6 - Player-Centric Design

A game, or gamified solution, is an experience that engages the person who is playing. It's important to recall that "experience design" encompasses their entire experience related to the game - not merely the way they interact with the computer interface, but the way in which in influences their behavior in a broader sense (interacting with the brand offline as well). Ultimately, your goal is to improve the entire customer experience, not just provide an enjoyable diversion that ends when they leave the site.

Player Experience Design Process

An experience is a narrative, that tells the story of the relationship between a customer and a brand. Of particular importance is that it is the entire story, which consists of multiple events and episodes. A common mistake is to consider experience only in the context of one interaction.

(EN: This is by no means new to gamification or the digital channel. Marketers have long suffered from myopia, thinking as if a given newspaper ad or television commercial is the first time a person has encountered the brand at all, and forgetting there is usually a history.)

Rather than describing the process of experience design, the author instead tells a fictional story about a fake company. Key points are:

Of particular importance: this process begins with learning about the customer and determining their needs and interests, rather than beginning with your firm's desire to boost revenues or save expenses. Many firms get that backwards.

Burke repeats that "gamification is not about slapping points and badges onto an activity and expecting to to magically become more engaging." It starts with defining an experience and considering whether points and badges are an effective and appropriate way to deliver that experience.

Think Like a Player

Players participate in games, and even pay money to play them, because of the value they receive from participating. This must be the first concern in designing a gamified experience.

(EN: From here, Burke mentions the buzzword "design thinking" and speaks of it in very vague and nebulous terms. It's actually quite simple: design a thing according to the way it will be used, not according to the way it will be fabricated.)

The difficulty in shifting gears is that many firms do not focus on the enjoyment of their customers, but on serving functional needs. A product enables the user to perform a task, and most products are no fun to use. This is not necessarily so, but it simply reflects a lack of consideration for the customer. A well-designed product is a pleasure to use as well as being effective at accomplishing its functional purpose.

Time for some bullets:

Step One: Define the Business Outcome and Success Metrics

Burke concedes that gamification is a "shiny object" an many organizations want to leverage the trend without a clear concept of what they (or even their intended audience) intend to gain from doing so. It's "cool" and there's a vague sense that it drives results for other firms, but there is no consideration of how. It's monkey-see-monkey-do. And this is a common problem for things that are trendy.

Considering the question "What business outcomes are you attempting to achieve?" can help bring them back to earth. Proceeding without having a sense of the goals may not guarantee failure (because you can't fail to achieve something if you don't know what it is) but it usually leads to a slow death for lack of enthusiastic support.

(EN: Like virtually communities before it, many feel that gamification is something that can be launched with a little effort and that it will run itself without any further investment of time or resources afterward. This is entirely wrong.)

Once a business objective has been defined, the next step is to determine whether gamification really is the best way to achieve it. Consider other approaches and use gamification only where it has the potential to be successful. This seems very basic, but is often ignored.

He also cautions against vague metrics: we want to increase web site traffic, get more testimonials, drive more purchases, get better word-of-mouth, and so on. While these seem like goals, there is no clear way to indicate whether you have succeeded or failed. Specify the time, and specify something measurable that will testify the goal has been achieved. "Increase obnline purchases by 10% within six months" is a goal that can be measured.

If a business metric is meaningful, it is often tied to a financial result: it will increase revenue or decrease expenses, or perhaps both. Chances are the accountants know what it would be worth, in dollars, to increase online purchases by 10% - and can derive the amount that the firm should be willing to invest in order to gain that outcome.

He also cautions firms to consider the entire impact of a gamification effort, as it will impact the business: some employees will need to support it, others will be affected by it, and this can contribute to the revenue or costs of the project.

(EN: It also can be a functional issue for the brand - for example, when a promotion rewards players with points or discounts, the discounts must be redeemable not only online but also in stores. This can be a problem for franchise operations if the program is not adequately managed.)

Step Two: Define the Target Audience

Gamified solutions do not appeal to every market segment. While virtually everyone enjoys games of some kind, not everyone enjoys games of the same kind. People of different ages, education levels, gender, nationality, and culture enjoy different things and no single game has universal appeal. As such your effort must be designed to the preferences of a well-defined market group.

The same is said of social media. Some sites have greater appeal to certain market segments than others. It's much like choosing to advertise in a magazine, in that you will not reach an older male audience by advertising in a magazine that is read by teenage girls. (EN: I looked into this, and there is definitely a skew. Consider Facebook, which is widely regarded as being ubiquitous. Population statistics from 2012 indicate the audience is skewed heavily to college-educated females, ages 18-29.)

As with any marketing effort, defining a target audience is done to focus efforts, and deliver something that has a stronger chance of success because it is developed with the needs of a specific target market in mind.

(EN: This seems a bit backward to me. Chances are that a company already has market segments defined, so you do not need to define a market for your gamification efforts but instead choose gamification that is appealing to the segments you are already attempting to pursue. Or perhaps there are new markets you hope to reach with a gamified solution - but in any case, market segmentation is something done before this kind of effort, rather than as part of it.)

Explore the Target Audience

Burke suggests that you need to devote considerable time learning about your target market (EN: though per my previous comment, you likely already have but need to take a closer look at their hobbies and interests to determine what might be appealing.)

Again, a game will only be successful if it is enjoyable for the players, and if the business is focused on its own interests, its gamification efforts will fail.

Here, he mentions the problem with casting too wide a net. There is no game that everyone will enjoy, and the more you attempt to broaden the target market to capture more people, the less you will be able to be effective in presenting something of interest to them.

Create Personas

Burke also spends some time talking about personas. (EN: Personas are well known in marketing and described in more extensive and more accurate detail elsewhere. I'm not keeping notes.)

Step Three: Define Player Goals

The goals of a customer in interacting with a company are to obtain something of value in exchange for the money they pay to obtain it. Likewise, the goals of a player in interacting with a game is to obtain something of value in exchange for the time they invest in playing it. The main difference is that in games the value they receive is merely the pleasure of playing the game.

(EN: This is not always a "difference" - many products are purchased for pleasure value. You don't need a soda to survive, and could get by on tap water. So the purchase of that product is for the sensual and psychological pleasure derived by consuming it. This likely leads to a much more intricate meditation over the exchange of effort for pleasure - whether we do so directly by undertaking an activity that is pleasant, or indirectly by working for money and using money to buy products that cause us pleasure. This could get deep, so I will switch my brain off for now. My sole intent was to mention that pleasure-for-cash and pleasure-for-time are not so very different because cash-for-time bridges the gap.)

It's also mentioned that the player goals must be aligned to the business goals for it to be worthwhile to sponsor the development of a game. For example, a brokerage firm might be interested in sponsoring a game that enables players to develop investment knowledge because they presume that knowledgeable investors will give them more commissions in the long run. At the same time, players want to become knowledgeable about investments so they can obtain better returns for themselves - so it's serendipity.

(EN: Butting in again. I recall one conference speaker who suggested browsing the self-help categories in a bookstore for ideas. If there is a skill people will purchase a book to develop, then that is a good indication they are willing to invest time and even money in learning it.)

(EN: These steps continue into the next chapter.)