Gamification: The Pursuit of Progression

THIS IS REPOSTED FROM: Samantha Stahlke of the HCI Games Group \\ ORIGINALLY POSTED: JUNE 10, 2015

A great article that pulls apart the term gamification, discusses gamification design, and then finishes by looking at a few interesting examples.

Game-ification: to transform into a game.

If creative commons internet linguistics resources are to be believed, the suffix -ification means ‘to become’, and is of Latin and French origin. You can see why the definition sparks so many debates. What exactly makes something “gamelike”? Are there different degrees of “gameness”?

What should and should not be gamified?

A quick internet search reveals that the vast majority of gamification is aimed at making “healthy” or “productive” tasks more entertaining. But don’t we usually use the word “productive” to describe something that consists of work, and “work” typically describes something that is only done because it needs to be done, for economic reasons or otherwise. The very nature of work itself then calls into question the applicability of games as a delivery medium, since the so-called lusory attitude generally states that players engage in games not out of necessity, but for the enjoyment of the experience.

Kaleidoscope of Effective Gamification.

Habit RPG

HabitRPG, a gamified service. In essence, it is a fairly complex to-do list, spruced up with customization, themed collectibles, and social features. It’s fairly easy to get into, and seemingly addictive, with a simple, straightforward premise: set your own goals, and earn trinkets and prestige for completing them.

Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run!, an app that abandons traditional point-based systems to motivate exercise by immersing users in an intermittent zombie apocalypse during their workout.

Chore Wars

Chore Wars, an old-style Dungeons and Dragons-esque game for knocking out housework. The integration of social family features promises to create some interesting household dynamics.


Duolingo, an app designed to assist in learning a new language through simple activities and reward mechanics. I found this one particularly interesting because it focused on acquiring new knowledge, rather than on work or exercise like many other apps.

Be sure to check out the original post by Samantha Stahlke to read the whole article

Stahlke, S. (2015). Gamification: The Pursuit of Progression. Retrieved 17 July, 2015 from

Kappen, D.L. Nacke, L.E. (2013). The Kaleidoscope of Effective Gamification: Deconstructing Gamification in Business Applications. Retrieved 17 July, 2015 from

Anatomy of Fun

People play games because they are a source of fun. So what is fun? And how can I put it into my gamified learning app.

There are several well known theories on “fun”, any of the following types of fun can be combined with others to create a richer player experience.


In Nicole Lazzaro’s theory of fun she states that there are four different kinds of fun that are general categories that appear in any kind of game-like context (hard fun, easy fun, people fun and serious fun).(Werbach, 2013)

Each of the four types of fun unlock different types of player experiences.Nicole Lazzaro states that games that use emotions from four types of interactions are more likely to capture attention and motivate play.

Nicole Lazzaro's 4 Kinds of Fun
Nicole Lazzaro’s 4 Kinds of Fun


While Marc LeBlanc believes there are 8 kinds of fun (sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, and submission).(ibid)


And professor Kevin Werbach lists 14 elements of fun (winning, problem solving, exploring, chilling, team work, recognition, triumphing, collecting, surprise, imagination, sharing, role playing, customisation and goofing off).These emotional components of the experience are what makes games engaging.(ibid)


And Pierre-Alexandre Garneu lists 14 forms of fun (Beauty, Immersion, Intellectual Problem Solving, Competition, Social Interaction, Comedy, Thrill of Danger, Physical Activity, Love, Creation, Power, Discovery, Advancement and Completion, Application of an Ability).(Heeter, Chu, Maniar, Winn, Mishra, Egidio, & Portwood-stacer, 2004)

Jon Radoff 43 Fun Things

In Jon Radoff’s book “Game On” he lists 43 things that people find fun. He also created a table linking his list of fun things with Dr. Steven Reiss 16 basic human motivators.(Whatley, 2011)

Dr. Steven Reiss 16 basic human motivators

The 16 Basic Desires Theory is a theory of motivation proposed by Steven Reiss, Psychology and Psychiatry professor. After conducting studies involving more than 6,000 people, Reiss found that 16 basic desires guide nearly all meaningful behavior (Independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility).

