Gamification: Measuring and Influencing User Behavior

how gamification influences behaviorGames are fun—well, unless you’re playing with your super-competitive friend. And we all have one, don’t we? Still, for the most part, games are entertaining—and that’s why gamification has taken off as a technique to entice people to adopt various applications and processes.

Gamification is defined as the use of game design techniques, game thinking, and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts. In other words, gamification gets people interested in something they otherwise wouldn’t notice while also encouraging them to compete in game-like activities.

Big news recently broke in the gamification space when Badgeville, The Behavior Platform and global gamification leader, announced an exclusive partnership with social media data company PeopleBrowsr. Combined, they’re the only gamification solution that can incentivize and reward specific user behaviors across Facebook, Twitter and other leading social sites.

“Smart gamification is fundamentally a data challenge, where the more information you are able to track on user behavior, the more powerful your program becomes at moving the behavior needle,” said Kris Duggan, CEO, Badgeville, in a release. “The exclusive partnership with Peoplebrowsr enables us access to a whole new level of information around user behavior in very public and valuable experiences.”

Gamification in action

The premise is pretty simple:

  • Incentivize specific and explicit social behaviors
  • Increase awareness of new products and content
  • Drive participation in high-value social campaigns
  • Reward consumers

This will be the first incentivized program that analyzes and rewards tweets and Facebook likes. Think of your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 console – Microsoft and Sony have been utilizing gaming mechanics for years in its Achievements and Trophies, which produce virtual acknowledgement and awards for in-game actions. Verizon Wireless recently gamified its website and saw 30 percent more logins. Even industries like finance can capitalize on gamification—smartphone and web apps like Payoff.com, CreditCardio.com, and others use reward-like badges or prizes to incentivize positive, short-term financial actions.

So what does this mean for you as the Facebook or Twitter user?

“If a customer creates a Facebook post that mentions a particular product favorably or tweets about it on Twitter, she will earn a “Social Butterfly” achievement that recognizes her contributions next time she interacts with that company’s website or mobile application,” according to Badgeville. A company could also create a mission which rewards employees for completing a series of tasks such as sharing important content like company announcements and job openings.”

Games equal data

Data drives decisions—it’s really as simple as that. And gamification builds on demographic and consumer behavior data to engage with two strong emotions: being rewarded and having fun.

After all, you can’t beat the feeling of winning a trophy in soccer and heading to Dairy Queen afterward to celebrate. We all like to win, and companies that are tapping into that drive to succeed with gamification techniques will likely see a much more engaged response from their customer base.

What’s your take on gamification? Have any companies influenced you to consider new information or change your behavior based on the potential for rewards and recognition?

Image by JD Hancock via Creative Commons

  • Kathy Sierra

    “incentivize… Explicit social behaviors”

    “rewards tweets and Facebook likes”

    There is a word for incentivized behavior: bribery. Luring one into a “like” renders the like meaningless or worse. Psychology has long recognized that operant conditioning produces mechanical behaviors that have absolutely nothing to do with motivation for the behavior and everything to do with hacking the dopamine reward system at a subconscious level.

    I realize how *right* it sounds to reward what we want, but science tells us otherwise. There is only one honesty true way to generate “likes”, and that is to make something truly likable. Yes, there are UI and UX designs that can raise the odds of someone who finds something likable actually taking the action of acknowledging it. But incentives are — perhaps counter-intuitively — an approach that encourages mechanical “likes” while simultaneously reducing the perception that the liked thing is truly likable. (see the *leading* theory of motivation taught today: Self-Determination Theory for a deeper understanding of what happens when social/intrinsically motivated behaviors are directly incentivized).

    There are appropriate and positive uses of what is now considered gamification, but they are in areas where there is absolutely NO chance for the behavior to be intrinsically rewarding for its own sake… Exercise and diet programs are two good examples. But of all the places where psychology / cognitive science tell us externally-regulated reinforcers corrupt authentic behavior, I would consider socially-motivated behaviors to be near the top. Even more disturbing, the science also suggests that the replacement of authentic/intrinsically rewarding motivation with externally-regulated extrinsic motivators can ultimately lead to even LESS motivation for the behavior than existed prior to the incentive program. But it is hard to see because once the dopamine reward system is hacked (thanks, Skinner), we can get a flurry of activity that *looks* like enthusiastic engagement, but it is engagement around *the wrong thing*. It is, after all, the exact mechanism that casinos employ. While we *wish* that all engagement with our brand, content, etc. was implicitly *positive*, the opposite can be true. And it happens below the level of conscious awareness, so even an enthusiastic customer who consciously believes an incentive in no way diminishes their perceived value of the thing they are engaged in, it happens anyway.

    I completely get the desire to apply incentives to behavior we want as it sounds like a strategy with all upside (or at least, benign). What I do NOT understand is why people are ignoring the science, or reframing what it the most accepted theory of motivation today as somehow a “fringe” phenomenon. Everyone considering incentives for social behaviors needs to re-read Dan Pink’s “Drive”, which is a mainstream popular explanation of the underlying science.

