Implementing Game Design in Gamification
Gamification miss the Game
Gamification is about identifying structures and behavioral procedures in
"games" (video-games, board-games, party-games... or even sports!) and replicate
them in educational or working, to manage audience behavior.
The most popular use of Gamification is within the Social/Marketing area, as
standard solutions to increase audience engagement (Points/Badge/Leaderboard
systems, or PBL). This solution boosts short-term engagement, but doesn't have
enough flexibility to impact audience on long-term (for an in-depth overview see
Gartner's market research on gamification [Burke, 2012]).
At the present time, gamification is food for marketing: it is very unlikely that
gamification adopter is an excellence in game design. Actual gamification is a mix
of web-based social strategies, not an high level application of game design
Sometimes, marketing/social consultants think about gamification as "social
use of gaming to create revenue", rather than exploitation of people's interests. I've
personally observed that marketing consultant don't notice the subtle red line
between gamification and gaming. For example Rojo's "Angry Birds" is seen as an
example of gamification (rather than gaming with different revenue structure).
In this dynamic background, it's quite difficult to exploit the "game" hidden
within gamification, but this is of the utter importance. A confident knowledge
about game design techniques and theories can make the difference between a
standard solution and something innovative.
This chapter will describe a game theory framework for gamification (based on
the work of R. Caillois exposed in "Man, Play, Games" [Caillois, 1967]) that is
useful to properly approach the game designing aspect in gamification. Some
alternative game theories follows to give you different options to assess
gamification solutions and strategies.
With the knowledge taken in this chapter, you will be able to make your own
assessment on gamification project, to find possible issues and to exploit its limits.
Without some design perspective, gamification offers no more than a standard
array of solutions: used with game design, it gives you a path to achieve a wider
objectives' pool and to deeply influence audience's behavior.
At the end of the chapter you will find a self-assessment test, intended to help
you during the development of any gamification project. The test allows you to
compare your expectations with the strategies you are deploying.
There are three preliminary key points to frame the gamification phenomena:
gamification and web, gamification and serious game and direct and indirect
The complete publication can be found on the publisher’s website at
Gamification is not a web-based strategy
We know gamification mostly for its web applications. But, also if video-
games and social technologies have a big importance in our lives, that has nothing
to do with the inner structure of gamification itself.
Gamification, usually, is also applied in real-world: to collect points from
cereal boxes or fly-miles (point collection), to be the first in line for buying a new
high tech product (competition and social visibility), to get on the fly a home-run
ball (successful use of skills). All those activities involve gamification layers.
Regardless of this evidences, actual gamification is intended as a web-based
strategy [Burke, 2012]. The size and detail of available analytics in web
environment leads to the mistake of thinking gamification works only for short
engagement on the Internet. Instead, that is the field in which gamification was
recognized, but it's not its birthplace. Gamification allows to engage players
without a computer (badge for "employer of the month" used in fast-food
company) even for a long time (shopping point collection and fidelity cards) in
various everyday activities.
Gamification differs from Serious and Training Game
There are some misunderstanding related to Gamification and Serious (or
Training) Game. They are different: gamification is meant to be under the
surface (using game techniques outside game), while a serious game is a
simulation to test players' skills and behaviors.
Despite of the fact that both may appear as "games", they require different
skills to be successfully designed. Serious games need technical skills (if you
create a fly simulator, you have to know aircraft) and doesn't have to be fun.
Gamification instead requires game design skill and relies deeply on fun factor to
There are many shades of gray between this black and white taxonomy. For
example, Jane McGonigal [McGonigal, 2011] means "gamification" as use of
funny and stand-alone game to teach positive behaviors toward society,
environment or themselves. In fact, she mix different feature from both to define a
kind of game-based social training.
From a wider point of view: if Serious Game Design is a simulation, than
gamification is a branch of Social Design that specifically use game design
strategies (instead of behavioral and neurolinguistic studies) to impact on people.
Direct and indirect Gamification
Another distinction has to be done about Gamification: Direct and Indirect
gamification. This is a new definition, unknown to Caillois, useful to distinguish
pure games designed to achieve business objectives from activities empowered by
a gamification layer.
