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How to (not) score a gamification epic fail

Turkey day is near, as is Black Friday (Blue Sunday, Cyber Monday etc).  It’s the “big day” for the retail world.  Currently, gamification is the biggest buzz word in the business sector.  Businesses want to increase engagement with their clients and develop customer loyalty which can reap substantial financial rewards, especially during the high holiday season. Let’s examine Target’s use of gamification in their Facebook page for Black Friday- the busiest shopping day of the year.

Poor gamification design in Black Friday campaign

Target's Black Friday gameGamification.co describes the poor design of the Target’s 2012 Facebook Black Friday campaign- notice that they didn’t run the same or similar campaign again this year.  The gist of the campaign is that you choose between two items to guess which item is on sale for Black Friday.  It then tallies and records how much you would save if you bought 20 “secret” items.  This information is already available through various formats- no new information.  The choices that the player makes is not meaningful. It ends up being gamification for gamification’s sake, what Gamification.co describes as “pointsification,” ie poor gamified design.  After reviewing Gamification.co’s article, below are a few take-away lessons.

    • Lesson 1:  Games elements enhance the game play experience.
      Don’t make people play the game to discover information that is readily available.  Below we’ll discuss examples of game design that successfully reveal new information through puzzles and/or “easter eggs.”  The objective of Target’s game does not align to the game activities that players perform.
    • Lesson 2: Social sharing should engage others to play.
      Target allowed players to share how much they would have saved if they purchased the 20 “secret” items.  Ability to socially share accomplishments in game play is important to elements of engagement and competition. Besides the fact that completion of the game as the only result of the game, the act of sharing this “achievement” does not engage others to play the game. After sharing, your friends should want to compare their game play to yours or in example, beat the “savings” you earned.  People are social by nature and usually want to connect with others by sharing their activities.

      Text correct of Harry Potter manuscript, bonus content from interactive puzzle

      Bonus content from J. K. Rowling’s Scholastic website

2 Examples of Good Gamification Elements

Using puzzles and/or providing “easter eggs” within a game can progress game play, as well as adding elements of mystery and excitement.  Prior to book releases or major press releases, J. K. Rowling used interactive puzzle games on her Scholastic website to entice her fans to discover bonus content or new information before it was shared through traditional venues.  Fans were required click on items in a certain sequence to reveal the bonus content or news releases.

Easter eggs refer to hidden items inside of the game or activity, as if they were eggs hidden during the Easter holiday during a scavenger hunt.  Sometimes these easter eggs will be graphics or textual clues to assist in resolving a larger puzzle or task.

Kevin Werbach’s Gamification course on Coursera uses easter eggs by changing items in a bookcase seen behind him in video lectures each week.  These items when collected or noticed by the students are evaluated to determine its value.  Werbach offered bonus points to the first student who guessed the hidden message adding a level of competition, as well as bragging rights as a form of reward.  This type of game element supports players who like to explore or play a discovery role.  Werbach’s secret message was related to learning about games and added an extra layer to watching class lectures.

Target made the mistake of using redundant information in their Black Friday game which invalidated the game objectives, resulting in an epic gamification fail.  Kevin Werbach used hidden clues in video lectures that provided new, but optional information to students to encourage additional motivation to watch lectures.  What other types of easter eggs, hidden clues or puzzles can be added to a course to make learning fun?  Would using these elements distract you from the primary message of the course content?  How does one balance adding an engaging activity so that it doesn’t overshadow the primary learning objective?