Blog Archives

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!

If Wearables Are Going to Grow Up, Games Might Point the Way

See on Scoop.itgamified2learn

If Wearables Are Going to Grow Up, Games Might Point the Way AllThingsD Conference attendees packed one of the meeting rooms at the Los Angeles Convention Center last week to hear Mind Pirate CEO Shawn Hardin and VP Unni Narayanan pitch games for…

Sky V. King‘s insight:

We’re so close to making the “Sight” video a reality.
Would you want a gamified layer on top of real life, smart glasses that help you navigate life?  Google glass is here… just needs a little more development.

See 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: .