Think Like a Game Designer

How to
Think Like a
Game Designer
for Learning and Change

Employees today are bombarded with inputs. Email. Texts. New technology. New software. Meetings. (And I haven’t even mentioned the duties of their jobs.) Is it any wonder that learning and institutional change can be so difficult to achieve?

If you want to cut through the noise and engage your employees in a new way, consider thinking of them not as employees, but as players.

Why games?

Games speak to something deep inside each of us—this isn’t anything new. We, as the human race, have been playing since the very beginning. When the ancient Pharaohs died, they were buried in their tombs with all the things they would need for the afterlife: food, clothes, and, yes, games. To play is to be human.

Fast forward to 2017 and games have further cemented themselves in our lives. According to the Educational Software Association, there are 1.8 billion gamers worldwide. The word “gamer” doesn’t just apply to the stereotypical teenage boys playing video games. Gamers are men and women. Gamers are of all ages. Gamers represent all races, creeds, religions, and political affiliations.

If games can reach and engage such a variety of people, they certainly have something to teach us. In this article, I’ll explain how adding gaming elements to your business solutions can boost engagement, retention, and overall value.

5 keys for gamification.

Gamification is more than just slapping “badges” on a wiki and calling it a day. A thoughtfully designed and implemented gamified experience can create a compelling and valuable tool to facilitate learning and change. Major companies like SAP, Spotify, and Samsung have all used gamification to drastically improve employee engagement.

So, what are the keys to a great gamified solution?

  • Understand your player.
  • Engage your player.
  • Don’t give your player excuses.
  • Make it measurable.
  • Test it.

Understand your player.

Have you ever owned a one-size-fits-all T-shirt that actually “fits all”? I haven’t. And just like that T-shirt, you can’t expect a one-size-fits-all game solution to work for everyone. Each one of us is different. We value different things. We like to learn, work, and relax in a variety of ways.

To create an effective gamified solution, you must understand as much as you can about your target players. Ask yourself:

  • How would I describe the target audience for my game solution?
  • What is their age range?
  • What is the gender breakdown? Is it an even split or otherwise?
  • How formal is their workplace? What is their comfort level for new and unexpected experiences?
  • Where will they be playing my game? At their desks? On a loading dock? Across multiple offices?

Consider how the answers might affect your solution’s design—the visuals, the language, the interface, and more.

Engage your player.

Because each of us is different, we’re also all motivated by different things. What is valuable to one person might not be valuable to another. A great gamified solution understands what individual players value and leverages that understanding to create an engaging experience.

Here are a few examples of how to engage different types of players:

Competitors: Do you know someone who always has to be the best? Who not only needs to be the best, but also reminds you of that fact at every possible opportunity? Then you have a Competitor on your hands. To engage with Competitors, provide opportunities for rankings, leaderboards, and other progression-based features.

Completionists: For a Completionist, the only thing better than checking something off a to-do list is finishing the list. When it comes to engaging a Completionist, give them clear, distinct goals of various difficulty and length, as well as the ability to see their progress. Remember that for the Completionist, the journey is just as important as the finish line.

Collaborators: For some people a game isn’t a means for competition, but rather a tool for communication. Collaborators use games to socialize, communicate, and build a community. For a collaborator, collective or team-based goals are far more meaningful than individual pursuits. Give Collaborators opportunities to interact with others that advance the interests of all.

Keep in mind that people aren’t as clear cut as the player types described above. People are complex creatures with complex motivations, meaning we can be engaged by multiple kinds of designs. To create a truly effective gamified solution, incorporate many different types of engagement.

Don’t give your player excuses.

People are really good at making excuses to avoid doing tasks. And when we design solutions that are difficult to engage with, we accidentally provide them with even more excuses.

As you design, ask yourself, “Am I making this easy to use?” You’ll want to design your solution in a way that allows the player to have a meaningful, valuable experience, whether they have one minute or one hour to spend. You want to fit into a player’s day, not disrupt it.

To keep your design accessible and excuse-free, consider these tips:

Keep content in small, easily digestible bites. The player may engage with only one piece of content or several, but by keeping the content small, you give agency to the player to make the choice that is best for them and their schedule.

Make sure individual tasks take 1–2 minutes to complete at most. This goes hand-in-hand with small content bites. By limiting the time it takes to complete individual tasks, you create a more open-ended experience that gives the player control of their time.

Design your gamified product to work on traditional computers and mobile devices. By making your product accessible across platforms, you make it accessible almost anywhere!

Make it measurable.

At its core, a game is a series of tasks or objectives leading up to a goal. When creating a gamified solution, set defined goals and show the player their progress. By making things measurable, you give the player the information they need to succeed.

When making things measurable, consider the following:

Define success. When we implement a change strategy, we often hear people say things like, “I never know how ready I am! Will I be ready on Day 1?” These questions represent a failure to define success. Games are great at telling you what you need to do or learn or collect to win. Tell your players the goals in simple terms so they know what success looks like.

Show progression. Once you define success, let your players know where they stand. You may decide to show this progress through a number (“You are 75% complete!”) or through a visual medium. (For example, show a character representing the player moving down a path. Each step in the process is a step on the path.) Showing progression allows the player to reflect on what they’ve done and plan for the future.

Test it.

You know who your players are and what engages them. Your gamified solution is easy to use and easy to understand. Now you need to make sure your product works. Before you release it to the entire player base, test your game with sample players.

Testing, even for veteran game designers, can be a touchy subject. It is challenging to pour your heart and soul into something only to have players tell you everything that is wrong with it. But remember that we gather feedback to make the final solution better. It is better to get a small amount of negative feedback from a small group of players than to get a lot of negative feedback from your entire organization.

Here are some keys to testing your idea:

Test early and often. Test your ideas throughout the process, not just at the end! By putting ideas in front of potential players early on, you can catch problems before they get too big.

Encourage honesty. Imagine a friend who poured their heart into cooking a meal for you. They ask, “How was everything?” Are you honest? Do you gloss over problems? In an attempt to be polite, some will not give you honest critical feedback. To circumvent this, tell the polite player, “We know there are problems, but we’re hoping you will still be able to give us feedback.” By telling the player that you are looking for trouble spots, you are giving them permission and encouraging them to be critical.

Focus on what they do, not just what they say. When a player is testing what you have built, it’s equally important to pay attention to what they say and what they do. Verbal feedback is great, and you should encourage your player to talk throughout the process, but be sure to pay attention to how they are using the product. Are they easily able to navigate interfaces? What does their body language tell you?

Get in the game.

Effective gamification is much more than badges and rewards. Understanding these five key tenets of gamification will enable your organization to develop truly effective gamified solutions. Ultimately it will allow you to craft compelling, valuable gamified experiences that engage your people in learning and change.

When it comes to games, Rich is full of ideas. If you want to connect with him, give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page.

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