Gamification: A Complete Guide for 2021

Zany Marketing

Gamification techniques are now being used for various applications like corporate learning, health industry, induction training for skill learning, HR sectors, education, marketing, environmental consciousness, etc.

Gamification techniques are now being used for various applications like corporate learning, health industry, induction training for skill learning, HR sectors, education, marketing, environmental consciousness, etc.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is defined as the process of including game elements/mechanics to a pre-existing experience to improve learner engagement and enjoyment.

Gamified elements like badges, rewards, leaderboards, time-based challenges, etc are commonly used in a gamification platform.

In a way, gamification is about focusing on the end result.

Understanding your users and the goals that are targeted are essential for getting gamification to work effectively. The chosen gamification mechanics, rewards, and designs should suit the user groups for it to function right.

Successful gamification hence needs to cover both- aspects that enhance learner engagement through fun activities and tasks and achieving the target goal or the original intent of the design.

So what are game mechanics? These include key factors like rewards, recognition, visual attraction, great story narrative, performance evaluation features, feedbacks, and challenges.

A complete gamified design should hence include elements that:

  • Capture learner attention

  • Offer meaningful gamification engagement

  • Incorporate intriguing challenges

  • Provide relevant feedback

  • Include attractive rewards and recognitions.

Ever wondered why gamification works?

That’s because it offers an easy answer to the most serious learning problems/challenges in today’s world- short attention span and poor knowledge retention!

Game designers purposefully create visually attractive images that capture the learner’s interest. Games are then loaded with elements that grab user attention and help them progress through different levels, while they’re enjoying the journey.

Gamification vs Game-based Learning

People often confuse games with gamification. However, gamification for learning, education, or even corporate purposes is not always about creating a new structure. It is about integrating the concepts of game design and its benefits into existing learning modes to make the process more engaging and motivational.

In simple terms, games are competitive forms of play with a set of rules and steps. Gamification, on the other hand, makes use of the fun elements of a game while applying them to non-gaming contexts to create long term behavioral change and learning.

While game-based learning (GBL) simply uses the elements of a game to give knowledge or teach a chosen skill, gamification applies the game mechanics in non-game situations to get the desired results. While game-based learning is all about integrating game mechanics with training, gamification focuses more on key elements like rewards to get the desired results.

The Neuro-science Aspect

So, why do we love gamification so much?

That’s because scientific research backs up the theory that games increase involvement and engagement levels in the human brain.

The human brain works at the neurological levels with the help of various neurotransmitter chemicals. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked with mood enhancements, memory, and anti-stress effects.

Dopamine has been directly correlated to the ability to easily learn new tasks.

Rewards, badges, healthy challenges, feedback, etc have been found to be very effective in increasing dopamine levels in the brain which is further linked to positive behavior changes like knowledge retention, teamwork, etc.

The neuroscience impact of increased dopamine levels is used when creating the gamification design and using key gamification techniques within.

An interesting piece of research on “Video Gaming Can Increase Brain Size and Connectivity” by Christopher Bergland says that neuroscience now believes that vide gaming stimulates new neuron growth and connectivity in different brain parts responsible for functions like memory, spatial orientation, planning, strategy, etc. The study reports improvement in neurogenesis and neuroplasticity levels of the key brain parts.

Gamification Techniques

All learning environments are unique in their requirements and objectives. That said, the following are some common steps followed for designing a successful gamification application plan:

  • Identification of key barriers

  • Developing personalized learning pathways for each learner to generate learning interest

  • Design for meaningful gamification engagement

  • Use prompt feedback to enhance learning

  • Effective use of rewards, points, and leaderboards to create interest, motivation, and recognition amongst learner groups.

The commonly used gamification techniques like the establishment of learning goals, using the right launching techniques and timings, progress assessment and feedback, rewards and badges, etc are essential for successful outcomes.

Additionally, when using gamification techniques, it is essential to remember that the process is all about promoting healthy competition and not just a race to the top. Emphasizing on learning, teamwork, and participation is hence equally important.

Modern gamification concepts like microlearning nuggets, personalized gamification, and social media linked games can also be used to generate effective outcomes.

Key Elements of Gamification

Various studies report that game mechanics, when appropriately used have a positive impact on motivation and participation of users in non-playful contexts (Source: Herzig et al.in Matallaoui et al: 4, 2016).

Gamification elements work through a set of common principles. Let us start by understanding gamification principles before detailing out the key elements used in gamification design.

Principles of Gamification

The principles of gamification are similar to game design elements. Veteran game designers understand the need to create successful learner engagement. This is achieved by adding motivational aspects like badges/rewards which encourage users to keep going to the next level.

Some important gamification principles that need to be followed while planning a game design include:

  • Creative storyline– Including a great narrative is the first attraction point for a game that helps to tap a player’s natural instincts.

  • Well planned and engaging challenges– Challenges ensure that the learners stay engaged and enthusiastic to look for the next levels in a game.

  • Properly calibrated game levels– Ensuring that the game levels are planned to be at an appropriate level that’s neither extremely difficult to demotivate the learners nor too easy to finish off their interest.

  • Create motivation through rewards and badges– Nothing works like recognition and rewards.