  • Kathy Sierra

    Also, I would be wary, always, of taking advice from any consultant or vendor whose entire existence/financial viability depends on the POV that this both “works” and “is a positive thing.” There’s a conflict of interest here.

    Another way to recognize the problem is something the tech (and many other industries) refer to as “eating your own dog food.” Spend some time “engaging” with the sites and communities of even “the global leaders” in gamification, and the most prominent “thought leaders” in this field, and you find either NO use of gamification — I mean ZERO — in their *own* marketing, promotion, community-building, or worse… They DO use it and it produces exactly what you expect, hundreds of single-word “incentivized” comments.

    If even the gamification vendors and consultants are unable to produce a shred of the engagement they promise for their *own* sites, we should be far more skeptical of those promises. I once challenged a gamification consultant who’d been speaking to book publishers on the power of gamification after realizing that he was utterly incapable of using gamification to promote his own books on the very topic.

  • http://theryancox.com/ Ryan Cox

    @817266e3cef23a3bf8df470e5634eab9:disqus Wow! I really appreciate such a thoughtful response! I appreciate your point of view — it sounds like you’ve done some serious research into the subject matter. I think that you are, and maybe rightfully so, attacking gamification in a negative tone as an entirety. I can only speak for the successes I’ve seen from others (whom I have a personal relationship with of some varying kind) and myself. On much smaller cases (than what Badgeville and PeopleBrowsr have) I’ve seen trackable success from gamification. 
    And to challenge your point, it was not bribery.And I agree with 95% of your discussion on “global gamification” leaders and looking at their own sties and not seeing the same traction. But I ask you a very valid question: If I’m supposed to be doing it for my clients, why would I be doing it for my own site? By no means am I excusing the fact a website is undeveloped, but if I’m a client I don’t want to see a service provider utilizing time and energy doing so on their own dime for themselves. For me, that’s counter productive.I can respect that we have a difference of opinion, and I welcome that fact. I can say that I’ve seen it work, and in less hostile or ‘bribe-like’ ways.Gamification, by my definition, is making something fun and eliciting action or responses that the person is giving up willfully because they are engaged with your brand.Maybe your definition is different.Thank you again for the response and the very well-written counter-points. It definitely reengaged me with the thought and idea — which only adds to mental stimulation!

  • http://theryancox.com/ Ryan Cox

    @817266e3cef23a3bf8df470e5634eab9:disqus Wow! I really appreciate such a thoughtful response! I appreciate your point of view — it sounds like you’ve done some serious research into the subject matter. I think that you are, and maybe rightfully so, attacking gamification in a negative tone as an entirety. I can only speak for the successes I’ve seen from others (whom I have a personal relationship with of some varying kind) and myself. On much smaller cases (than what Badgeville and PeopleBrowsr have) I’ve seen trackable success from gamification. And to challenge your point, it was not bribery. 
    And I agree with 95% of your discussion on “global gamification” leaders and looking at their own sites and not seeing the same traction. But I ask you a very valid question: If I’m supposed to be doing it for my clients, why would I be doing it for my own site? By no means am I excusing the fact that a website is undeveloped, but if I’m a client, I don’t want to see a service provider utilizing time and energy to do for themselves what I’m paying them to do. For me, that’s counterproductive.

    I can respect that we have a difference of opinion, and I welcome that fact. I can say that I’ve seen it work, and in less hostile or ‘bribe-like’ ways.

    Gamification, by my definition, is making something fun and eliciting action or responses that the person is giving up willfully because they are engaged with your brand.

    Maybe your definition is different.

    Thank you again for the response and the very well-written counterpoints. It definitely reengaged me with the thought and idea — which only adds to mental stimulation!

  • http://www.marczewski.me.uk/ Andrzej Marczewski

    My thoughts here are that both the author and the commenter @817266e3cef23a3bf8df470e5634eab9:disqus have valid points. Looking at the idea of gamifying a site – I keep looking at ways to do it to my own blog. The trouble is, the stuff that is available is either really expensive or just not good enough to be worth using.
    Totally agree with the points about motivation. I spend a decent amount of time when talking gamification trying to get that point across.

    Rote tasks seem to be ok to be incentivised effectively, there is no intrinsic motivation to be had – so something may well be better than nothing.

    It also seems that PBL systems can be effective at onboarding people. In the short term they can be quite a fun thing – however, that doesn’t last long. FourSquare managed to keep it going for quite some time before moving back to the reccomendation engine they had originally planed in DodgeBall.

    The point here is though, that incentivised likes, where you are essentially paid with some extrinsic reward to. are fake likes. There is no way around that. But, is that going to be important to the company that is paying you to get them more likes? I think not.

    Also, is a like fake if the person who has done it is involved in a proper gamified experience that they are enjoying?

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