4 min read

What I learned in gamification class

For 2-3 weeks after Prof. Kevin Werbach’s Gamification course ended, I literally felt my weekends were dull without listening to him! And I’m not the only course attendee who felt that way.

The best part about the course for me was how engaging and interesting the topics were and that I could relate so much to the myriad topics he brought up, whether it was self-determination theory, or about games, or about psychology.

He always kept each class within 10 minutes duration each, which was perfect to listen and think / indulge / take in the material.

Just to give an example of the engaging material, where else would you find a professor asking you to watch an excellent movie (by graduate students of an Israeli film school) called Sight and tells you to answer questions about it in your final exam!

I personally feel that there is no point in learning something if it doesn’t teach you to “see with new eyes.” As I was halfway through the course, I suddenly started observing gamification in practice in so many places – whether it is websites or games or loyalty cards. For example, check out comments on the Times of India website:

Gamified comments section on Times of India website

You will notice the points and badges being assigned to users to give them feedback on their actions on the website and recognizing them for their continued patronage of the website. Interestingly, I previously never bothered to read the comments section of newspaper websites because they’re usually full of vitriol and anonymous trolls, but after seeing these badges, I don’t mind reading the comments because it shows that these people have been engaging the comments section for a long time and upvoted by others on the community. Of course, if the community is mostly full of trolls, this wouldn’t be impactful, but in this case, I think the comments section has definitely improved in usefulness.

You can see similar ideas in action at makeuseof.com/game/ who are using lots of extrinsic rewards such as gadgets and giveaways to drive engagement. The course taught us that this usually doesn’t sustain long term if we don’t also consider intrinsic motivation (need to express oneself, need to gain mastery on a subject, etc.), so it will be interesting to see how the MakeUseOf website evolves their gamified system over the coming years.

A friend of mine recently sent me an invite to his new startup product’s alpha version, and immediately my first reaction was: “Where is the onboarding process? Where are the feedback loops?” and then I chuckled to myself “I’ve been gamified.

Getting people started with a new application or software by looking from the lens of “What if this was a game?” has interesting repercussions on how you design the system. Of course, you shouldn’t have annoying animated characters, rather, the emphasis should be on making it fun, which is not as easy as it sounds.

To summarize the gamification design framework that the professor taught us (which is probably explained in more context in his book For The Win):

  1. Define business objectives : What is the meaningful results for the business that you want to see – not how, but what.
  2. Delineate target behaviors : If whatever you design is highly successful, what kind of behaviors would your players (users) be engaging in?
  3. Describe your players : What do you know about them? What is the context? What motivates them?
  4. Devise activity loops : What are the engagement loops – small tight loops of motivation -> action -> feedback -> motivation? What are the progression loops – larger challenges, etc.?
  5. Don’t forget the fun : What are the fun elements? Could be puzzles, problems, surprise, delight, etc.
  6. Deploy appropriate tools : A ton of game elements are available, choose appropriately based on the answers to the above questions, and ensure a coherent system.

There are many companies that provide gamification platforms, I wonder whether they apply such a framework in helping people design a system for their business situation or whether they directly jump to step 6 :).

The next time I ever design a software application, I will surely be using this gamification framework to make a more engaging app.

Regarding the Coursera platform – peer assessment of essays was surprisingly fun – you have to give scores for essays of 5 anonymous students and give them feedback on what you liked and what you wish they had included. This motivated me to analyze their answers carefully and give feedback, and I looked forward to feedback on my own essays. The overall platform was pleasant to use and I only wish they allowed students to submit corrections to the subtitles of the videos as well as give a better prominent dashboard view on when the quizzes and assignments are due – a little gamification wouldn’t hurt ;-).

Overall, the professor and his teaching assistants made the course so interesting that I eagerly listened and ended up earning a 99.3% score and a certificate of accomplishment:

Gamification12 Coursera score

I sure hope to attend more such wonderful Coursera courses in the future and learn about things that I otherwise would never have learned about.