In the first case you have something that is fully a game (note that's not a
Serious Game: it doesn't have to had training purposes). A direct gamification
takes form of classical game, like a mahjong, re-branded to improve on-line
presence [Blue Dog "StartQ8 Mahjong", 2011]. Another, more subtle form of
direct gamification is a game designed to achieve practical results during play
[Univ. of Washington "Fold It", 2007]. Indirect gamification instead refers to
activities improved by game-based motivational design: funneling, competition,
cooperation and so on. Many examples of indirect gamification are presented on
other chapters of the book.
You have to choose an approach consistent with your target and objectives.
Direct and indirect gamification either require game design skill: a direct
gamification solutions needs a stronger game-design to create a full stand-alone
game that fit your needs. An indirect gamification solution is instead tailored on
an existing task you have to improve: here you need game-design skill to properly
choose a game fitted on goals. Choosing the wrong game may slow down, or even
stop, your process.
Caillois' Theory and the Drivers of Engagement
The theory behind a good game design is very important. There is nothing so
practical as a good theory. Roger Caillois (1913 - 1978) is the elder of ludologist.
His theory, grounded on psychological and sociological background, offers a full
array of drivers to engage players based on behavioral evidence. Its approach is
useful for gamification because it's focused on engagement, rather than inner
structures of gaming. Caillois' theory classify games1 by four primary drivers
resulting in four kinds of experience that you can achieve while playing.
Agon, (or competition). Easy to understand, it's about competition
(against others, themselves, or game itself - like a solitaire).
Alea (or chance). It's about uncertain and chance. Anytime you make a
bet or forecast (Blackjack, Texas Hold'Em) you're in Alea field.
Mimesis (or mimicry). Also found in theaters or movies, this driver is
about to feel emotion and sensation or to act fictionally in a fictional
Ilinx (or vertigo). A state of altered perception, a roller coaster or a
bungee-jumping is examples of Ilinx-based games. They are about a
different perception of the world, usually connected with loss of control.
This classification applies to any experience we feel as "fun". The game
environment, sum of the game structure and engagement driver used, can push any
player to a different behavior.
Men react to situation using a combination of instinct, unconscious and logic
reasoning [Wilson, 2002]. Games follow the same rule: any game environment
1 Caillois means, with "games", more than what we usually do. Anything
beyond primary survival needs is a "game": dancing, performing arts, running...
even assuming recreational drugs!
stimulate player to get their reactions. As guideline, any driver is attuned to a
specific response in player's behaviors.
Competition and cooperation is made by Agon. It's easy to foster a
competition, while to achieve cooperation you need to to split your
audience in teams. This kind of engagement is pretty common (eBay or
Kickstarter have similar gamification layers).
Expectation about future and intellectual fulfillment are products of
an Alea-based game experience. Self-fulfillment is powerful, and it
drives to a strong and long-term engagement (addicted gambler is caught
in this). Self-fulfillment also is used (or should be) as driver in learning
New feelings or a cathartic experience is made by Mimesis. Movies and
theaters are good examples. Few times Mimesis is a primary target for
gamification, while it's very important in storytelling (marketing and viral
campaign) and communication.
Strong emotions and lose of control are connected with Ilinx. This
driver allows a very deep connection with the game experience. As side
effect, this driver requires an existing engagement to properly work.
Any good framework that operates on human product of intellect cannot mark
heavy boundaries: human activities are smooth and can connect with each other in
surprisingly ways. Any theory about product of intellect (like games) has to be
In games, you can mix engagement drivers. As Caillois himself already pointed
out, any "game" is a mix of drivers [Caillois 1967]. Even more important: players
may shift between drivers during the same game, regardless of game itself. You
can't force a player to have fun somehow: you can only suggest how to do that.
You cannot completely control players: they always have a chance to drive the
game they're playing with. Here follows some examples.
An addicted gambler can shift from Alea to Ilinx making a huge bet (or
directly playing a Russian Roulette). When your life depends on a single
dice or card, you experience a state of Ilinx apart from Alea.
Agon games can became Alea games. This happens when competition is
at highest level, and little details make big differences (Olympic sport
equipment management, or hardcore video gamers playing in a fraction
Many Mimetic experience often involves Agon. Role-playing games
(Skyrim or Dungeons & Dragons) are good examples. Competition is a
natural behavior in men: so it's usual to has this involved in many
This shifting, anyway, may be used from any driver to everyone else. So, a
preliminary good advice is to try supporting a wide array of experiences.
