Toward Well-Architected Gamification

Toward Well-Architected Gamification

Good gamification design involves an artistry and creativity that can’t be generated through purely mechanical principles and algorithms: in order to develop truly meaningful, enjoyable, engaging gamified systems, it’s necessary for one to possess the rich imagination, intuition, and firsthand lived experience comparable to those needed by a songwriter, novelist, or visual artist.

But creative genius alone isn’t enough to ensure the development of safe, practical, and effective gamified solutions. It’s also important for designs to be rigorously evidence-based, informed by empirical research that documents the effectiveness, ineffectiveness, or damaging counterproductivity of particular gamification techniques employed within particular contexts. Without such explicit scientific grounding, it’s possible for imagination, intuition, and lived experience to lead one astray, insofar as they’re shaped by humanity’s countless cognitive biases and the sort of broadly accepted (but often misguided) folk psychology whose “commonsense” understanding of human aspirations, desires, and motivations is increasingly shown to be at odds with the way in which the human heart and mind actually operate.

Gamification design as architectural design

The Gamification Institute is committed to the belief that the best gamification designs draw equally on the vibrant, whimsical spark of artistic creativity and the sober constraints provided by hard science. One can think of such imaginative, evidence-based gamification designs as being “well-architected,” insofar as they arise through a process similar to the one by which a skilled architect designs a new building. On the one hand, a great architect is necessarily a true artist who trusts his or her genius for creating complex material forms that can elicit surprising, satisfying, and engaging experiences for the occupants who interact with them. But at the same time, a new building must be designed in a way that successfully fulfills some concrete function, whether as a hospital, school, church, shopping center, or apartment building. And above all, before a new building can be constructed, its proposed design must be demonstrated to be consistent with a vast body of scientific and technical knowledge whose insights help ensure that the structure will be safe for use.

A universe of approaches and frameworks

There is no single best approach to designing an engaging gamified solution, just as there’s no single best approach to designing a new apartment building. No two gamification projects are alike: much depends on the unique organizational or societal environment within which a particular gamified system will exist, and every such system will reflect elements of its designer’s personal creative vision. But if there’s no single “best” method for gamifying a given situation, there are ways that are more demonstrably effective than others. There are diverse gamification frameworks whose solid theoretical foundations and robust empirical validation suggest their value for use in particular gamification design tasks.

The number and variety of conceptual frameworks proposed as tools for gamification design and analysis and the body of empirical research regarding the effectiveness of gamification techniques are continually growing. By exploring the research highlighted on this site, it’s hoped that you’ll find inspiration and insights to aid you in discovering (or moving further along) your own path for creating well-architected gamified solutions for concrete real-world challenges.