Getting Schooled on Gamification (Part 2)


This post is a follow-up to Part I.

There is a lot of talk going on right now about “gamification” in the business community (among several others).

I have been in business and marketing coming up on 15 years now and pay attention when trends start to build momentum, while new terms begin to sprout wings. However, it’s a shame when valuable strategies get turned into buzzwords that take flight only to lose the true meaning and substance that were once understood.

Many of us are looking for more than a few articles or taking a webinar on the subject. We are looking for real depth.

That is why I was absolutely thrilled to find (and take) a 6-week course that I would like to share here. It is called Gamification, which can be found on Coursera. Kevin Werbach, a Wharton School at UPenn professor teaches it.  Not only is it free, but also you get a certificate of completion signed by the professor.

Gamification - So What is It?

Gamification is a fairly new business concept. As explained in the course and as defined on Wikipedia,

“It is a strategy that uses game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts. “

While exploring the important components that make up this definition, we dove into three broad categories: external (marketing, sales, customer engagement), internal (HR, productivity enhancement, crowdsourcing) and behavioral change (health and wellness, sustainability, personal finance). 

From a personal perspective, I was able to relate much of my experience in CRM and database marketing to gamification, while extending the principles further and learning even more through this new lens.

It’s Much More Than Points, Badges and Leaderboards

What I really enjoyed about this course was the emphasis on the fact that it is so much more than points, badges and leaderboards (PBLs).

There is a true science to what makes this an effective and valuable strategy for some organizations and programs.  Limiting and diluting it to these three components, although valuable and important, would be a big mistake.

Game Design - Structures and Frameworks 

Once you explore some of the structures, design processes and frameworks, it is clear to see why the statement about PBLs above makes sense.  Here is just some of what we covered,

  • PBL Triad – An illustration of some of the most common examples of points, badges and leaderboards. The lectures include discussions around their strengths AND limitations.
  • DMC Pyramid – A framework created as a pyramid of elements that includes three levels: dynamics, mechanics and components.
  • D6 Framework– Professor Werbach’s six-step gamification design framework. A structured template that guides you through the process to ensure nothing gets missed. 
  • Player-Type and Behavior Models - Behavior models, profiles and categories based on player actions. We also discussed demographics, psychographics and segmentation.
  • Activity Loops – Macro and micro-level engagement loops for sustainable programs. 

Design Thinking

Prof. Werbach reinforced the value of design thinking. He pushed us to think like a game designer and explained this as the core skill for gamification - To understand our participants as players, putting them at the center, making them feel a sense of autonomy and control, and providing an atmosphere for fun and play.  

As Jane McGonigal writes in Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World,

“Game developers know better than anyone else how to inspire extreme effort and reward hard work. They know how to facilitate cooperation and collaboration at previously unimaginable scales. And they are continuously innovating new ways to motivate players to stick with harder challenges, for harder challenges, for longer, in much bigger groups. These crucial twenty-first century skills can help all of us find new ways to make a deep and lasting impact on the world around us...Game Design isn’t just a technological craft. It’s a twenty first century way of thinking and leading.

In relating to many of the lessons taught, what differentiates this from my own experience, were the specific game mechanics, techniques and design rules around the player journey, which includes onboarding, scaffolding, and creating a path to mastery.

This is what was so excellent about the course. The subject matter was accessible. It motivated new students to learn, while allowing business and marketing professionals to build upon their own knowledge and expertise in effort to put even better experiences into practice.

Here is a video from another social game designer, Amy Jo Kim, who speaks about  smart gamification,

Motivation Design, Psychology and Ongoing Analysis

Another important aspect of the course was the time spent on motivation, behaviorism and cognitive psychology. This is important when your are looking at reward structures, schedules and design along with intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

I found this especially interesting as we moved into self-determination theory and explored the dangers of the “hedonistic treadmill,” where extrinsic rewards can crowd out intrinsic motivation. In addition to everything else, this section, along with the case studies, crystalized the importance of a well thought-out strategy and thoughtful design.

It also confirms the importance of ongoing analysis that supports the ability to actively observe, listen and respond appropriately to ongoing feedback loops.

Gamification Limits and Dangers

Of course, all of this doesn’t come without its limits and dangers. Beyond the potential demotivating aspects of rewards, we also went through additional pros, cons, criticisms and risks.

Care was taken to point out the dangers, promoting ways to be mindful and avoid optimizing the design in a way that causes addiction. 

Don’t Lose Sight of the FUN!

I thought I would leave the most important part for last – the FUN. As concentrated as we might get in mastering the perfect strategy and program design from an analytical standpoint, it is important that we don’t lose sight of the fun. A few lectures were dedicated to this and it was reiterated throughout this course. In one of the lectures Prof. Werbach stated,

“Fun doesn’t just happen – Fun can and should be designed.”

This is essential and if you really think about it, it is what makes games so engaging! 

Gabe Zichermann from Gamification Co, speaks to this and much of what is outlined above in the video below. He's just great.

Gamification - The New Loyalty from Gamification Co on Vimeo.

So, regardless of whether you are a full-time student, at the beginning or middle of your career, a senior executive or own your own business – take this course…I promise you will learn something of value. It certainly takes Gamification beyond a buzzword.  All I am waiting for now is for my new book to arrive -  For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business by Kevin Werbach (course professor) and Dan Hunter. If the book is anything like the class, it is sure to be good.

I hope you found this helpful. I will continue to share these types of experiences as we move forward in our journey into the 21st century learning model. And as Nilofer Merchant puts it - 

Here’s to, “Learn.Unlearn. Repeat."


- Lynda

PS. If you are interested in more content on this topic, I am collecting content and pinning to my Pinterest boards. Please feel free to stop by and share anything you find interesting.