Paidia against Ludus
The four driver of engagement are not enough to classify games. In Caillois
there is a complementary axis, connecting the four drivers. This axis goes from
Paidia to Ludus (Greek and Roman terms for respectively ). They are,
respectively: behavioral games created by attitude, with implicit or no rules; fully
organized games with precise rules and strict boundaries. For example, dancing is
a Paidia game, while chess is a good example of Ludus.
In Gamification, this axis is lesser useful to categorize games. Usually, you
need to engage players in a specific experience: this means you need a Ludus. On
the other side if you need something highly viral, if you need to add a gamification
layers on an everyday activities, you need a Paidia. A Paidia activities may be, for
example, a "flash mob" or a "meme": it allows to you to engage players fast, and
it's extremely useful for brand management and marketing. On the other side,
Paidia have a weaker grasp on player's experience if compared to Ludus
The procedure to correctly use a theoretical framework is always the same (for
either Caillois' theory and all those follow), and it's very similar to any other
assessment analisys. First, identify your needs. Then, find a way to fulfill them
using driver of engagement. Finally, try your solution to monitor its effectiveness
and eventually empower it.
Caillois' theory find its best application in high level assessment. You may
need an innovative game structures, or a multi-games campaign, or an alternate
reality campaign, or to change player's behavior.
Using Caillois approach from draft allows you to effectively manage results
and side effects of the game. Caillois' articulate framework allows you to take an
overall picture on a complex game experience.
It's anyway less useful when you already have a good game and simply need to
marginally fix it, or in comparing different games those involve player the same
Actual Gamification in Caillois' framework
Supported by Caillois' theory, we can analyze actual gamification. As first
statement, gamification today hasn't chased all the path to engagement [Burke,
Gamification actual solutions may be summarized as follows: gamification on
social media, strongly Agon-based with a PBL strategy); recruitment and HR
training that use Mimesis (mostly as serious and training game); on-line trading
uses Alea while there are no evidence of Ilinx-based gamification case.
Alternate Reality Campaign deserves a separate quoting: it is an uprising
form of gamification that strongly connect mimicry and competition. Those are
usually big cross-medial, free to play campaign with some marketing target. From
"The Beast" campaign by Microsoft for Spielberg "A.I" release in 2001 to the
"Why So Serious" campaign by 42 Entertainment for Warner Bros "The Dark
Knight" in 2007, an alternate reality campaign usually takes place in real world,
where you have to compete or cooperate with other players to find clues, rewards
It's possible to use a wide arrays of game theory to assess games, exactly like
different games may conduct to a similar engagement. Here follows some
alternative game theories. An alternate theory still requires some level of game-
The theories described below offer different framework to assess games, but
the process to apply them is the same. You have to determine what do you want
from players, find out how to empower that, and then applying and appropriate
game structure. Finally, to find out appropriate application field to any theory see
last paragraph under any section.
8 Kinds of Fun
This framework is based upon feelings perceived by player. From this point of
view, it's very similar to Caillois' theory. Instead of four drivers, according to
Marc LeBlanc lectures at Northwestern University [LeBlanc 2004], there are eight
possible kinds of fun.
This framework is more specific than Caillois' one, but it classify both feelings
involved in players, and ways to express those feeling without distinction. Those
eight kinds of fun are:
1. Sensation – games engage your target senses directly. Consider the audio
and video “eye candy” of video games; or the physical movement
involved in playing sports, or the feelings of wood and weight of a chess
2. Fantasy – games can provide a make-believe world, that is somehow
more interesting than the real world.
3. Narrative – games can involve stories (embedded by designers, or
emergent created through player action) that can engage players even
better than a book, or a movie.
4. Challenge – some games derive their fun largely from the thrill of
competition: with others, with themselves, with the game itself.
5. Fellowship – in many games with a high social component, the social
interaction (with family, friends or on line) in a strong motivator to keep
6. Discovery – many games rely on the sense of wonder connected to find
out something new, as in in adventure and role-playing video games.
7. Expression – the possibility to express yourself through game play, like
in Rpg game or even in open-world video games like "The Sims"
8. Submission – many games allow to build game interaction as an
ongoing hobby, rather than an isolated event (a single play). Usually
applied in tournament (Magic: the Gathering) or guild format (World of
Warcraft), or even simply ritualized play of games at a weekly meeting.
This last point, in fact, is lacking in Caillois while can be useful to
improve your solutions simply changing its fruition by player.
