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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 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 describes as “pointsification,” ie poor gamified design.  After reviewing’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?

How to Beat the Game- Motivation in Education

boy walking with carrot dangling from a stick via a hat contraptionMotivating students to achieve, learn, retain.  It’s what instructors and instructional designers want.  The question continues to be how to do it best, your newest buzz word- what’s “best practice”?  Gamification is another buzz word being throw around in various sectors from corporate business to education, with claims to increase interaction, sales or engagement by supposed triple number percentages.  Gamification is the process of applying game elements to ordinary activities to affect a desired change. A best practice, possibly. Get ready for a news flash: education is already gamified.

But, Education Is (Poorly) Gamified

Is education is already gamified? Some say yes it is, yet poorly. We say poorly because students aren’t effectively engaged and compete poorly on a global scale.  Let’s address some game design elements currently used in education:

  • Course objectives are goals for attainment.
  • Students earn points for completing tasks (assignments=quests).
  • Students collaborate in groups (guilds).
  • Students get feedback through grades.
  • Students level up based on points, moving from C-> B -> A. Students level up through grade years as well.
  • Grades K-12 have honor rolls while universities have the Dean’s List in the way of leader boards.
  • The ultimate badge/certification is a diploma.

The imperative is to address these game elements, as well as others, in order to make them more effective towards the course objectives. Game design is everywhere, as Elizabeth Sampat argues.  Gamification is one tool for learning in education, not a solution or magic formula.  It depends on the design, the mechanics.  Good Design = Good Gaming.

Get Practice in Game Design

Before you begin to apply game elements to your lessons, you may want to get into the “trenches” first. Playing well-designed games is a great way to start to get experience in gamification and game design.  Find games that have a “stickiness” factor- the addictive qualities or that desire to make you want to keep playing.  Ask yourself why you keep playing?  What makes you think about the game when you are not playing? What game elements are used and what continues to motivate you?  What frustrates you, though not enough to make you want to give up? These are the elements you should captivate and employ to increase collaboration and engagement in your courses.

Check out 16 principles of good game design by James Gee for more details how to apply game elements to education.  My favorite is “pleasantly frustrated,” whereas I continue for the past 249+ days to try to beat level 147 in Candy Crush with the sound turned off (because it is annoying), without contributing any money to it’s company, King.

Examples of Applying Game Elements to Education


Applying game elements to education is especially effective when you teach the players how to build their own game.  This Edutopia article describes how students create their own boss level assignment to overcome. The phrase “boss level” refers to the culminating challenge in a video game where players use all the skills they have to solve the problem. Students apply what they have learned during the semester to create a challenging task, a Rube Goldberg machine (a machine designed to accomplish a simple task in a complex way, usually through chain reaction)- transitioning the learner to leader.  This approach provides prime opportunity for a student-centered learning environment.


Professor Lampe from University of Michigan teaching informatics shares how he gamified his class lectures here through- *gasp* a video. Prof. Lampe has received testimonies from his former students noting they have a better recollection of the class experience and the course content compared to others classes.  Study is still ongoing to quantify the result of the gamification of his course.


Steven Johnson from Temple University introduced The Quest to his MIS3538 Social Media Innovation course.  He used self-paced learning and self-selected activities that progressively got more difficulty providing feedback through points, badges, ranking through a leader board and recognition for leveling up.  Read more about it.

Hopefully this has your brain gears churning away of how to apply gamification principles to engage students.  Don’t forget to leave us a comment especially if you think Candy Crush’s music is weird or if you have used gamification in your course. Until next time, keep on gaming!

TRENDING: Disney’s Second Screen Live Gamifies the Movies!

We’re going to take a break from talking about game elements that contribute to gamification right now and discuss a new trend in entertainment. Yes, I know I said that this blog was about gamification applied to education, but it’s a complex world where most everything is related.

Ever hear about the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park? I rest my case about the fact that everything is connected (which I would love to include the article link, but as I’m writing this there is a government shutdown affecting the websites- link was placed in after government continued functioning fully).

American Idol & The Voice Give Opportunities for Engagement


By Lestat (Jan Mehlich) [CC-BY-SA-2.5]

American Idol and The Voice are singing competitions where audience members can vote on their favorite performances. American Idol allows audience members to vote during a two-hour window by calling, texting or submitting their votes online. The Voice allows audience members to vote through iTunes song downloads.

Both shows encourage live tweeting with performers and judges. These two shows really set the stage for audience members interacting with each other and their entertainment shows.

