May 2015


We’ve been banging on a bit around here lately about what is and is not gamification, so its great to see something published that definitely qualifies as gamification as we know it. The added bonus is that it lays out a general method for gamification design in its pristine glory for all to see. (The devil, of course, is in the detail – you can do all this and still get it wrong. But this is how to go about it with some chance of getting it right).

What specifically does it get right? Well, pretty much everything but in particular we liked seeing:

  1. It starts with people and correctly identifies the over-arching power of interpersonal relationships as something to be recognised, respected and leveraged. Sure, it objectifies people as ‘players’ and ‘personas’ but it does think about their inherent motivations, suggesting Bartle’s useful analysis as a framework. (Amy Jo Kim has some useful things to say on this as well).
  2. It defines objectives. It could do more to specify how these need to be actual, observable player behaviours but I think you can read that between the lines.

Wrap this methodology in a snug blanket of empathy and integrity and you’ve got a good basis for doing some meaningful and effective gamification. Which, of course, does not involve turning everything into a game, or even a game-like experience.

Read Adrish Bera’s sweet little post and enjoy. Thanks Adrish.


“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Juliet Capulet

Simple Machines by Tinybop is an app for teaching physics that is beautifully executed, with appealing illustrations, sounds and an intuitive interface. User feedback is immediate and multi-sensorial, providing clues, cues and a sense of accomplishment. Most of all, it is fun to play. Yes, play. Simple Machines is no didactic appification of classroom physics demonstrations. It is by all appearances, a game.

And yet Tinybop project lead Colleen Hampton is quoted in a Fast Company article on Simple Machines as saying,

“We don’t include gamification because we’re purposely building open-ended games . . .”

I guess what Ms Hampton is referring to is the absence of points, badges, leaderboards, levels, boss fights and many of the other mechanics of videogames that are often utilised in gamification designs.

I applaud her and her team for leaving these competition-inducing elements out – I think far too much emphasis is placed in education on competition as a motivator and the drive to win can eclipse the drive to learn. Simple Machines does exactly what we believe good gamification should do – subtly reinforce the intrinsic motivation of the user, in this case to achieve competence with a novel task (and learn some physics along the way).

More could be done to make Simple Machines a compelling activity, such as provide the characters that appear in the game with more identity and integrate the various tasks within the game into an over-arching narrative through which the characters proceed as proxies for the users.

But it is still a great app – and a good example of gamification, despite what Ms Hampton says.




[The goal of the Learning from Games series of posts is to look at examples in game design from recent videogames that shed light on gamification principles in action.]

In this age of microtransactions and subscriptions it’s clear that many of us are willing to pay for digital products that comprise nothing more tangible than invisible bytes in a data stream. In the case of video subscriptions and downloads – the Netflix and Amazons of the world – we receive a digital product that we can enjoy for a period of time. Likewise for games, but some people are surprised by just how much people are willing to pay for ingame items and why they are drawn to do so.

Among the reasons for this is the desire for significance, or, in Maslow’s hierarchy, esteem.

“Status, achievements, ranks and reputation are some of the most commonly used game mechanics, but they are really nothing more than “esteem in disguise”.”
Science of Social blog

Today I’d like to take a look at a game that is incomplete but has so far raised over 83 million dollars in funding from people buying virtual products they can’t even use yet.

Star Citizen is a game under development by veteran game designer Chris Roberts.

Chris is most famous for the Wing Commander series of games in the 90s (the third chapter of which famously starred Mark Hamill as Colonel Blair) as well as the movie that was developed from the property. Star Citizen is his newest passion project and is right in his comfort zone – like Wing Commander its primary focus so far is on space flight in the future.

As an early backer, customers can purchase a starter package which will give them various items and most importantly a spaceship of their choosing. They can also purchase a spaceship on its own. From day one, people purchased starter packs and went on to purchase standalone ships to build up their collection. Prices for packs and ships range from $30 USD to $15,000 USD (not a typo…).