LeBlanc's theory is particularly useful to frame relationship between players,
and it's appropriate to assessment on a specific game or game experience. If you
find a good game has some little issues you can't identify through Caillois'
Framework, the 8 Kind of Fun provide a fair alternative sight over the game. This
framework doesn't work well on narrow analysis, when specifically evaluate
player's contribution and its engagement: accordingly to LeBlanc, some actions
involves fun (like Expression), while for Caillois those need underneath driver to
4 Keys for fun
Another framework developed by Nicole Lazzaro of XeoDesign [Lazzaro
2004] offers easy-to-use guidelines, but lacks of distinctions and details enough to
be really useful is assessing your gamification activities. It is anyway interesting
because focus on social engagement as a driver for participation itself (something
Caillois don't analyze properly). The four keys for fun are:
Hard Fun – the attractiveness of go through hard obstacle and difficult
task. The player play for the satisfaction of winning, against the game or
Easy Fun – maintains focus with player attention rather than a winning
condition. Usually obtained by immersion in a game ambient perceived
like “living”, and typical of many-options game, role playing games etc.
Altered State – it used the feeling a player perceive when play, and
focus on emotions. Having some easy time, clearing your mind, avoid
boredom... all those are examples of using this key. This is far more
wider than the Ilinx Caillois described, because include mimesis
People Factor – game is often social, and this factor is anything related
to other people: teamwork, spending time with friend and any kind of
possible social interaction is related to this key (except competition – see
“Hard Fun” above).
This framework advantages in having four key to assess games, but it doesn't
make difference between different game sharing the same engagement pattern. For
example, if you want a game that involves people factor and altered state by an
easy fun environment, "Ruzzle" and "Sims - Social" and "Candy Crush" fit
description, but they are very different games.
This framework is useful for demonstration purpose and academic introduction,
or to have another viewpoint upon a game or a strategy. It can be less useful if you
have to design starting from sketch. Generally speaking, it is a lesser precise
transcription of Caillois' framework.
The Color Theory [Ninoles 2002] differs from framework above because it's
simpler (three roots to categorize games), but even more accurate. It was develop
with a focus on role-playing games (those are mimicry-based games), but it works
also as a general framework. This theory focus on the inner structure of the game.
It considers a game as an output of three basic element (each named like an
RGB color). You can assign a value to any component, resulting in a different
Color for any different game. Needless to say, this is a pure comparative theory,
but it's very accurate. If you need to create an high density comparative table,
there is nothing better. The three color component are:
Red for coherence: inner consistency of the system in relationship with
setting. The more the system is consistent, brighter will be the red. Many
of the most recent video games have an high red component, but also
hide and seek rules fit perfectly with its setting and goals.
Green for easiness and simplicity, related specifically to learning curve.
The lower learning curve of an easier game will result in a more intense
green component. This will not take in consideration engagement on a
long period: chess has an intense green component cause to their low
learning curve, not because of their long-term engagement.
Blue for realism, which means consistency of the game with reality. The
more the game represent reality as it is, the more vivid will be the blue.
Chess, for example, have a low blue component. A training role-playing
game has an higher blue component.
RGB theory is a simple way to compare games: composing the colors will
create a mapping (this includes secondary color, like yellow, made by high green
and high with red with low blue). This mapping is perfect to create an overview
upon a gaming company offer, or over an alternate reality campaign. It will fit
specifically in video-games industry, where you have to position your game in an
free spot, and not to innovate game's structure.
The major issue with this framework is about long term engagement. Apart
from green, this framework has no temporal reference, so it makes difficult to
predict engagement during time.
Usefulness of a Game Design Theory
Gamification is the business-committed side of gaming. But it still remains
gaming. Players approach your gamification solution with a "game attitude"
(meaning by that: they're looking for fun). You have to play-tests, to prevent
abusing the game, to analyze learning curve, to forecast engagement. You still
need an array of skill in game design to successfully manage all these operations.
Anyway, this chapter wasn't about providing some specialty skills in game
design. My target was giving enough knowledge to understand the chooses behind
a gamification strategy.
As already said, there is no right or wrong in gaming: there is also fit and unfit.
Also if you still need a game design advisor to properly set game features (length,
difficulty, levels, rewards and so on), you should be able now to see the bigger
picture: how gamification impact on user's experience, how it shifts brand
perception, how it changes behavioral pattern.
Do not self-constrain yourselves: gamification above all is an opportunity to
change processes and companies from within. There is literally tons of unexplored
application: try to improve market share, to increase productivity, to get more
streamlined process... Sky is the limit!
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