Disney’s Second Screen Live- Gamifying the Movies

Disney re-released “The Little Mermaid” in theaters with the following twist: bring your iPad downloaded with Second Screen Live App to interact with the movie while you are watching it. In fact when you enter the theater, you are split up into different teams named from the different characters to add a sense of competition to the mix. In addition to tapping out bubbles and fireworks, audience members solve trivia questions to rack up points.

Disney has applied game elements such as points and competition to watching a movie. Would you pay movie theater prices to watch a movie you’ve already watched? Most likely not, unless you have special connection or you watched it when you were a kid and now you have kids of your own. Disney’s betting on that too.

McDonald’s Monopoly Game Uses Gamification

In a previous post, we shared a monster of a list noting examples of gamification to include: McDonald’s Monopoly Game. “McNopoly,” as I’m coining it, encourages you to buy something that you might not normally buy in quantity, in the hopes you “win” something. Everyone likes to be a winner. It’s like like the phrase, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Someone wins at McNopoly, somewhere. However, lots of little prizes: free fries! Bet you buy a Coke to wash those fries down.

Gamifying the Movies- So What Does It All Mean

Most of us multitask, some even while using the toilet. I know, TMI. Do we really need to add another layer of stimulation in our movie theater going experience? However, the entertainment industry wants to capture ALL of your attention.

So what does this means if it was applied to education? How can we increase interaction and engagement by using some of the same elements that Disney has used? Perhaps live tweeting during classes using a specific hashtag (#FSULIS5385)? Hogwarts house style points system for answering questions correctly or doing the right & good things?

What would you do to increase engagement in learning? Would you see “The Little Mermaid” Second Screen Live if it came to a theater near you? Drop us a comment or two about what you think? Until next time, go get your game on! Don’t forget to drop by our Facebook page for additional #gamification content: .

A Game By Any Other Name… Defining a Game

What’s in a name? that which we call a game, By any other name would play as fun?

Hold up, wait a minute!  How could I blabber on about gamification without even defining what a game is?  You might say, “Silly goose, everyone knows what a game is.”  You might be able to identify a game by virtue of its fun factor, but what qualities make a game, a game?  Let’s take an example and break it down.

Is Tug of War a Game?

Sepia image of Zulu men posing for picture, playing tug of war in 1903

by Okinawa Soba (Flickr); CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Everyone will probably agree that Tug of War is a simple game.  First you need a rope and two teams, right?  Then you place the rope on the ground, unfurled and straight.  In the middle, there is a real or imaginary line drawn.  Equal numbers of players (usually 8 per side) aligned themselves with the ends of the rope on each side of the center line.  When the command is given to pull, each team pulls in the opposite direction to get the other team to cross the center line.  There are variations on these rules and more formal ones can be found the Tug of War Federation rules page.

I’m not keen on using Wikipedia as a scholarly resource, but it does have a nice definition of what a game is: “A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool. Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements.”  Games include the following components:

  1. Goal
  2. Rules
  3. Challenge
  4. Interaction/Choices.

Using our Tug of War example, the goal is to get the other team to cross the center line to prove which team is stronger.  Our rules include using a certain number of equal players on each side, defining the center line etc.  The challenge of game is overcoming the obstacle of the other team’s strength.  Interaction doesn’t necessarily refer to interaction between players even though in this example this occurs.  Interaction or choices refers to a player’s feedback from interacting with other players or acting upon game tools.

Another good but very general definition of a game by Kevin Maroney is “a game is a form of play with goals and structure.”  Simple and easily expressed; however, it folds rules, challenge and choices into “structure.”  Later when we talk about what makes a good game, we’ll want to have these different aspects separate for evaluation.

Watch a Video: Popcorn Time

Check out this TEDtalk by Will Wright, creator of Spore, the Sims and Sim City.  He talks about the birth of his game Spore and how he believes games can change the world.  Can you identify the four (4) game components of Spore we mentioned previously in this post?  I know, it’s a little long but totally worth it! Drop us a comment or two about your definition of game or your thoughts on gaming changing the world.  We’d love to hear from you.  Until next time, keep on gaming!

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Top 3 “Fun” Fitness Apps to Keep You Fit for the Zombie Invasion

Congratulations, by clicking on this post you’ve burned approximately 1.42 calories!  Not many love exercising- it is what it is.  Most of us don’t have super active jobs anymore so we need to exercise in order to maintain our health and fitness, or improve it.  I won’t harp on the exponentially rising obesity rates in the United States, because we ain’t got time for that. Games are a great way to motivate us to get on the exercise ball!  The combination of video games and exercise, termed as “exergaming” has steadily been on the rise since Nintendo Wii’s inception. Let’s move on, or just start moving!

