. If a game, at any point, becomes either far too easy (boring) or too hard (frustrating), users will snap out of it. It’s the line between certainty and uncertainty that keeps us engaged and in the moment.
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