The kicker here is that they can’t even fly these ships yet. There is no game to experience yet; no universe to fly around in.

What they CAN do is walk around in the hangar where their ships are housed and… look at them.

Actually, they can do a little bit more now than they could at launch – there’s a module to fly around in; a “practice space” of sorts, to allow them to get used to the flight mechanics of the game as it develops. But from day one, the hangar was all they had. And still people purchased the ships in droves.

Here’s a video showing a typical user reaction. He explains the appeal to users from his own perspective before taking you into the hangar proper to have a look at his proud purchases.

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What can we learn from this?

The simple lesson is that people can and do attach significance and importance to things that don’t exist in the real world. Our desire for esteem can be satisfied to some degree by the ownership of virtual items that we can proudly display to others.

What this means for gamification is that you can create virtual objects to interact with your digital engine that have their own inherent value of worth to the player. They don’t necessarily have to be expensive assets like the spacecraft in Star Citizen – they might even be something as simple as a digital representation of a collectible playing card. We’re experimenting with that very thing in our flagship product here at PlusPlay. We are creating a digital card system of sorts that will have value to the user as a representation of their real world experiences.

In developing a gamification solution I would suggest that it might be of great benefit to consider whether the interactive virtual “things” in your system might be adapted in some way – whether aesthetically, technically or game-mechanics-wise – to increase their perceived value to the users.

If users see value in the virtual assets of a system, that value translates to engagement and returned value to you. Your system may not raise 83 million dollars for you but the engagement will go a long way to achieving your ultimate goals!



Boston Retail Partners’ 2015 CRM/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey released earlier this month shows that gamification is a target methodology for retailers, who are focused on winning business by offering a stellar experience to customers.

74% of retailers surveyed indicate that customer experience is one of their top three CRM priorities and 87% will have implemented gamification within the next five years.



BRP’s definition of gamification seems to be narrowly focused on PBLs for customer retention but the report refers to many other CRM goals that are all addressed by a quality gamification design:

  • Customer identification
  • Customer segmentation
  • Customer engagement
  • Customer analysis
  • Personalised selling
  • Real-time analytics

The report also talks about the importance of social media as a CRM tool – and addressing social motivations is an important consideration in good gamification design.

Even more encouraging than all this enthusiasm for gamification is that businesses are allocating budget to marketing technology – up 9.42% over the previous year, at the expense of print media spend.

We see gamification as being an obvious methodology for retail. The balance of power has shifted in favour of customers, who are better informed and more able to access alternative suppliers than ever before. Retailers now have to work as hard as game developers to get and hold people’s attention.

First things first, right?

So, you have a great idea for a new service/app/whatever – let’s call it a ‘product’. What is the most important element to begin development with?

Why do I think that is the correct answer? Because that is where your idea connects with the actual customer, on the customer’s terms. It requires you to think about how and when the customer would use your product – and working through this is likely to get you thinking about why they would use it as well.

The most important thing in the world is people. This is obvious but often seems to be forgotten in a focus on material wealth. But without people, there would be no wealth; without customers, you do not have a business. If an app is listed on the app store and no-one downloads it, is it still an app?

Understanding (or at least having a theory about) how your product will fit into your customers’ lives will make a big difference to the sustained use of your product. Branding, marketing and distribution will all affect the rate of initial uptake but if the product does not fit the customers’s lives, meet their needs and expectations, they will not continue to use it unless they have no real choice (in which case, they are prisoners and will have a very dysfunctional relationship with you/your product).

I think the key concept here is empathy – understanding what it is like to be in the customer’s shoes when they are using your product. Research has found that both satisfaction and loyalty increase when you build empathic relationships with customers. The experience of being treated without empathy, being objectified, varies from mildly unpleasant to traumatic, depending on the nature of the relationship. But it is never a compelling experience.

Think about customers as people, make a serious effort understand their perspective and needs, and you will be well on the way to the sustained success of  your product. Treating customers as people is good for business.

