Big data analytics can play an important part in gamified systems, which is why some kind of analytics engine is an essential part of these systems. A gamified system can be seen as any software system using game design elements to engage users and influence their behaviours in order to reach the system’s objectives more efficiently (see my other post on behavioural change).
The way users get feedback for their actions is crucial. By tracking certain variables related to users’ actions, a gamified system can find patterns, trends and correlations and be able to provide the appropriate feedback.
The gamified system can be a simple website or a web application. It can run on a server and be accessed by a computer with a web browser or it could be an app running on a smartphone storing data in the cloud. It could also be a mix of both or even rely on specific devices or gadgets. Users of gamified systems – let’s call them players – might have an active or a passive role in their relation to the game elements of the system.
To feed the analytics engine, the system must also include some kind of an activity manager, a component able to monitor and read the data generated by users’ activities.
A gamified system, depending on its type, objectives and architecture, can use one or more of the following four approaches to monitor and collect the data for the activity manager:
I. Automatically, by the system itself:
This is probably the most common use of gamification. The actions of the players on a website or web application are monitored and rewarded with points and badges. Players can share their achievements on social networks and compare their performance with others by looking at leaderboards. The goal is to increase traffic, page views, duration of visits and increase players’ loyalty. It is a marketing approach where metrics are taken from social games – such as Monthly Active Users (MAU) and Daily Active Users (DAU) and the level of virality (friend referrals) – are used to measure performance.
The biggest players in the gamification market, like Badgeville, Bigdoor, Bunchball or Gigya and other smaller ones like TierX, PunchTab or Uplaude provide the tools to power websites, blogs and web applications. These tools can be simple add-ons and plug-ins to monitor and reward the players’ activities.
Players take a passive role in these systems since they cannot control what is monitored and just let the system watch their actions.
Game elements are made up of PBL (Points, Badges & Leaderboards), a term coined by Kevin Werbach in his book, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. The players’ activities take place in a virtual environment and the non-gaming context where gamification is applied is the website/web application itself.
II. Using some external device:
In this kind of gamified system, a smartphone or another specific device or gadget is used to keep track of what the player is doing in any given context. The device synchronizes with a website to upload the collected data and the players are rewarded with the usual points and badges, can compare themselves with other players and share their achievements with friends. The best example of this kind of system is Nike+. By using a smartphone, a specific watch, an iPod or other Nike devices, players can track sports activities like running. Similar examples, using their own devices, are Fitbit and Zamzee, the latter one targeting a younger audience. Another interesting and funny example is HAPPIfork, an electronic fork that monitors eating habits.
The players take an active part in the process since they can control whether to use the system or not, what to track, what to share or what to achieve. By doing so, they get a sense of autonomy.
The non-gaming context is in the real world. Feedback and fun are some of the key features in these systems, along with the sense of relatedness and healthy competition with other players. Most of these systems aim at influencing behaviours and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
III. Relying on the players:
In these systems, the players have full control over the collected data. Data is collected only by the initiative of the players using an app in a smartphone or logging into a website. The players are active players. The most well-known example in this area is Foursquare. The players are responsible for checking in at a place and sharing it with others. The players are motivated by boosting their social status and competing with others. Other systems of this kind aim at the players’ self-improvement like the iPhone app Lift, which tracks personal objectives, and Epic Win, which monitors chores and reminders with a RPG setting.
To increase the sense of purpose among the players and make them feel that they are contributing to a cause (also as a way to keep players on board), there are systems like Recycle Bank, which aim to improve behaviours such as recycling or using energy more efficiently. Other examples are Pratically Green and Opower, which has its own big data analytics engine.
For these systems to work, players must have a high level of motivation at the start. The system won’t work if the player is not an active player. They are very similar to the previous type of systems where the device to monitor activities is replaced by the player. The players do more than simply switching the monitoring device on and off since they have the power to choose what and when to register. Also the non-gaming context belongs to the real world.
IV. Relying on users that are not necessarily players:
In this fourth approach, the players’ activities are monitored by a human user responsible for inserting the collected data. This user can also be a player with special privileges. Some examples of this kind of system can be found in the education sector where these ‘special users’ are teachers or students’ parents. Students are the players and they are passive players because they cannot act upon what is being monitored. They just play with the rules defined by their teachers or their parents.
An example is ClassDojo, a system where teachers (users that are not players) can reward the students in their classes with positive points for rewarding desired behaviours, and negative points for punishing the undesired ones. Chore Wars is an RPG-like platform which tracks how much housework players do and is halfway between this group of systems and the previous one. Players can just log in and claim an achievement (a predefined chore they did) and get experience points (XP).
A special user, the “Dungeon Master” chooses which chores exist and their XP but this privilege can also be given to other players. A similar example is Highscore House, where parents assign chores to their children and track the completion of the tasks. Parents can also choose to play and decide which chores are assigned to each player. Players may need parental approval to complete a task in order to make sure it was properly completed.
Also in Vivo Miles, a web-based rewards system for schools, students own their personal rewards card to store electronic points (called ‘Vivos’). These points can be exchanged for physical goods or used to skip the lunch queue. The school sets up what behaviours are to be rewarded or penalised and the teachers reward students.
Although the last approach is not so closely related with big data, an analytics engine is still needed to deal with the data inserted by the users that act as mediators between the system and the players. Regardless of the process used to collect data, combining game elements with data can be a major advantage of gamified systems since they become more able to give immediate and accurate feedback to the players in a fun and engaging way. And that certainly can drive behavioural change, which is the ultimate goal of gamification.
Image by kevinkrejci
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