Gamification Toolbox: Social Interaction

Gamification Toolbox: Social Interaction

While a lot of the techniques from gamification were derived from game design, this does not mean we have to turn every aspect of our lives into a game. Our win scenario is simply being able to present a situation in a way that best motivates and engages user behavior. Whether those users be our students, peers, customers, or employees; we want to provide them with interactions and feedback that makes them excited to get involved.

Gamification has a number of tools under its belt to accomplish this, and understanding how each of these tools can be used will give us a better idea of where we can use Gamification to help improve our designs. Previously we have loosely defined what Gamification is, and taken a quick look at the type of real world problems that might actually call for a solution. Now it is time to start taking a look at the specific techniques that exist within the Gamification tool box.

One of the biggest leverages people are starting to take advantage of is social interaction. Connecting a group of people and giving them the tools to properly interact with each other can exponential increase the gains of a system, where otherwise resources or oversight would be limited. Both competition and collaboration can bring new energy into just about any project whether it be in the office or in the class room.

Involving the community

Through both collaboration and competition, doing something for or as part of a group of people is a huge driving force in getting people to act.

Marketing has already greatly capitalized on this concept. While having someone nag you to 'water their farm' may be slightly annoying from the outset, it has managed to get millions of casual players interested in a product they previously weren't paying attention to. The majority of people who have invested in a book series or favorite author, probably had done so because someone had loaded them or told them about that book to start off with. Now people can share links, like pages, and spread word of mouth on the quality of all kinds of products and news at ludicrous speeds.

A group of people are more likely to act then one alone, and a group of people can help support each other or challenge each other to new ends. The only thing they really need are the tools and motivation to do so.

Intrinsic motivation

While money is certainly a persistent external motivator for us to do a task, it is not always the best form of motivation. Extrinsic motivation can sometimes even turn something you love to do into a chore over time. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand has a huge psychological impact on us as individuals, and probably one of the prime examples of this is social recognition from our peers. The ability to both prove ourselves to, and stand out within a group of our peers is an incredible drive for focusing behavior.

The issue with this is that routine or expected praise becomes mundane by default and ends up not counting for much. It is the unexpected or spontaneous reward that elicits the emotional encouragement. Now I am not at all saying that this means every individual needs to be coddled in order to do their job; but the presentation of feedback is a big wheel house of the gamification tool box, and giving people the utility to do this themselves can have huge positive effects.

Peer Pressure: Everybody's Doing It.

There are several methods to tap into this and give people the tools to organize collaborative power.

One of the simplest examples is to simply make feedback data viewable in a sensible manner. An example: power consumption is something we can probably university agree is worth being aware of, if for no other reason then higher consumption means higher bills. But our methods of keeping track of just how our power is used is largely ambiguous, other then our lumped monthly energy bill. There are a few reasons for this, among which is that by itself our own individual power usage levels are out of context. We have nothing to compare it to except the previous month.

In a neighborhood in Florida where power usage records are made public, a website was created that allowed people to compare their power usage with their neighbors. When everyone can see everyone else data set next to each other, you can't help but subconsciously want to improve your own usage by comparison. It's not all that different from wanting to outdoor your next door neighbor in holiday decorations or by having the best block party cookout.

The simplicity is that all this design does is make people want to change their red dot towards a green one; but this can result in significant changes in the habits of a community.  As they say, an armed community is a polite community, and if you arm people with knowledge all kinds of interesting things can happen!

There happen to be several other examples of friendly competition with energy gamification you can read more about here.

Karma, Please

There is a common forum technique, probably personified in the sites Reddit and Diggs where popular post get voted up, and people who provide valuable contributions gain 'karma'. They use similar systems in many question/answer help forums and even in the MITx Discussion pages, where people who help others with problems can get up-voted by other users. This is inherently the type of points system that is attributed to gamification on its most basic level. But more then that, this is a system that is democratically controlled by the community.

The drive for 'more points' or to have the most points makes people want to engage in the system, but the fact that these points are based on the approval of the community makes it even more reinforcing and gratifying to the type of people who would simply want to help anyway. The actually members of the community get to decide what constitutes a valuable contribution to their group, and people who continually gain more karma gain more abilities to help moderate and improve the community as a whole.

Both this sense of being up-voted by your peers, and being able to contribute to which peers and contributions get up-voted creates a larger sense of investment within a group. It has allowed organizations to self moderate when the size or resources of a community prohibit the administrators from doing it themselves.

My Leader boards out performed your leader boards

The leader board system is another way to encourage competition. Though recently, there has been some discussion on whether leader boards are actually a good thing or not. In some cases, a long established leader board or a "solved game" can lead to a situation in which a new person joining a group would decide that there is no way they could make the leader boards anyway, and this would actually turn people away from wanting to engage in an activity.

Also while competition can be a good thing, there is a reason it is usually considered taboo to discus your salary with other people. Certain types of focus on individual achievement can actually produce resentment between team members, when considering or comparing their own self worth to others.

As such there is probably a right way and a wrong way to implement a leader board type system. A few caveats I can think of are:

1. Never make an individual based leader board that comes at the expense of the groups achievements. If your merit system promotes sabotaging your co-workers to increase your own personal score in sales, its a bad system.

2. "Leader boards" should only cover a limited time period. Employee of the month is probably a good example of this. Refreshed boards allow new group members to participate in each cycle, and everyone starting from scratch promotes renewed engagement and excitement over a new project.

Nash Cooperation

Another example again uses some of the more primitive gamification methods of points and achievements. Have a group effort that benefits an individual also benefit the group as a whole. Lets take a look at a sales example...

If a top seller is constantly performing at the top of the charts, then they should be rewarded and recognized for their performance. But say you set a goal where if any seller reaches some astronomical level of performance (lets call it a million sales) then the entire division as a whole gains a bonus. This incentives not just the entire sales team to do well individually; it promotes employees, the ad team, customer service, ect... to consider working in synergy to help an individual for the good of the group as well. Collaborative cooperation that improves the gains of an individual but also rewards the group as a whole helps promote good will amongst a team, even when there is healthy competition within that team at the same time.

As the flip side to that, set achievements or award recognition for star performers who go out of their way to support other employees outside of their own work. In a scholastic setting, a student who has already earned all the points from turning in their homework and extra credit could gain additional points by helping tutor a student who is still struggling. The star student gets a chance to raise his own personal score, but at the same time the lower student brings up their score as well. As a result the entire groups score goes up two fold for the effort. (And they are that much closer to earning the classes pizza party!)

Crowd source

In this sense 'score' and 'achievement', while being 'game' terms, are really just recognitions of performance.

Performance feedback which is relegated to annual reviews or grades, can turn into an ambiguous concept or even get pulled into the type of extrinsic concepts that result in making your pay check be the only reason you work.

But creating a visible system that encourages social interactions, competition, and cooperation creates new incentives that will renew peoples excitement about their jobs and classes. Giving the group the tools to manage  this results in exponential returns on the investment.

Anything that motivates behavior and focuses a groups actions ultimately represents the main goal of applying gamification to our daily life. There are probably several more examples of how this can be done specifically with social leveraging, but hopefully this gives you something to think about as a place to creatively apply it in the future.


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