Workplace communication and collaboration startup Slack is putting the user first with their new SAAS pricing model – giving credit for reduced use of their service.


Because it’s not the norm yet, good user-centricity can still surprise and delight and in this article Steven Forth describes exactly that result arising from Slack’s new policy.

I was surprised and delighted to be working with a company that automatically gave me a credit for reduced use. It makes me more loyal to Slack, and more willing to commit to higher levels of subscription, as I trust they will be flexible and act in my best interests. [Emphasis mine – D]

It’s the Age of the Customer and companies who put their customers first will engender greater loyalty and trust. Slack have set the bar at a new level and I look forward to seeing more companies realise the value of delightful initiatives like this; it would be nice to see increasing competition over who can provide the most value to their customers.


In this article from readwrite, one of the predictions they make about the future of storytelling is that new technologies will enable stories to make the world a better place:

As stories extend further into the real world, so will their potential to create positive change for both individuals and society. That might mean living a healthier life, supporting important causes, or something else.

More narratives will be designed to drive social action in more engaging ways—encouraging audience members to become active collaborators not just in narratives, but in the real world issues behind them.


The rest of the article has some great insights on what Latitude, the study’s creators, predict will be the future of storytelling – be sure to check it out.

At PlusPlay this article resonated with our approach to the use of story in our City+ project. City+ is designed to improve the systems and organisations a user interacts with throughout their day by encouraging constructive and targeted communications between users and organisations.

We will incorporate narrative to connect the places and things that a user interacts with, providing a narrative context to enhance their engagement in their activities. Our goal is for City+ to make the world a better place through stories and content created in collaboration with its users.


Unfairness has been described as “relationship poison” in a study of customer relationships, aggravating conflict, opportunism and undermining the relationship management benefits of contracts.

People’s sense of fairness is innate and has been demonstrated in a wide range of sciences from genetics to primate behaviour.  The feeling of being treated unfairly is instinctive and powerful and can lead to extreme results [1] (although different people react differently to unfairness).

So, do you treat your end-users fairly?

More importantly, do your end-users perceive that you treat them fairly?

Here are ten reasons why you should and how you can show respect for your users that will pay off in the long run.

  1. Your user’s attention is an asset that deserves compensation.
    People can only pay attention to one thing at a time (don’t believe all that nonsense about multi-tasking). That means that paying attention to you comes at a cost to the user – not being able to pay attention to something else. That is an opportunity cost and has value to the user. If you compensate the user for that value, they will feel that you are treating them fairly. They might even realise that others just rudely grab their attention (advertising, anyone?) and that you are much more respectful.
  2. Your user’s information is an asset that deserves compensation.
    In order to achieve your objectives, you probably need information from your user – their shoe size, their email address, their credit card details, etc. This information belongs to them. If you offer them compensation for the use of that information, they will feel that you are treating them fairly. They might even realise that others just rudely grab demand their information (user registration forms, anyone?) and that you are much more respectful.
  3. Your user’s commitment is an asset that deserves compensation.
    The first date is one thing but by itself, ultimately empty and unfulfilling. Having a second or third date means something more. Beyond that is where the real value lies. You don’t get that far without reciprocity. You just don’t. If your user honours you with a repeat encounter, respect that by giving them something in return (narcissists please note, your mere presence is not actually enough).
  4. You are not the reason why the user gets up in the morning – support their life, don’t try to drive it.
    (Another one for the narcissists). Your offering might be wonderful but it is probably not the centre of your user’s life. They will have given it a place in their world because they would like it to help them through the day in some way – but that is all. Don’t expect them to change their lifestyle or do hours of study or training to use your product, unless changing lifestyle, studying or training is the whole point of the product. Be their butler, not their boss.
  5. You are a guest – be a good guest
    Your users have invited you into their personal spaces. Mind your manners, don’t interrupt, take off your shoes at the door. Be entertaining, responsive and offer to help without getting in the way. Be a good listener. Don’t offer your advice or opinion unless it is asked for. You want them to look forward to your next visit, not dread it.
  6. Users take a risk with you – honour their trust in you.
    Running with the ‘delightful guest’ metaphor, don’t leave your hosts feeling they should be careful what they say in your presence and count the silverware after you have left the room. You really do want to be invited back – they might even bring out the good stuff next time. Maybe one day they will ask you to be a godparent.
  7. Speak the user’s language.
    It is probably not C++, XML or Swift. Nor legalese, medicalese or psychobabble. Half of the population of developed countries has no more than Level 2 literacy skills [2] so requirements of vocabulary, sentence length and complexity, etc. need to be limited.  Is the language you are using even the user’s first language? Addressing someone with language that they do not understand suggests that you do not truly want to communicate with them – not a good way to win friends and influence people.
  8. Allow the users to express themselves.
    You are not the only person in the room and certainly not the most important one. It is not all about you (hello again, narcissists) – it is about your user. Let them actively participate. Let them be a co-creator of the outcomes. Then your offering becomes partly their offering. Then you have ‘ownership’ and engagement.
  9. Listen to what the users tell you.
    Ask for feedback in a way that makes it seem like you mean it – and respond to that feedback, promptly and gratefully. They went to the trouble to give you information (one of their assets – see number 2 above), so you owe them for that. Acknowledge the user’s contribution to improvements, don’t just take all the credit for yourself. If you want to be a masterful listener, don’t wait for the user to speak up: closely observe their behaviour and modify your designs to better match it. You’ve got the user on the dance-floor – now let them lead and you be the expert follower.