“These desires are what drive our everyday actions and make us who we are,” Reiss said. “What makes individuals unique is the combination and ranking of these desires.”(Manrique, 2013)

The Problem with Fun

However there are some problems with focusing on “fun” as the only method of creating the players experience. As Dustin DiTommaso (2011) says “Fun is too diluted of a concept. It doesn’t distinguish the unique psychological experience of gameplay that leads to sustained engagement.”

DiTommasco, D. (2011). Beyond Gamification: Architecting Engagement Through Game Design Thinking. Retrieved 18 June, 2014 from Beyond Gamification: Architecting Engagement Through Game Design Thinking

Heeter, C., Chu, K., Maniar, A., Winn, B., Mishra, P., Egidio, R., & Portwood-stacer, L., (2004). Comparing 14 Plus 2 Forms of Fun in Commercial Versus Educational Space Exploration Digital Games. Michigan Stat University. Retrieved 5 April, 2014, from

Lazzaro. N. (n.d.). The 4 Keys 2 Fun.

Manrique, V. (2013). Why people play games – Happiness, Motivation & Fun.

Whatley, S. (2011). 43 Things That Customers Think Are Fun.

Werbach, K. (2013). 3.5 Anatomy of Fun (7:02 minutes). Retrieved from Coursera Gamification course.

5 Questions to Ask About Gamification


The term gamification refers to “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” (Deterding et al.) The non-game contexts imply that gamification is different than games and can be applied to society, business, technology and individuals at various levels.

Gartner goes a step further and defines gamification to be “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” Essentially what this means is that gamification is used to change the norms, attitudes and habits of individuals and organizations from a current state to a desired future state typically through the utilization of technology. Generally speaking, the use of gamification in the organization can be categorized into external uses (e.g., customer engagement) and internal uses (e.g., employee engagement).

In order for organizations to effectively leverage gamification as a game changer, they have to ask the following questions:


In the Future

Who is using gamification externally and internally? Who should be using gamification externally and internally?
What is gamified? What should be gamified?
Where it is being used? Where it should be used?
When are gamified types of activities are happening? When should gamified types of activities be happening?
Why it is becoming a competitive advantage? Why you should be using it as a competitive advantage?

When you are asking the above questions across all levels of the organization, here are few things to keep in mind (1) have clearly defined goals for the players/users and the organization, (2) blindly applying gamification without thinking through organizational repercussions can be costly, (3) measure progress, get feedback and iterate, (4) create value since it is a not a one-way street but a multi-way street and (5) balance between intrinsic considerations and extrinsic rewards.

Gamify Spice
Gamify Spice

Here organizations have a choice about gamification as a (1) passing fad or (2) as a strategic lever that can help them transform. So, the real question about using gamification becomes,“Can you afford not to do it?”

Sebastian Deterding, Dan Dixon, Rilla Khaled, and Lennart Nacke. 2011. From game design elements to gamefulness: defining “gamification”. In Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (MindTrek ’11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 9-15. DOI=10.1145/2181037.2181040

“Gamification – Gartner IT Glossary.” Gartner IT Glossary. Gartner, n.d. Web.

Werbach, Kevin. “Coursera – Gamification.” Coursera. Coursera, n.d. Web.

Krogue, Kevin. “5 Gamification Rules From The Grandfather Of Gamification.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web.

Stanley, Robert. “Top 25 Best Examples of Gamification in Business.” Clickipedia. Clickipedia, 24 Mar. 2014. Web.

Kleinberg, Adam. “Brands That Failed with Gamification.” – –, 23 July 2012. Web.

What is Design Thinking and why is it better?

Human-centric Exponential Business Transformation

Before I give examples of use of Design Thinking for Business Innovation, it is important to give a quick overview of Design Thinking.


