Unfortunately, gamification isn’t as simple as throwing in some badges & leaderboards and hoping for the best. It is becoming abundantly clear that there are some glaring gamification mistakes that even the biggest companies are making right now.Effective gamification requires careful research and clear learning objectives. Engagement and entertainment are just part of the equation. But how do you strike a balance between having fun and imparting facts?
In this post, we are going to show you the 7 most common mistakes made during the process of creating a gamified experience, so you can be aware and avoid them at all costs. Don’t let any small hiccups stop you from gaining all the benefits from your new gamification initiative.
1. Prioritising Rewards over Results
Quite often, here at Gamify we’ll find a lot of clients get caught up in the excitement of planning a gamification campaign that they often get lost in the details and forget the overarching purpose of the entire initiative.
Rewards are not the centrepiece of your gamification strategy. They are merely there as one of many motivators to help your users achieve the desired outcome. One of the most common gamification mistakes is placing rewards above results.
Badges, points and rewards are simple game mechanics that are used to motivate and improve user morale along the journey. For this reason, you need to start with clear campaign objectives and then determine how game mechanics fit into the picture. Not the other way around.
Nicolas Babin, GamFed Co founder and one of the leading authorities in gamification, points out a glaring flaw in not approaching game mechanics properly.
“The biggest mistake one could say is when people ‘game the system’, meaning they use gamification to win a prize and in the meantime, they do not fill out the data capture system correctly or honestly.”
When you advertise a very attractive reward, people will do whatever it takes to win (even cheat). Instead of the “achievement” being the most important factor, the prize itself becomes the main focus.
People should want to engage with your gamification initiative first and foremost, with rewards being a happy bonus. When rewards are ‘too desirable’ they can get in the way of the process.
Gamify’s independent studies have shown that initiatives that hold overtly desirable rewards often don’t accumulate the same level of unique users, as people often see the reward and assess that the competition must be too fierce to even warrant an attempt. Lower the bar on rewards and you’ll see a noticeable change in engagement levels.
2. Complicated Game Mechanics
This point is pretty self-explanatory.
Since the primary purpose of gamification is to achieve desired outcomes through a designated pathway, game mechanics should be simple and straightforward. You don’t want to complicate matters with point systems that are hard to comprehend or leaderboards that involve a complex set of rules and criteria.
Keep it as basic as possible so that users know how to earn the rewards and why they’re important. Gamification doesn’t need to be complicated in order for it to work, in fact, gamification experts have advocated for the simplicity of gamification.
Gamification is designed to increase engagement and desired results, if your game mechanics are getting in the way and hindering the outcome you may need to look at how you can simplify the process.
3. Inspiring too much competition
Like most things in this world, balance is the key. If your gamification initiative inspires too much or not enough competition, you simply will not get the desired results you hoped for.
There’s only so much competition that a user can take before they get discouraged or disengage from your campaign. Friendly competition can fuel users to perform at their best, but you can’t push the limits too far by making them feel uncomfortable or alienated.
This occurs mostly when a game design has no real cap on what is achievable. For example, if there is no certain amount of right answers, or no time-limit in place. Certain users can far excel beyond the other competitors. While this may sound like a positive, all those users that are left in the wake of their superior competition may lose interest and disengage.
Obviously, competition plays a huge part in Gamification, but to really engage your audience, the purpose of Gamification should not be competition alone. Focus on your users engaging with your core experience, rather than everybody competing to be first on the leaderboards.
Of course competition can add excitement, but it can also divert people’s attention from the main point. If suddenly everyone is preoccupied with reaching the top of the leaderboard they might not pay attention or care at all about engaging with the content.
Competition is often strongly tied to the rewards allocated. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the rewards can be too grand, resulting in competition that is blinded by the messaging and fixated on the prize, this can be treated through smaller rewards and more of them.
If you’re resetting your leaderboard every week and handing out a smaller weekly reward, you may find that the level of competition is more manageable and consistent.
4. Lacking aesthetic appeal
It seems strange that I even have to talk about this but a surprising amount of people create gamified initiatives that are hard just to look at. Their game mechanics and objectives are all well planned and laid out, yet unfortunately sometimes it comes at the cost of the game not being visually appealing, when it should not and does not have to be the case.
Your gamified experience needs to grab the users’ attention and reflect the subject matter, not to mention your brand image.
Templates, Themes, Sounds, Sprite sheets, Icons and other designs elements, all need to be laboured over and not just be an afterthought. This might sound overwhelming but the details really do carry a lot of weight in whether or not a campaign is successful. Fortunately, Gamify offers you options in both onboarding users in our software or having our team create an entire gamification campaign on your behalf.
Remember, every image, character, and multimedia element should convey the core theme.
5. Allocating the wrong rewards for the task
Wow, it seems like rewards are a root issue for a lot of gamification pitfalls. In this case, choosing the wrong reward is on par with putting rewards above results.
If you’ve given the users a challenge that requires them to really rollup their sleeves, only to meet them with an underwhelming reward, be prepared for a mass exodus. Likewise, if you give the users an easily accomplished task and offer a reward that far exceeds the task’s value, you will have the results mentioned earlier regarding negative competitive outcomes.
For gamification to work, your reward process needs to be effective, as this is what keeps your users engaged and motivated. It may be worth asking your customers what kinds of rewards they would like to have; their answers may surprise you.
It is better to get their opinion before implementing a reward structure, rather than finding out later that your rewards are not exciting and inspiring to them.
Just like the old saying goes, ‘the punishment must fit the crime’, likewise ‘the reward must fit the challenge’.
6. Applying short-term strategies to long-term problems
Often we’ll find that clients will approach us with a problem they want to solve through a gamification campaign, however what they want out of the campaign often doesn’t align as an effective solution to their original problem.
One of the biggest mistakes in applying gamification to address long-term behaviour change is that people often use short-term gamification solutions.
Re-shape your approach to Gamification. Think of it as a program rather than a standalone project. Implementing long-term gamification can be achieved through strategy and thorough planning, variable-interval rewards, and adding new elements over time.
Plan, think out an in-depth strategic design, and ensure your rewards are carefully considered and well-integrated.
7. Having no defined strategy in place
Gamification works best when it is married to a preexisting strategy or campaign. If there is no predetermined strategy or even worse a preexisting strategy that is showing no real value. You run the risk of having a gamification campaign that has no defined course in which to run, floating aimlessly in the hopes of reaching open-ended goals such as “increase sales”.
A gamification effort needs to be carefully combined with an understanding of the overall goals. You need to map out events, efforts and behaviours to specific rewards, not just to the overall goal of “selling more”. Enabling internal goals or milestones like, "the ratio of data entries to next step activity", will put you on a defined course and will eventually lead to larger goals.
The first step to avoid this mistake is to establish a baseline strategy. This is necessary so gamification can assist and enhance the process. It must be clear that Gamification does not define the directives of your business and how you connect with customers.
An organisation needs to clearly have identified steps and activities that lead to success before going off and half-heartedly gamifying a campaign. The organisation needs to set clear goals, milestones and trigger events and then weave the gamification solution into the comprehensive effort.
Gamification is not new. It has been around for several years. There are many case studies, books, examples, and best practices you can reference to ensure your success. Take time to do your homework. strategy first, gamification second.
These gamification mistakes can really hurt a campaign’s numbers. More importantly, they have the power to diminish the value of your brand. Avoid these pitfalls and create a winning gamification strategy that suits both your brand and the user.
For further reading to help you understand and plan out a gamification campaign, check out What are Game Mechanics?, 10 things to consider before you commission a game & 8 Pillars Of Successful Marketing Campaigns.