  • Accessibility– Ensuring that all players have equal reach for various tools and information.

  • Game visuals and aesthetics– Ensuring that the game is designed to create powerful first impressions is necessary to attract learners.

  • Long term learning– Gamification needs to encourage critical thinking for long terms, deep and meaningful learning.

Gamification Elements

Following are the seven key elements used in gamification:

1. Motivators:

Motivational drivers are necessary elements of learning. Including effective motivational factors while designing a gamification structure. While rewards can be motivation for some learners, others get the desired kick by taking up engaging challenges. Adding elements of challenges and rewards can create a desire to learn and grow.

However, identifying the right motivators based on the target audience is often a challenging task. Motivators can be both intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation factors could include acceptance, experience, autonomy, skill development, challenges, power, social behaviour, etc.

Extrinsic motivation factors could range from badges, points, money, feedback, recognition, fame, leaderboards, etc. Current gamification trends make more use of extrinsic motivators to increase learner engagement.

A thoughtful balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators creates an ideal gamification design.

2. Learning objectives:

One of the key gamification elements and the first step while designing a game is to align it with the learning objectives of the organization.

The need to keep the game tasks and learning elements in sync with the organizational goals helps the learners successfully achieve the objectives set at the beginning of the game.

3. Game design and presentation:

Intriguing game design is the first step to ensure that the learners get an amazing experience during the process.

A successfully conceptualized game design includes the behavioral patterns of the learners, planning the journeys of the learner, create multiple pathways for task completion, add increasing levels of complexity that progress with learning, and keep the learners looking forward to the rewards.

Other game design features used by designers include avatars (which are a visual on-screen representation of actual players), meaningful stories, etc.

4. Rewards:

A well-planned reward structure is an integral part of gamification. As explained earlier, rewards should stimulate both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to achieve the learning goals. Understanding the learner’s behaviour and planning the rewards in accordance is hence important.

Commonly used rewards include points, leaderboard positions, gamification badges, or monetary benefits.

5. Healthy challenges:

Creating meaningful learner engagement by incorporating healthy and achievable challenges is an important gamification element. Challenges help keep the learners involved and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in learners.

However, it is important to remember that the challenges need to be appropriately planned in order to keep attracting the interest of the users. Users need to feel interested in the tasks and be sufficiently motivated to take up the challenges and accomplish tasks and move forward.

6. Feedback:

Instant feedback are an essential gamification element. It is important to ensure that the learners are given access to real-time feedback to view their performance. Feedbacks maybe in the form of a progress report or a performance graph.

It is also important to remember that the feedback go hand in hand with the rewards. Instant progress assessment and feedback should be aligned with scores, badges, and leaderboard positions.

7. Rules:

All games are defined by their unique set of rules. Similarly, gamification should always include set rules that the learners are required to follow.

Rules are important to create a well-planned learning journey. It is hence important for learners to be completely aware of all the game rules before starting the process.

Benefits and Applications of Gamification

We’ve learned by now that gamification techniques (as compared to traditional learning/training options) show a high rate of success when it comes to achieving learning objectives. Thanks to neuroscience, we also understand the brain mechanics that work behind the idea.

So what are the benefits of using gamification?

And what are the key areas/sectors that can make use of gamification elements?

Advantages of Gamification

Following are the key advantages of using gamification for achieving learning objectives:

  1. Enhances learner engagement: Gamification techniques help create a passion for learning by mixing appropriate proportions of fun. This further helps increase user engagement which helps increase productivity. Various gamification elements like rewards, challenges, etc encourage learners to keep going and moving to the next levels.

  2. Promotes long term learning: Gamification motivates employees to gain long term knowledge that can be translated and used in real-time situations. Learners are kept engaged and interested in the gaming steps and levels using attractive game designs. Compared to boring training programs and conventionally used learning modules, gamification shows a higher success rate in creating long term learning.

  3. Reduces stress: Enough has already been said about the benefits of gamification in reducing stress. Gamification makes use of fun elements in gaming to encourage learners to participate and take new challenges while enjoying the process. As mentioned earlier, games create increased dopamine levels in the brain which helps in elevating the mood and creating a happy work-learning balance.

  4. Aids in cognitive development and behavioural changes: Gamification is known to enhance neuroplasticity and trigger cognitive development. Additionally, games allow increased development in certain parts of the brain like those responsible for memory. Gamification in corporate training has been known to create positive behavioural changes like increased teamwork, willingness to learn, etc.

  5. Recognition: It has been proven that a good number of people crave recognition, even more than rewards. Gamification is a highly effective means to observe the efforts put in by the learners rather than just rewarding the results. Veteran game designers understand the need to recognize the efforts and the impact that positive recognition has on a learner’s progress.

  6. Creates subject mastery: The scope for continual improvement is what keeps us engaged in games. Humans love to master their games. Learning about a skill is often not enough. Mastering it gives a feeling of well being and satisfaction. Gamification not just helps learn new skills but offers appropriate situations to master the skill and use it in real-time scenarios. Game designers ensure the use of well-calibrated game levels (that progress in the levels of complexity and challenges) so as to create a learning path that leads to complete mastery of the target skills.