3. Nexercise

Here’s a basic gamified approach to exercise that awards badges, points and also uses leader boards (BPL).  You can also win rewards: swag, ie free stuff and discounts to merchandise/services.  Share your results easily with friends to add to the  competition game element.  What’s so great about this app?  If you are competitive and a high achiever, this app will get your started on your fitness journey.  However, there is no storyline in Nexercise and no direct engagement while you are exercising.  This app is more akin to a activity monitor with perks!

2. Fit Freeway

Screenshot of Fit Freeway app during play

Lose weight and get fit playing video games. Really! The key is finding exercise you enjoy – that’s Fit Freeway.

This app will get you racing to use the elliptical or stationary bike!  Fit Freeway is an old-style arcade car racing game.  Available for iOS devices, it uses the iPhone/iPad accelerometer to track your activity while you use the front facing camera to steer your speeding car.  Seeing as you need to hold the phone in front of your face for this app to work properly, you’re going to lose some intensity while running/jogging.  However, the faster or more intense your activity- the faster your car goes!

What’s great about this app?  This is fun and sometimes that is all you need.  The fun factor provides a distraction from gym boredom of staring at the wall or the TV.  However, a review stated the vibration detection to determine the car’s acceleration wasn’t spot on.  Fit Freeway might be left in the dust compared to the next top “fun” fitness app listed below.

1. Zombie Run

Zombie Run 2 logo

Get Fit. Escape Zombies. Become a Hero.

Download either Zombie Run ($3.99) available for iOS or Android.  Zombies are big now, much like most of our waistlines. The premise is you are not undead, but the undead are chasing after you.  While you run, you pick up ammunition and medical supplies that you need for your home base.  You create your own music playlist and in between song tracks voice recordings or radio announcements are made updating you to your storyline.  After your run/jog, you use supplies to build up your home base.

What’s great about this app?  Run or die. The future of humans is depending on you; it’s a race for survival.  It’s a severe thought, but a motivating one if you role play in this situation.  In addition, this game has a creation component that allows you to create a virtual living environment as you are responsible of the success and viability of the home base/township.  Psychologically speaking, this type of activity gives an user a sense of control and accomplishment.  This game has 33 free missions (more if you pay for them) to allow you to level up as you play. In addition, this app easily allows you to share your workout logs with others via social media, like Facebook and Twitter.  Stay alive and go get your game on!

Badges, Points, and Leaderboards: the new black?

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” -William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Welcome back players! As we discussed in the previous blog post, each player plays their game of choice for different reasons and game designers develop qualities to the games to make them addictive.  Designers want you to play the game and when you are not playing the game, they want you to think about playing the game so that you return to playing the game as soon as possible.  They use different game elements to make it so.

Basic Game Feedback Types

  • Blue and gold badge in shape of shield with image of person typing on keyboard and picture of dialog bubble

    The Socialite Badge is given to learners who are able to post in a discussion forum, attach a file and reply to a discussion post. This badge was designed by S. V. King for Florida International University’s ENT4113 taught by Professor Kaihan Krippendorff.

    POINTS: You play pinball and you try to get your personal best high score.  You continue to play the game based on points feedback.  You’re the pinball king (or queen)!

  • LEADERBOARD: Oh no!  You’re not in #1 place anymore, player ZED has bumped you.  Time to get playing to regain your bragging rights!  This is related to points, of course.
  • BADGES: We’re going to talk a lot about badges later (they are the new black).  So let’s say you set up your account in a game and linked your Facebook account, so they awarded you a badge.  You’re like “Cool, that was easy!  What other badges can I get and what do I need to do?”  Badges are related to activities or tasks.  You look at the badges, see the activity requirements and start badge collecting like a rockin’ badger would.  You want them all.  Who doesn’t want bling on their trophy shelf?  It’s a sign of success and accomplishment.

Scaffolding in Games

So how do you get from looking at a game, to playing, and then to becoming engaged.  There’s a lot that goes into game design.  From a player’s perspective once you start playing a game, the game’s scaffolding helps to “hook you” into the game.  You could read this very academic paper on “The Scaffolding Mechanism in Serious Games,” but it might be simpler for me to break down what scaffolding is and how it is used through an excellent example of a never-ending game: Farmville.

Image of woman avatar with six plots for crops in Farmville game

Screenshot of Farmville starting crop plots

When we begin playing Farmville, we are given a set of simple directives: 1) Grow crops, 2) Raise animals and 3) Play with friends in a box with a button that says “Let’s Play” so we know what we will be doing.  It covers the middle of the screen so instinctively we know ( or most people know) to click on “Let’s play” to get started.  We are represented by an avatar in the middle of the screen with 3 plots of dirt- some with crops already growing and some ready to harvest.  A bouncing yellow arrow points to a button on the toolbar.  This let’s us know in the tutorial what we should do next.  Once we click on the appropriate button, a tool tip/message appears telling what’s next.  Things we need to click upon are highlighted or have arrows pointing to them, introducing one feature at a time.

