Gamification in Relation to User Engagement

Gamification is a relatively newer term only introduced in 2002 by Nick Pelling, it did not actually gain notoriety until 2010. By definition from Wikipedia “Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, Return on Investment, data quality, timeliness, and learning.”

Even if gamification is a relatively new concept for you, my guess is that you have probably already participated in it without even knowing it. You see gamification techniques have been utilized in apps that you employ a points or badge system for performing a variety of procedures. One such example of this reward-like system is Facebook’s Farmville developed by Zynga back in 2009. Farmville utilizes a farm management based simulation with a point system that encompasses the daily operations of farming, such as: plowing fields and planting them, harvesting crops and raising livestock. Perhaps one of the more notorious games which began back in 1989 and is still popular today is Sim City, most have at least heard of it if not played it. SimCity allows for interaction through game play in the course of building a city. So as you can see the social/reward characteristics of games into software (and simulations) have existed for quite some time, regardless of the term ‘gamification’ being only termed a few years back.

Simulations have been around for a long time; however the idea of gamification is relatively new to most. By definition: Gamification is able to stimulate innovation, change behaviors and achieve higher levels of engagement. Just by adding gamification elements, simulations are seeing a higher level of retention by users.

Even the United States military has added gamification into their training regiment. The training and educational arena have seen the most applications of gamification since its introduction. The gamification technique is also now being applied to the financial services industry.

So it goes without saying that gamification and simulations go hand in hand. Simulations allow for flexibility around the learners needs (i.e. schedule, pace of learning and replay ability of material being presented). By utilizing a simulation one does not have to utilize the page-turning method of learning through a book or sit through boring and monotonous classroom instruction. Features make the simulation actually enjoyable to play and make a mundane training exercise applicable to real life and immerse the learner within an interactive environment.

By building a narrative around the simulation, the user (player) is drawn in to a different world and immersed in the learning environment. Simulations that present a challenge to the user ultimately driving learner engagement within the simulation and motivate user behavior. Simulations have been proven to lead to improved understanding of course material presented when compared to traditional classroom based training. While classroom training does prove effective, simulations present the topic in a situation similar to what one would actually experience in the real world and appeal to a larger audience age group. Simulations are also able to illustrate the value of interactivity through many design elements, including (but not limited to): audio, graphics, recognizable environments and storytelling. Ultimately fostering a great amount of engagement and collaboration within the simulation.

Game based learning has become all the rage, the quest to gamify processes has led to more and more gamified applications. In 2011, Gartner recognized four principal means of driving engagement utilizing gamification:

1. Accelerated feedback cycles. In the real world, feedback loops are slow (e.g., annual performance appraisals) with long periods between milestones. Gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops to maintain engagement.

2. Clear goals and rules of play. In the real world, where goals are fuzzy and rules selectively applied, gamification provides clear goals and well-defined rules of play to ensure players feel empowered to achieve goals.

3. A compelling narrative. While real-world activities are rarely compelling, gamification builds a narrative that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity.

4. Tasks that are challenging but achievable. While there is no shortage of challenges in the real world, they tend to be large and long-term. Gamification provides many short-term, achievable goals to maintain engagement.

The element of interaction with the aim of acquiring an understanding of content being presented helps to aid the user in gamification. It also allows the participant to analyze situations and build on participation within the simulation. A surge in popularity over the past few years has led to many successful gamification initiatives.

Simulations coupled with gamification are fast becoming an educationally effective medium. Many believe gamification to be one of the most promising areas of gaming that has transferred over into the simulation business. By incorporating game-design elements into simulation it draws the player in and immerses them in the environment while providing a reward system for completing tasks or answering decision block questions correctly. Simulations coupled with gamification can be a powerful teaching and learning tool and just go to prove that gamification actually does work when tied to a business case. It’s not just a game anymore, rather an immersive learning simulation that allows the player to “learn by doing”.