Following my last post on gamification - which explored the what, why and where of gamification - here are a few more ways in which game mechanics help to engage users.
1. Progress Bars
Progress bars have the nifty ability of turning a series of (possibly dull) actions into a fascinating quest by tapping into a number of our inherent psychological characteristics. The first of these is the drive we have to satisfy our own curiosity. We want to find out what happens next. An incomplete progress bar is a constant reminder that there’s still more to come and, just as one would keep on turning the pages in a book to read more of the story, we keep performing the tasks required to get to the next point. This works particularly well when coupled with rewards that are delivered at various stages of completion rather than just when the final goal is reached.
As I discussed previously, dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) is released in the brain when we receive rewards. It’s also released when we’re anticipating the receipt of one. Progress bars build up our anticipation by showing how close we’re getting to achieving the final goal which means we feel good about progressing. The moment of success (achieving a 100% complete) is often perceived as a reward in itself for many people, adding to the dopamine mix and encouraging behaviour.
Finally, progress bars are also a visual representation of the amount of effort or time (or perhaps money) that has already been committed to the task. Psychologists talk about the sunk cost effect which is essentially the tendency of people to continue in an endeavour once an investment of some kind has been made. The more time, effort or money someone has put into completing a task, the more likely they are to continue.
LinkedIn is a great example of a social networking site making use of this particular game mechanic. The progress bar encourages users to complete their CVs, invite their friends and update their profiles.
2. Multiple Short and Long-Term Goals
Linked closely to the mechanics of rewards and progress bars, games offer users multiple short-term, as well as long-term goals. This provides the user with the feeling of autonomy, as they can choose which goals to pursue. This also prevents boredom setting in during the process of achieving long-term goals, which obviously requires more commitment.
It also helps to break down more complex or larger tasks into smaller, simpler ones that are easily achievable. Humans are easily overwhelmed and likely to give up if the task feels too large or burdensome to complete.
EpicWin is a to-do list with a difference. The iPhone app breaks down a to-do list into mini achievable tasks and lets you assign achievements for completing these. The achievements all collectively work towards the user levelling up.
Unlike in life, where there is a lot of uncertainty, games provide players with solid and relevant feedback. Progress bars indicate exactly how far you are in the process, rewards tell you when you’re doing things right, leader boards tell you where you fit in the social scale of things and tool tips tell you where you should be going or what you should be doing. Feedback, which links actions and consequences clearly, ultimately works to shape user behaviour and drive certain kinds of actions.
SalesForce motivates employees by having a badge reward system that is not automated. Managers allocate the badges personally and their explanation of why the employee earned the badge acts as a feedback mechanism, shaping future behaviour.
Tom Chatfield, British author and digital-age commentator, examines a number of ways in which games reward the brain. Watch the full TED talk here.