“Gamification by Design” by Christopher Cunningham and Gabe Zichermann; O’Reilly Media

Humans enjoy play, and certain elements that are usually associated with play or games can be used in non-gaming contexts to enhance the user’s enjoyment or engagement with a product or service. The technique for designing and utilising these elements for your site, service, or product is gamification. Gamification is increasingly recognised as an important tool for marketing or driving behavioural change in users, although it has in fact been around for many years in the form of loyalty points and rewards seen across many industries such as airlines and supermarkets.

“Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps” provides an introduction to the history and concepts of gamification, to some extent the psychology of gamification, and techniques to use to implement gamification that is suitable for your own intended audience. In particular they emphasise the importance of understanding who your ‘player’ is, what their goals and interests are, and how to keep them engaged in the game. Gamification is not a one off process that you can implement and then forget about. You need to monitor your player’s behaviours and then adjust and add to the gamification design so that none of your players ‘plateau out’ and lose interest in the game.

The book is littered with examples of gamification techniques used by apps, sites, and games together with the pros and cons of the approaches, and ideas on how they could be made more successful. A lot of the examples were familiar to me, and some of which were more subtle in their gamification than others. I know from my own experience that if the use of gamification to purely take away my money turns me off, but other ways of using gamification that successfully create engagement and loyalty.

Advice is also provided on policing your system and designing the system against being ‘gamed’. There are some types of players who want to beat the system and will essentially work out ways to cheat, which can ultimately be detrimental to the system and to the other players. It is important to consider how to deter, or at least make it difficult for this minority to take over the system.

Chapter six provides a small number of interesting gamification case studies in more depth than the other examples provided. The final two chapters provide technical implementation details. One using a Ruby on Rails project example, and the second using a commercially available platform for gamification design and implementation called Badgeville. As well as allowing you to define your game mechanics, Badgeville provides an analytics engine so that you can monitor the user behaviour and how effective your design is. Although I didn’t find the code examples in these two chapters very useful, they do go through a full process of design on paper, implementation, and check that would apply to gamifying any site or service.

Overall I found the book an interesting read, particularly because of the examples used to demonstrate where and how techniques are used or ineffectively used. I did find it jumped around a lot, and was really left wanting more detail. Perhaps the inclusion of more psychology or user research (if it exists) would have improved the book for me. I didn’t find the code examples at all useful, maybe pseudocode would have given more value, enabling more people to apply it to their environment? Also there were repeated references to supporting material being available on the gamificationu website. This website though breaks the author’s own advice on gamification – don’t ask a user to register before showing them what they can get out of the game. I would have liked to have seen the accompanying exercises, but much like most ‘players’ I don’t just hand over my personal info without having some trust or a good incentive!

If you are at all familiar with video games, then much of gamification is ‘common sense’, but there are certain elements that I was less aware of, especially the overwhelming importance of including social aspects in the game.

You can find out more about the book at the O’Reilly page.


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