As we complete different functions within the tutorial, we are rewarded with gifts to use within the game, points and within a short amount of time, we level up.  Game designers make leveling up easy at the beginning as we are learning,  so that we feel successful early in the game.  We have a good feeling associated with the game, we’re encouraged to go on and maybe that dopamine kicks in. Once they take us through the basic functions of the game, the tutorial is usually completed.  This is scaffolding- the gentle guidance through short term tasks to complete a larger or more complex activity.  Other games use storytelling narrative to develop their scaffolding structure.  Can you have a game without scaffolding?  Of course, but good scaffolding improves game play- the overall experience of playing the game.

Remember in using gamification, we want to apply these game elements to other activities.  Drop me a comment if you can think of other activities besides games where scaffolding takes place.  Until next time, go get your game on!  Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook at: .

Games kids play- Your first time?

My first game that I remember playing was Carmen Sandiego followed by Oregon Trail. I’ll tell you a secret if you won’t tell anyone. Promise? Okay, I still enjoy playing both of those games as an adult. I keep playing because I want to beat the games and I want to make it to Oregon faster and with more money than I did the last time. I’m competing with the game myself.


Photo of person dressed as Carmen Sandiego

copyright (c) 2012 by tr.robinson (flickr)
available by Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license

What made you keep playing? This refers to the “stickiness” of the game. Some people play games for a sense of distraction, to make the time pass in a more entertaining way like when they play punch buggy or I spy in a car. While others play to make a period of time more interesting, to up the stimulation ante such as those they playing drinking games during Walking Dead shows or while reading a silly blog post on gamification. However stickiness refers to qualities that make you pick the game controllers back up to keep playing.

So what keeps you playing, player? Were you trying to beat your own high score, to level up or white-knuckled to beat the game? Exploring imaginary worlds or role-playing as a unique character on an epic adventure? Connecting with friends or making new ones? These are some qualities that make games addictive and games are designed to be addictive.

In fact, there’s an app for that- well maybe not an app but at least a website to address video game & Internet addiction. The website is not an exaggeration of conservative folks going off the deep end. From the addiction website, it states that scientist conducted a study in 2005 that found dopamine levels in players’ brains doubled when playing. Dopamine as a mood-regulating hormone is associated with feelings of pleasure, which indicate that gaming could be chemically addictive. If you want to learn more about your brain on games, check out this great article referencing studies by James Gee.

On another note, what makes you stop playing a game you enjoy (or once enjoyed)?

In the next few blog posts, we’ll address WHY games and game elements are important, to identify the importance they play in gamification. Remember that a game does not make gamification make. For example in the reading of the previous blog post (task) that was gamified with a drinking game (game element), you were encouraged to drink more water (behavior change). Think of it this simplified way: Game Elements + Tasks/Activity =Behavior Change.

Gamify this!


Gamification: the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service….

Glass of ice water with lemon slice and straw sitting upon a white napkin on a wooden table

Jon Sullivan/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

Um, yeah. In short, we add game elements to an activity in order to change behavior. Perhaps we’ll do this to encourage someone to do something they really don’t like doing (like exercise), or we’ll gamify some activities to encourage a better quantity or quality of participation. As an example, let’s gamify this blog post.  Every time you read the word “gamification,” take a drink (ahem, of water). Cheers!

Now, I bet when you think of gamification, you’re still imagining video or computer games. Say you don’t play video games?  No worries- gamification still has a place in your life because it is everywhere.  Take a moment to think where you might have seen gamification in action.

You might think about:

Igor, it’s alive!  We’ll dismantle this monster of a list more in depth during a future post.  However, like any creation, things can go awry- especially if not well designed.


This blog will assist you in learning more about gamification and its components.  We’ll highlight good and not so good examples of its application to avoid a franken-gamification-stein. We want good gamification, and we want it now!  We’re going to explore and discuss gamification as a trend, some “how-tos” and debate its future- which involves you!


Extra Credits did a great video to introduce us to gamification, so let’s watch.  When they talk about gamification and it’s use in capitalism, do you think they have a valid point?

And lastly, gamification, gamification, gamification! 10 points to you if you’re on the way to the bathroom.  How many drinks was that?  What was my primary goal in gamifying this blog post, other than providing an example of gamification?  What behavior was encouraged to be modified? Drop in with a comment if you think you’ve got it.  Until next time, go get your game on!