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Demystifying Gamification: Designing for Play-Style Preference

Demystifying Gamification: Designing for Play-Style Preference

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Four Personalities to Consider when Designing a Gamified Experience

In its simplest definition, gamification is the art of facilitating play. Because we’re wired for it — because human beings are neurologically and biologically encoded to benefit from play — gamification is a useful and powerful tool that helps people and organizations learn, change, and above all, solve problems.

While gamification is most definitely not a way to motivate people (see my recent post for the “why” on that), it is a great way to facilitate and influence behavioral change.

As digital strategists, we can utilize another widget (a metaphorical one), also borrowed from game theory. That widget is play-style preference.

The wisdom of play-preference enforces the fact that, when it comes to user-experience design in gaming, one size most definitely doesn’t fit all. The more we know about how we play, the better — and more effective (and more engaging) — the gamified experience will become.

Gameplay’s Meta (and Mesa) Effect

Jane McGonigal, an experienced game designer, is a vocal champion of gaming. She’s a passionate proponent of gameplay’s meta-effect — a result that includes collaboration, the fostering of positive social attitudes, and the harnessing and directing of consciously focused attention: most specifically in ways that train our collective intelligence toward improving quality of life, and solving social ills.

McGonigal has also become the public face of gamification. It’s a title she balks at, given most people’s common misconception of what gamification is. Many believe gamification can manufacture motivation and actively manipulate human behavior — two popular beliefs that run counter to what McGonigal knows to be true. (She’s rightly in B.J. Fogg’s camp. Again, see my previous post for more.)

By these metrics, when the goal of a game hits home — when it aligns with a player’s feelings, needs, and desires — that’s the precise point when engagement takes place. However, when goal-alignment happens within an experience that’s been consciously designed for a user’s preferred play-style, engagement will peak. This is the mesa-effect, or the result brought about on the personal, granular, unique-component level (as opposed to the meta / overarching level). When meta and mesa synch up, amazing stuff becomes possible.

Four Styles, Many Combinations

According to the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, there are four basic player personality-types — four play-styles that must be taken into account (and designed for) when gamifying any experience. Here’s how it breaks down.

Killers are the queens and kings of any competitive landscape. They thrive on competition. Killers also delight in interfering with the smooth function of the game-world, and enjoy exerting control or influence over others’ experience of the game, or of gameplay in general. Power and dominion are the ends that justify their means.

Achievers are the athletes of the gaming environment. Tuned for success and trained on personal-best as much or more than on competition, Achievers prefer gaining points and progressing from level to level, amassing caches of badges, powers, knowledge, or privileges as they go. They tend to accumulate status by beating the rules-based challenges of a game’s logic and world. They’re driven. (And that’s an understatement.)

Explorers are the scouts, discoverers, and sometimes guides of a game’s ecosystem. They gain fulfillment and joy from seeking, uncovering, and creating. Explorers revel in discovering the systems governing the game-world, and radically prefer open versus timed, constrained, or structured play. They’re often happy to play alone, but (depending on a player’s unique traits-mix) can also become knowledgeable mentors or altruistic guides for other players.

Socializers are the gadflies of gaming. Fulfilled by human connection, they see gameplay first and foremost as a way to forge relationships with other players, both in-game and IRL (in real life). Often open to collaboration, Socializers can be great team players. They also love to tell stories within the game world, and are usually very open to aiding others. (On the shadow-side, they can also be instrumental in fomenting drama.)

All four player-types anchor the four main components of any game (seen on the axes of the diagram):  action, interaction, characters / players, and world / logic. Here’s why all of this matters on the design-side: any user, any player, will have a mix — a varying percentage — of all four qualities within them. For this reason, it’s essential to design an experience that delivers gamplay components that simultaneously satisfy all four player-types. A little bit of purpose and exploration here, a little bit of competition and reward there (etc.), and users will find far more entry-points for engagement.

Play it Forward

Regardless of play style, the gamified experience comes pre-loaded with powerful potential — one that can catalyze crucial, 21st-century behaviors like collaboration, and collective co-operation. Not only can these skillsets — these mental models — be applied to business, they’re precisely the mindsets that will help us tackle 21st-century issues that are far more critical than a company’s bottom-line. Given that the stakes have never been higher, what better way than play to help us discover how to restore the holistic health, viability, and balance of the world we’re here to care for and co-create. In the process, we’ll no doubt solve a business problem or two.

Forward. Digital. Thinking.

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