A Nerd Merit Badge for for supporting the Command Line Podcast.

A Nerd Merit Badge for for supporting the Command Line Podcast.

Audience engagement and successful process improvement are strongly correlated.  Creating that engagement requires careful planning and benefits from tools such as gamification.  Gamification is a mechanism that leverages the competitive attributes of the target audience, or ”players,” to channel behavior using game mechanics. The goal is to gain initial adoption of process changes, make them sticky and then to guide the players into process improvement. Common game mechanisms include: badges, competitive challenges, levels, players and leader boards used in an integrated process to guide the players towards an overall goal.

  • Badges (also known as achievement badges) provide recognition and feedback.  An achievement badge is a symbol of achievement.  A Boy Scout merit badge is an example of an achievement badge. Physical badges are often one of the more visible mechanisms used in gamification.  Gabe Zichermann, the author of “Gamification by Design” (O’Reilly, 2011), says that badges work when:
    1. They balance aspiration with ability to attain (if you want one badly they should be harder to get);
    2. Look good (ascetics);
    3. Are scarce (not everyone has one), and
    4. Are integrated tightly into the gamification program (the use of badges can’t feel like an add-on).
  • Levels represent different magnitudes of accomplishment.  Typically increasing a level provides a player with greater challenge. In a process improvement project, each level should take the “player” to a higher level of skill or add more complexity to the process they are learning. For example, if we were implementing peer reviews supported by gamification, the first level might be “peer review participant” followed by “peer review leader”.
  • Challenges are set of tasks or accomplishments to ingrain behavior and provide feedback. Challenges create engagement, but need to be specific to the audience and to induce them to progress along the process life cycle. For example, progressing through peer review participant to peer review leader and finally to peer review master.  The challenges should help encourage the player to progress.
  • Leaderboards show players where they rank amongst their peers (those people participating in the game).  The leaderboard puts a spotlight on those at or near the top of the list, which generates competition among the players. Leaderboards can be categorized based on role or teams, depending on the goals of the process improvement and the gamificaiton.
  • Players are the target audience for the process or process change.  Players that discover new things, i.e. explorers, are like early adopters and should be identified and encouraged.  Bartle’s Test is a tool that is often referenced to classify the psychological aspects of players. The four general categories are: killers, who provoke and cause drama; achievers, who are competitive and enjoy challenges; explorers, who like to find new things, and socializers, who enjoy relationships among other players. The game mechanics selected have to match the types of players.

These common components are typically linked to together in gamified implementation.  They are also very common in social media applications, such as Foursquare. In Foursquare, players check-in at locations.  The player with the highest number of current check-ins at a location is the mayor (an example of a challenge).  Checking in at specific types of locations, such as coffee shops, is celebrated with achievement badges. Combined well they incentivize behavior that the developers of the process or application want, so that they can attain their business goals while satisfying the need for competition and recognition among the players.

There are many other game mechanics that are not used as often in process improvement implementation, including:

  • Player sheets (or personas),
  • Progress bars,
  • Activity feeds,
  • Avatars,
  • Real-time feedback,
  • Virtual currency,
  • Gifting, and
  • Trophy case.

The pieces of game mechanics need to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle so that they coherently support the goal of the project and accentuate the player’s engagement with the process.  The game components should make it fun to learn and improve their skills all while working towards the big picture of goal of the program being implemented.

Daily Process Thoughts:  Gamification Theme

The What and Why of Gamification

How Can We Implement Gamification?

Gamification: Game Mechanics

What Does Gamification Look Like?

Gamification and the Bartle Test