  7. Increases motivation: Working to better your own records, improving your benchmarks, getting rewarded for achievements and recognized for efforts are huge motivational factors. We’ve covered intrinsic and extrinsic motivators earlier in the article. Gamification makes use of these and uses elements like rewards, badges, leaderboard positions, etc to motivate the learners to keep going and working for improving their performance.

Major Application Areas

The concepts of gamification have been used in various aspects of life where learning and growth are required. From corporate sectors to educational institutes, gamification has shown immense potential.

Organizations, physical training spaces, educational institutes, sales and marketing groups are all recognizing the value provided by gamification when it comes to imparting new learnings amongst groups.

According to the eLearning Industry reports, key application segments for gamification include corporations, government , local government, consumers and educational institutes.

Following are some key application sectors that have made use of gamification techniques and principles within their training objectives:

1. Gamification for Learning and Corporate training

Workplace gamification techniques have been successfully used by corporates to help in employee training and teaching of skills. The applications of gamification for eLearning are not unknown. Additionally, gamification platforms have been used to impart corporate trainings like:

  • Product training

  • Induction training

  • Sales training

  • Quality Assurance training

  • HR and recruitments

  • Soft skills, etc.

In a corporate world, it is required that the employees imbibe the organizational culture and get a thorough understanding of its policies and goals. Gamification based training including key game mechanics like rewards and feedback help the worker learn as well as use the knowledge for long term work-life use.

An interesting study conducted by Talent LMS shows that:

  • 97 % employees agree that gamification helps improve work

  • 87 % employees feel that it makes them more productive

  • 85 % like to spend more time on gamified software

Enterprise gamification has hence been shown to improve the overall productivity, behavior, loyalty and teamwork attitude in employees.

Further gamification works as an effective HR tool and helps in creating employee policies, induction training as well as recruitments.

2. Gamification for Education

Games work on the human mind by creating an increase in motivation and learner engagement. In the modern world with short attention spans, this is one of the most important tools to use in the education sector.

Students unable to concentrate, use their learnings in real-life scenarios, manage long term knowledge retention and the shocking growth in the school/college dropout rates is an indicator that learning needs to be more engaging and fun for the student.

An interesting data published in the Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management on “ The effects of gamification elements in e-learning platforms” suggests that gamification impacts the willingness of students to learn in an enjoyable manner.

The study suggests the following percentages of preferences for gamification elements by students:

  • Profile updates- 53%

  • Getting points- 27.2%

  • Badges- 14.1%

  • Other awards- 5.4%

Educators around the globe have been discussing the ways to include gamification as a part of their regular teaching modules to make learning fun and challenging for students.

Some examples which have been successfully used include:

  • Gamification of grades- abandon grades and use leaderboard positions

  • Award different learning levels with gamification badges

  • Include educational video games as a part of the curriculum

  • Add healthy competition

  • Create fun challenges

  • Homework gamification, etc.

3. Gamification for Health

Gamification techniques have contributed significantly and positively to the world of health and fitness. Various gamification apps like Fitocracy, Hidrate Spark, Keas, MyFitness Pal, Pokemon Go, Ingress, etc encourage users to exercise, drink more water or general employee health and wellness schemes.

Users are allowed to compete with other users on social platforms and are awarded with points and virtual badges to recognize their hard work and fitness milestones. Health researchers are also studying the use of gamification platforms for managing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, etc.

4. Gamification for Marketing

So how do gamification principles help the world of marketing and sales? For starters, marketing teams need strong motivators. Incentives and rewards help them up their motivation levels and make extra efforts in the game. Additionally, games also help draw customers in a similar fashion.

Studying consumer behavior and designing games that attract them is a part of the gamified marketing strategy. Consumers are further provided rewards (gift vouchers of the brand, bonus points, discounts, etc) which create a sense of fulfillment and promote brand loyalty.

Some of the common strategies used by game designers when integrating it with the marketing objectives are:

  • Understanding the potential customers

  • Define a reward/point system and create meaningful rewards that promote the brand too

  • Let the game designs be simple, yet creative

  • Focus on the fun quotient

5. Gamification for Technology Design

Various successful technology designs using gamification mechanics have been noticed in the past few decades. These designs are based on using both extrinsic as well as intrinsic motivators. Online gaming, online shopping, online dating, and matrimonial apps, social networking include gamification in their design elements.

Player focused game designs help promote connectivity as well as a behavioural change in customers looking for technology solutions.

6. Gamification for Business

Gamification is a very effective tool for business owners. It is applied to increase consumer engagement, worker performance, in-house training, innovation and ideas, sustainability, employee health and wellness, marketing and sales.

Successful examples like M&M’s Eye Spy Pretzel or the Nike+ campaign for promoting brand awareness and create effective marketing campaigns for new products have been positively regarded. Similarly, Quirky adopts gamification to crowdsource new innovative ideas from inventors around the globe for product development purposes.

Gamification in business needs to adopt the following key points:

  • Understand and identify your target audience

  • Engage them with meaningful incentives

  • Identify and define the business objectives to be in synch with the game design

  • Make the game player-centric

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