Adding Gamification to Your Community

I wrote a post about Gamification last week and this week, I want to dive into more detail about how to apply gamification and game mechanics to a community site.  It is interesting to see gamification now being applied in a marketing/website/community context, because many marketers and community managers have already been using these techniques to build engagement for several years.  But I am more than willing to jump on the gamification bandwagon if it helps push the boundaries for other marketers and community managers.

In any case, there are many ways to incorporate game mechanics into a community and which ones are appropriate depend a lot on the make-up of your community audience and what the ultimate goals for the community are.  In addition, my belief is that you need to gradually introduce new elements into a community and make sure that any new features are fully explained and documented.  Otherwise, you could overwhelm your audience or get suboptimal uptake of the new features.

Universe of Game Mechanics — According to a definition in the Gamification Wiki,“Game Mechanics are constructs of rules and feedback loops intended to produce enjoyable gameplay.”  To break the definition into simpler terms, game mechanics let you build features that are fun and addictive.

In my earlier gamification post, I provided a table that compared game mechanics to human desires.  This is just a subset of possible types of game mechanics that could be incorporated into a community or website.

Building Blocks of Gamification from Bunchball

The Gamification Wiki actually lists 24 different game mechanics and SCVNGR identifies 47 unique game mechanics based on an article published on TechCrunch by Erick Schonfeld last year.  SCVNGR is a mobile game with real world challenges — and all SCVNGR employees are given the Game Dynamics Playbook and ‘strongly’ encouraged to memorize the deck of game mechanics cards.  SCVNGR’s games and challenges are built using combinations of these game mechanics.  Both of these lists can be used to brainstorm on adding new features and elements to any website or community.

Community Audience Questions — Before you can add gamification to your community, you need to really understand your community.  Here are some probing questions that need to be answered before adding any new gamification features to a community:

Do you have an open or closed community?  Is your community a professional, social, support, informational, hybrid or something else community?  How do you want members to use the community?  How many members do you have and how many do you add in a typical week or month?  What is the typical member profile?  How engaged are your community members?  How do you measure engagement?  What motivates your members to join, participate and stay engaged in the community?  Do you have robust member profiles?  Are member profiles searchable?  Can members ‘friend’ or message other members?  Do you have a way for members to add their Twitter or Facebook accounts to their profiles?  How  easy is it for members to share content on other sites?

Community Goals — Likewise, you also want to make sure that the goals for your community are well understood and syndicated across your organization:

What goals are you trying to accomplish with the community?  Can you measure them?  Do you have any elements of gamification incorporated into your community today? Does your community platform support gamification elements?  Can you track your measures in your community system?

Measures of Engagement for a Community — There are 5 generally-accepted measures of engagement for a community:

  1. Recency — when was the last visit?
  2. Frequency — how often does the member visit?
  3. Duration — how long do members stay on the sight when they visit?
  4. Virality — how often do members share content on the site?  and how much is their sharing amplified through their network?
  5. Ratings — how often do members rate content on the site?
Suggestions for Community Gamification — Based on my experiences with professional user communities, I am going to make some suggestions for what gamification features I would want in a community today.  Many of features were not available in the community platforms I used in the past and some may not be available on your platform either.  If these features are not available on your platform today, they then become your short list for features and enhancements that need to be added to your site.  As a start, these gamification techniques should satisfy community members’ human needs for reward, status, achievement, recognition, competition, altruism and self-expression.
Robust profile system [self-expression, status, achievement]– First of all, the member profile system needs to be robust with the option to upload a picture and have free form bio descriptive fields.  Most importantly, I should be able to link my profile to my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles and possibly use single-sign-on use those services.  The profiles should also keep a history of a user’s activity, badges and points.  Another requirement for the profile system is that members should be able to create virtual friendships or groups within the community site.

Point system [competition, achievement, reward, status] – I definitely want to keep track of points, but I want to be able to customize the calculation of the points.  I don’t know what the ideal point values would be, but I know that I would want to experiment with rewarding members for recent visits, the frequency and duration of their visits, their sharing of content on the site or in their social networks, creating content, participating in discussions or rating content.

Leaderboards [reward, status, achievement, recognition, competition] – Customization is also important in the leaderboards.  I want to have multiple leaderboard; for example, I may want a weekly, monthly and all-time versions of the leaderboard that I will post in different parts of the community site to recognize leaders who are currently contributing the most to the community experience and to others who have been long time contributors.

Badges [status, achievement, reward, recognition, competition, self-expression] – I also want members to receive recognition for their achievements by earning badges that can be displayed on their profiles and announced via their social networks.  As a community manager, I want to be able to create different types of badges including limited edition or special occasion badges.

Content rating [altruism, self-expression] – Content ratings have been around for awhile, and they are an important part of increasing engagement.  I would push the envelop further by making it easier for users to share their content ratings and to search for content based on the rating.
Content sharing [altruism, self-expression] – Members must be able to easily share content they like within their social networks, via bookmarking sites and by email.
Challenges [competition, reward, achievement] – As a phase 2 implementation, I would also want to add some custom challenges to my community to drive additional engagement.  I am not sure what form these would take, but I would start thinking about how to incorporate challenges while implementing the other elements noted above.
Additional Gamification Resources
While writing this post, I came across some additional resources that I want to include as references for readers who want to learn more about gamification:
What is Gamification Really? by Michael Wu, Chief Analytical Scientist for Lithium

The Gamification Backlash – Two Long Term Business Strategies by Michael Wu, Chief Analytical Scientist for Lithium

Gamification Research Network – The Gamification Research Network (GRN) is a communication hub for academic and industry researchers and students interested in studying the use of game elements in non-game contexts. The purpose of the GRN is to further research in the area by providing a repository of relevant people, projects, and publications, and by offering a shared space of discussion and publication.

Gamasutra – The art and business of making games

Semantic Foundry Survey of Gamification and Behaviorial Economics Resources


3 thoughts on “Adding Gamification to Your Community

  1. Good post. You’re right about this new buzzword. Gamification has been around forever. It’s really about tapping into the motivations and values of the individual “players” of a community. It’s now just becoming more programmatic with badges, points, etc from companies like Buzzball.

    I’d like to point out that that in terms of measuring engagement, there is also the act of contribution. To me (and the community I manage which is completely UGC), that is the holy grail of engagement.

  2. Pingback: The Thrones of Game – A Slideshare on Gamification by Leo Sorge « Social Media Musings by Tom Humbarger

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