Gamification As Incentive

Game mechanics have a lot to offer the worlds of business and academia in terms of incentivising staff and students. The traditional incentives of carrot and stick; reward for success and punishment for failufre have been shown in repeated studies to actually be counter productive for anything except simple manual tasks. For any task which requires even a low level of cognitive involvement it has been shown that higher rewards actually degrade performance. What is it, then, which actually motivates people? The studies looked at some of the things that people do in their spare, unremunaritive, time and landed on three keywords.

Autonomy : The desire to be self directed.

Mastery: The desire to be good at something, or better at something.

Purpose: The feeling that you are making a contribution to the greater good.

Game mechanics offer some simple and concrete methods for fostering such motivators and many people feel that such game mechanics, or ‘gamification’ will become increasingly important in the coming decade. Seth Priebatsch, self described tech ninja at start-up SCVNGR says “The last decade saw the building of the social layer. The next decade will be the decade when the game layer is built.” There are three particular sorts of game mechanics which could be useful to the ARCH ranking system. These are: The Progression Dynamic, in which a user is shown their progress through a specific task as well as their overall progress within the system. A simple green bar with some sort of percentage complete figure is a surprisingly strong motivator; people want to move that bar across to 100% and thus gain the next level, or win rewards and such. The social network Linkdin, which focusses on fostering professional connections, has such a progress bar to indicate how much of your profile you have filled in and it seems to work well for them in terms of motivating people to complete this task. The rewards for completing a given progression need not only be advancedment to the next level, where the progression starts again. Many sites and services use the idea of badges to rewards particular activities and these too have been shown to be a strong motivator. In terms of ARCH one could, besides progressing up the ranks as described in the previous article, award badges for specific activities or achievements. For instance there could be a ‘Polyglot’ badge for successfully performing operations on records in a nuber of subject areas, or an ‘Attendance’ badge for logging in and performing work for a given number of consecutive days. It should be possible to measure the time taken to complete the work on a single record and, as the user becomes more adept, to issue badges based on increasing throughput. These badges, and a person’s general progress could be displayed on a person’s personal profile page and be publically visible, thus promoting a certain amount of healthy rivalry or competition amongst users. This then forms part of another basic game mechanic which we’ll call Community Discovery. Rivalry within a community through the use of leaderboards and such can be good in itself, but the possibility of tasks which require the co=operation of two or more users to achieve also suggests itself. Such co-operative working is a significant factor in the process of building a community and giving it a sense of cohesion.

In the above ways the ARCH ranking system could be said to engender all three of the motivating factors which studies have shown to be the real incentivisers for people: Purpose, as with Wikipedia, a feeling that you’re contributing to a common good. Mastery: progression through the ranks and the accumulation of badges give immediate and tangible feedback to the user that they are becoming better at performing their tasks. Autonomy: the increased levels of access for the higher ARCH ranks are concrete examples of a user’s progress conferring more autonomy upon them.

Bringing gamification to an academic endevour such as ARCH may seem to some to be trivialising a process which requires a lot of hard work; the original Intute catalogue, and the Humbul catalogue before it, took many man hours of painstaking work to assemble and maintain. Making it all in to a game may appear initially to cheapen these efforts, but, as the author Ian McEwan says in his novel The Cild In Time, “no one works more productively than a child at play.”

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