[1] ^ Tripp, T.M. & Bies, R.J. (in press). “Doing justice”: The role of motives for revenge in the workplace. In M. Ambrose & R. Cropanzano (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Justice in Work Organizations. Oxford University Press.

[2] ^ Using the OECD scale of 5 proficiency levels;–full%20v12–eBook%20(04%2011%202013).pdf

  1. “I’ll have that one, please.”
  2. “Umm. I don’t know. Which one do you recommend?”
  3. “Oh, this is too hard. ‘Bye.”

Three common consumer responses when offered a choice, three different responses to the burden of choice.

Yes, choice imposes a burden. Sometimes this burden is a pleasurable effort, sometimes it is challenging. Sometimes, it is just too hard, causing irritation and provoking disengagement.

More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote in his book Future Shock:

“Ironically, the people of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice, but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be the victims of that peculiar super-industrial dilemma: ‘Overchoice.'” – Future Shock, p.264.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz explored this idea further in his book The Paradox of Choice (watch his TED Talk here), where he highlights the fallacy that more choice means more freedom. Choice enables us to exercise our free will, affirming our existence as autonomous individuals rather than slaves to a predetermined destiny. But too much choice can be paralysing and reduce satisfaction, even with optimal choices.

Some choice is good, too much choice is bad. Referring to this cartoon by Peter Steiner, Schwartz says that “everybody needs a fishbowl” to limit their choices to a manageable quantity.

Although information technology has in many ways made the avalanche of overwhelming choice possible, used smartly, technology also has the potential to relieve people from the burden of too much choice.

A key gamification design principle is that of ‘meaningful choice’. Meaningful choice involves presenting the consumer with a limited set of options, each one of which represents the expression of some value and each of which leads to distinctly different consequences. Meaningful choice presents the consumer with a decision that is anchored in their self-concept. The choice made is a form of self-expression – and people are generally motivated to express themselves through their actions. Game developers have found that providing meaningful choice is an important part of building and maintaining engagement.

This is why at +play, we make empathy with consumers a key design parameter. Empathy for the burden that choice can impose and a related effort to understand exactly which choices this consumer would welcome at this time so that they can say, “I’ll have that one, please. Where do I pay?” Commercially, true engagement is measurable at the cash register – so having empathy for the consumer is a good way of showing empathy for the client!