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Gamification: Motivation Model

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Have you ever asked yourself why do you play a game? Besides the fact that it’s relaxing, most of the times you play one because it’s fun. You enjoy the process of trial and error and discovering new stuff when you play it. Whether it is a new story element, new level or new item in the game.

In my previous articles about gamification I wrote about The BasicsWhy People Love Failing in GamesRewarding Users With Points. In this one, it will be about what motivates people in certain situations and why we love games.

When people apply gamification to tools we use on a daily basis, such as, to-do apps, fitness or learning new languages apps, we tend to miss some crucial elements. We can look beyond simple badges and achievements with points and use some different motivation models. For example, the process of having fun just for the sake of having fun. No extrinsic rewards required.

But to say that is easier than done. And before I give you an example of how we could encourage “fun for the sake of fun”, I want you to understand what motivates people first.

 

Motivation 1.0

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, describes an essential and great experiment that shaped the way we look at motivation. The experiment was done by Harry F. Harlow, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin (1940s). He and his colleagues gathered eight monkeys and put them in cages to separately to solve a mechanical puzzle. The puzzle consisted of pulling a vertical pin from a piece of flat wood, undo the hook and lift the hinged cover.

Around day 13 or 14, the monkeys learned how to solve the puzzle by themselves. But it’s a bit odd because nobody taught them how to do it. Nobody offered any rewards for that — food, affection or applause. And that is about counter to our own world, where we try to reward every action of ours at work with praise, bonuses, bigger salaries and promotions. So what’s essential for us to take from this experiment is:

The monkeys solved the puzzle because they found the process gratifying. The process of doing the task was a joy and its own reward.

 

Motivation 2.0

Later, in 1969, Edward Deci conducted a similar experiment but with people, to advance in what was found out before. Deci chose the Soma puzzle cube. It is a puzzle that consists of seven plastic pieces. You could assemble the puzzle as you wish and get different objects out of it. The result is always dependent on your imagination.

Deci gathered a bunch of people, male and female, and divided them into two equal groups. During three days of experiments, one hours sessions, he asked people to play with the puzzles. Meanwhile, he was in a room next-door watching through a window.

The trick here was that Group A received no reward for what they did on Day 1, a reward for extra effort on Day 2 (money), and again no reward on Day 3. Meanwhile, Group B received no rewards on all three days. And what Deci found was that Group B played a little bit longer with the puzzles on Day 3 in comparison with Group A (which received a reward on Day 2). Deci concluded that:

When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose interest in the activity.

Rewards can deliver a short-term boost, a small dosage of dopamine in your head, but it creates a dependency. The same type of boost as a good cup of coffee, whos effect wears off in a couple of hours. And this type of motivation can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.

Human beings have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn. One who is interested in developing and enhancing intrinsic motivation in children, employees, students, etc. should not concentrate on external motivation factors such as monetary rewards — Edward Deci

That’s why, whenever you ask a kid why he’s playing a game, the reply will always be: “Because it’s fun”. But we put too much accent on rewards and achievements, which again, I don’t deny are essential, but not critical.

 

Gamifying fun

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine that works in the game industry, and I was asking his opinion on a project I am working on. I was designing an app that uses some gamification models to motivate people to write more.

Even if badges, levels and points are a reward in itself, because you have real-time feedback and progress, sometimes you need a little bit of extra. And he told me that, people have to have a motivation to open that app on a daily basis. People have to discover something new when they put in the grind. Which can be a new part of the story, or because they had a 7-day streak, they could receive some bonus information/animation. People have to enter a state of flow, whenever they use your product/game.

A flow state can be achieved in many different ways, as long as the right conditions are met. It emerges when we have a clear goal, a challenging task to perform, and enough skills to meet the challenge — or at least to come close enough that we are energised to try again and do better — Jane McGonigal

And his suggestion led me to an interesting idea which can be easily applied to apps that are trying to use a gamification model. Daily renewable and non-repeatable quests.

 

Daily quest log

We love quests. It feels like an adventure for us. We love having a goal and finding ways to achieve it. Because it’s fun and people love the grind. So what if we could give people a chance to pick up a quest on a daily basis, that is non-repeatable. I am in the early stage of developing the rooster of quests for my own project, but I would love to share the idea and thought process with you.

Let’s say that you want to motivate people to learn a new language. And let’s take as an example the popular app Duolingo. What Duolingo is missing currently is the daily challenge of learning that new language. People don’t have a chance to do something with their newly acquired knowledge but in a fun way.

Here’s a big opportunity to introduce a rooster of quests that update on a daily basis. And you can pick all of them or only one, whenever you feel like. For example, today you may be given three new quests. One of which is, write a short 4 verse poem with everything you just learned. Or for more advanced users, write a short story about a fictional character in an absurd environment and share it with the world. And by completing it, users can receive extra points or experience for levelling up.

 

Implementing the idea

What’s interesting to me about this “log” of daily quests is that, first of all, it works. It is applied in a lot of games. And usually, the model is pretty straightforward. You either complete the daily quests and receive in-game monetary rewards (gold/experience) with which you can buy an item. Or a unique currency, which is obtained only from those daily quests, with which you can buy special items, that can’t be found anywhere else.

I am about to implement it myself, and I am looking to reward users with extra experience only, to level up. Because I want to test the quests first, to see if they are fun enough so a user can accept them without extra motivation — such as in-game monetary incentives with which you can buy something. Why? Because I consider that doing a quest should be a reward and challenge in itself. You improve an individual skill and become a better person. What else do you need? Or as mentioned above, people love the process if it is fun enough.

This is the classic path to increased self-efficacy: accept a goal, make an effort, get feedback on that effort, improve a particular skill, keep trying, and eventually succeed. You don’t need a game to set off on this path. But because it is the very nature of games to challenge and improve our abilities, they are an incredibly reliable and efficient way to get there — Jane McGonigal

Another motive for not adding any rewards for quests is also what Edward Deci discovered. After his experiment, he saw that adding certain kinds of extrinsic rewards on top of inherently interesting tasks can often lower motivation and diminish performance.Or as the Russian economist Anton Suvorov noticed in one his experiments:

Rewards are addictive in that once offered, a potential reward makes a person expect it whenever a similar task is faced, which in turn compels the principal to use rewards over and over again.

There’s another interesting experiment mentioned in the book, Punished by Rewards: “Over the course of twelve days, fourth and fifth graders were rewarded for playing with certain math-related games and were not rewarded for playing with others. Kids promptly gravitated to the games that led to a payoff. When the rewards disappeared, their interest in those games dimished too.” The researchers concluded:

The use of powerful systematic reward procedures to promote increase engagement in target activities may also produce concomitant decrease in task engagement, in situations where neither tangible nor social extrinsic rewards are perceived to be available. (Greene, 1976)

 

Increase users’ self-efficacy

Coming back, solving easy and repeatable daily quests is a great way to increase a person’s self-worth and rewire his mindset. Or as Jane McGonigal writes in her book SuperBetter:

When you have constant opportunities to try different strategies and get feedback, you get more frequent and more intense bursts of dopamine. Not only do you get that pleasure, but your mindset changes in the long term. Your brain starts looking at things that weren’t achievable before and starts to think they might be achievable with a little more effort. It expects to learn, improve and succeed because that’s what it’s used doing.

That’s why this feature is an excellent way of improving your gamification model with some daily diversity. The daily quests are there waiting for you. They are not mandatory. Pick them up whenever you feel like doing them. And the type of quests you give to your users are limited only to your imagination.

Recommended further reading:

 
 
Eugen Esanu