This is, and that is not, a gamified solution

This is, and that is not, a gamified solution

To paraphrase Mary Poppins, “in every energy efficiency behavior that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! the job’s a game.” Incidentally, the eponymous musical is set in 1910, during the infancy of suburban electric power. A century later, the power of fun and games remain. In fact, more and more businesses are harnessing games. Even as researchers strive to classify and understand gamification, utilities are adding it to their behavioral toolkits.

Last week, we began discussing gamified solutions for energy efficiency. Gamification helps customers to change energy consumption by making it fun, and by giving feedback and context about the effects those changes are having. Today, we go into more detail about the elements of gamification — what it is — and a little about what it is not.

Elements of a gamified solution

Researchers have not reached a consensus on the elements of gamification. Different papers have different lists. As recently as 2014, research on gamification (by Darina Dicheva and others), found that, “there is not a commonly agreed classification of game design elements.” A 2011 paper by Sebastian Deterding (direct link to the PDF) and others classifies elements from, “concrete to abstract,” and gives examples within each category:

  1. Interface design patterns such as badges, levels, or leaderboards.
  2. Game design patterns or game mechanics.
  3. Design principles or heuristics: guidelines for approaching a design problem or evaluating a design solution.
  4. Conceptual models of game design units….
  5. Game design methods, including game design- specific practices….

(pages 1-2 — emphasis on category names ours).

Distinguishing a gamified solution

There is a spectrum to gamified solutions, a spectrum that extends beyond the game’s boundaries.

Less than a game: In one way, a gamified solution isn’t a full fledged game. Deterding et al, distinguished the two. “Gamification is the use of elements of game design in non-game contexts. This differentiates it from serious games and design for playful interactions,” (page 1).  Gamified solutions do not necessarily have one singular goal or strategy to “win”.

More than a game: In another way, gamified solutions extend beyond the traditional boundaries of a game. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) analyzed 22 gamified solutions and published some findings in a paper last year (2015). The ACEEE paper was, “careful to distinguish such solutions from… video games…. Whereas a video game is designed to entertain its players, gamified activities are meant to motivate and help the players to perform real-world actions.” To put this into an energy-specific context, “In an energy efficiency game, players may have adventures and rack up the highest scores, but those achievements are not ends in themselves but a means of encouraging them to save energy,” (page 2-3).

Not a rewards program: Gamification isn’t the same thing as a rewards program either. Though, as the ACEEE paper notes, a gamified solution may share features with a rewards program, they are not the same thing. A rewards program is all about the rewards. “Rewards programs (e.g., frequent flyer miles) engage people by promising them a tangible reward in exchange for some action. Customers are motivated to engage because they will be compensated,” (page 2).  In gamified solutions, customers likely earn rewards that encourage ongoing participation, in addition to or instead of winning things.

You can learn about the basic steps involved in planning a gamified solution next week. Until then, we’ll see you can keep in touch on Twitter and Facebook. And remember the (persuasive) power of fun!

Photo credit: “spots before your eyes” by Liz West.

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