Michael Wu, Ph.D. is Lithium's Principal Scientist of Analytics, digging into the complex dynamics of social interaction and group behavior in online communities and social networks.
Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics and its application to Social CRM.He's a regular blogger on the Lithosphere's Building Community blog and previously wrote in the Analytic Science blog. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+.
Little announcement before I begin today. I've been invited again to teaching the Rotman Executive CRM program at the University of Toronto, Nov 9--11. Since this is the third time I teach this course with Paul Greenberg, Ray Wang, and other CRM luminaries, I’ve decided to create a brand new lecture on gamification and what it means to Social CRM. It should be fun. If you are around Toronto that time, it would be great to meet if we can beat the scheduling gods.
Last time, we talked about the overjustification effect (or the moral hazard of game play). It is one of the biggest challenges for any gamification strategy. As Prof. Jesse Schell said, many studies have shown that “if you bribe someone to do something, they always come to hate that thing.” So the use of external incentives (e.g. points, badges, perks, money, etc.) will decrease a person’s intrinsic motivation and ultimately lead to the resentment of the gamified behavior (i.e. gamification backlash).
So gamification can’t possibly work over the long term. However, it doesn’t need to work long term to bring sustainable value. Last time, I described two strategies that can make gamification more sustainable:
Use gamification to jumpstart activities that have either intrinsic or long term values for the player
Use gamification to jumpstart a series of activities and enables the discovery and inference of the player’s intrinsic motivation, and then use extrinsic rewards to reinforce the player’s intrinsic motivation
Today, I will illustrate how these strategies work with some examples.
Strategy 1: The Value Mechanism
This strategy is not too difficult, because it can be implemented using extrinsic rewards. The key requirement is that the gamified behavior must have long term value to the players; otherwise, success is unlikely. I will cite three examples using this strategy, one in non-commercial setting and two in business.
In all three examples, players usually start the gamified behavior due to some aspects of gamification. Some people adopt the behavior because their friends are doing it (i.e. social facilitation, epic meaning, etc.). Others do it because they want to win and be on the leader board (i.e. social competition, badges, achievements, leader boards, etc.). Still, others do it simply because it is fun and gives them a sense of mastery (i.e. points, feedback, progression, level up, etc.). However, once the players realize the long term value, they no longer depend on gamification for motivations to perform the behavior. At that point, the value becomes the primary motivator. And gamification becomes a secondary reinforcement system that strengthens the correlation between value (effect) and behavior (cause).
I’d like to emphasize that the creation and realization of value usually don’t happen immediately, but that is the point of this strategy. Gamification will keep you motivated extrinsically until you realize the values from the gamified behavior. So gamification doesn’t need to work long term, it just has to work long enough for the players to realize the value. Subsequently, the reinforcement function of gamification can last indefinitely until the cause/effect cycle is interrupted. This conditioning effect of gamification may even help the players to learn to be intrinsically motivated by the gamified behavior over the long run.
Community participations: answer questions, vote up good ideas, participate in conversations, etc.
What long term values does it create?
Community members establish relationships and build tie strength, which can last a long time
They co-create valuable knowledge that serves the entire community, the company and beyond
They may even self-actualize by generating great ideas that gets implemented into products that can benefit themselves and future consumers.
Strategy 2: The Motivation Mechanism
This strategy is much harder because figuring out the intrinsic motivation of players is not easy. It requires an environment that allows the players to discover what motivates them intrinsically. Moreover, the gamification system has to infer a player’s intrinsic motivation through his activity data, and then focus on reinforcing his motivation with extrinsic rewards while the user is still engaged.
Returning to the examples above, we can see that this strategy won’t work for the Nike+ example. Because Nike only gamifies a single behavior (e.g. running), there is no room for the players to explore and discover their intrinsic motivation. For players that are already motivated to run intrinsically, it works wonderfully, but if the players are not intrinsically motivated by running, there is not much that they can do. That is probably why they didn’t try to use this strategy.
In the two remaining examples (e.g. education/learning and community participation), they gamified a large number of desirable behaviors in schools and in communities respectively. In these examples, players have the autonomy to explore among the gamified behaviors and potentially discover what motivates them intrinsically. However, it is very hard to track all the gamified activities for every single student in a school. Even if a school can pull it off, it may not have the analytics capacity to infer the intrinsic motivation of the students accurately. At best, they can give students the autonomy to self-select for their intrinsic motivation. Teachers would have to pay close attention to recognize the students’ distinctive and exceptional behaviors. This is like Montessori education, where the students always have a choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options.
Although this strategy can work in school, it is not very efficient. There is also a potential for rewarding the wrong behavior, and this circumstantial reward can turn into a Skinnerian feedback loop, which will ultimately lead to overjustification. In the example of a Lithium-powered community, however, the platform automatically tracks all actions by all members. The platform also has cross community activity data for all possible actions. This enables the gamification system to estimate the distribution of behaviors for each member (e.g. his social fingerprint) and the activity distribution for each type of behavior. Subsequently, the analytics engine can infer the most probably intrinsic motivators for all members and reward them accordingly. Provided that we can collect enough data fast enough to do the inference accurately, this strategy can be applied efficiently in an online community.
Although gamification doesn’t work over the long term, they can still bring sustained value via two routes:
The value mechanism
The motivation mechanism
We have seen three examples of these mechanisms at work. The value mechanism is definitely easier to implement, and most non-commercial usage of gamification tend to use this strategy (e.g. education, environment, government, health, social good, etc.).
Implementing the motivation mechanism is very challenging. It requires several ingredients that make this strategy technically feasible and practical only in an online community. Although I have yet to see this strategy use elsewhere, I believe it can be applied in mobile gamification, enterprise 2.0 systems that gamify work and collaboration, or any platform that offer a large selection of potentially motivating experiences. So despite overjustification, gamification can bring long term sustained values if done right. If done right, gamification is here to stay!