In traditional approach, for evaluating any business proposition, the two most important aspects that are taken into account by business executives are (1) Viability, and (2) Feasibility. This approach looks at the business benefits of a proposal (viability) and then evaluate whether it is doable in a practical manner (with through own resources or partnering with some) in a timely fashion or not (feasibility). The initiative which ranks the highest on these two metrics, is blessed with funding and kicked off. It seems like a very reasonable way of solving problems. Then why do more than 95 % of these initiatives do not live up to their expectations? There are several reasons:

  1. Both viability and feasibility projections are based on assumptions about the future.
  2. The approach follows

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Welcome to Khan's Blog


People who have not heard the term “gamification” before perceive it to be about games but this is inaccurate. In order to address this misperception, Deterding and his team researched the various uses of gamification and came up with a definition that states gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” (Deterding et al.) We can see from this definition that gamification distinguishes itself from games by implying that while games are for fun without real world implication but gamification has implications in the real world. Broadly speaking, gamification continues to be applied to various areas of business, technology and society.

For this research paper, the focus is on the business and technology aspects of gamification. This leads to the definition by Gartner that states gamification as “the use ofgame mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” In…

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The Revolution of Fun

The Revolution of Fun is a dissertation paper by Ferran Altarriba Bertran, conducted around the topic of gamification and serious games. Ferran looks at the potential of fun and games in non-entertainment contexts, the psychological theories and the basics of Game Design rules.

The Revolution of Fun

A study of applied games and fun as highly powerful tools to achieve goals in non-entertainment contexts through motivation and engagement.

The Theory of Fun

This section covers some of the usual things on Fun Theory like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Johan Huizinga “Homo Ludens”…

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Then moves on to defining what a game is:

  • Elliot M. Avedon and Brian Sutton-Smith state that “games are an exercise of voluntary control systems, in which there is a contest between powers, confined by rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome.”
  • Greg Costikyan, an American Game Designer and Science-fiction writter states that a game is “an interactive structure of endogenous meaning that requires players to struggle toward a goal.”
  • Tracy Fullerton, Chris Swain and Steven Hoffman, who state that “a game is a closed, formal system, that engages players in structured conflict, and resolves in an unequal outcome.”
  • Bernard Suits states that “To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].”
  • Jesse Schell states “Games cannot simply be problem-solving activities. One who plays them must also have that special, hard-to-define attitude that we consider essential to the nature of play. So, a definition that nicely covers all ten qualities might be: ‘A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.’”
  • Raph Koster states “The definition of a good game is […] ‘one that teaches everything it has to offer.’ That’s what games are, in the end. Fun is just another word for learning.”

And briefly brings up Joseph Campbell’s narrative structure the Monomyth, also known as the “Hero’s Journey”.

Games and Psychology

This section looks at both the different forms of games (games, gamification, serious games, and gameful design), and the psychology behind games and fun.

Games, Gamification and Gameful Design

It starts with Andrezej Marczewki diagram where he divides games into four divisions, and also provides us with some definitions.

Differences in Terms (gameful design, gamification, serious games, and games)
Differences in Terms (gameful design, gamification, serious games, and games)
  • Game: a Game is a problem-solving activity approached with a playful attitude (Jesse Schell, 2008, p.37).
  • Serious Game: a Serious Game is a software or hardware developed through game technology and designed through game principles with a purpose different than just entertainment (Oscar Garcia-Panella, 2012).
  • Gamification: Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, return on investment, data quality, timeliness, and learning.
  • Gameful Design: a Gameful Design is the result of a design process where game thinking has been used.

Motivational Facts

This section looks at the motivational factors that games deliver (intrinsic and extrinsic), and touches on the RAMP model, which combines Daniel Pinks ‘purpose’ with Self Determination Theories ‘relatedness’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘Mastery’. After this it moves on to briefly mention Mark LeBlanc 8 Pleasures before discussing player types (Bartle, Marczewski, and Amy Jo Kim).

  • Intrinsic motivation: it refers to enjoying something for the only fact of the pleasure among from its nature (for example, playing football).
  • Extrinsic motivation: it refers to enjoying something due to the fact of there being a reward not necessarily connected to it (for example, working hard to get a salary). These rewards don’t necessarily have to be tangible (for example, a salary), they can be imaginary or virtual as well (a points system in a game).
R.A.M.P - Intrinsic Motivation - Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose
R.A.M.P – Intrinsic Motivation – Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose
  • Relatedness: the desire to be connected to others.
  • Autonomy: the desire to decide and choose own paths.
  • Mastery: the desire of developing a skill, mastering it.
  • Purpose: the desire to connect own actions with a greater reason. Often related to philantropism.

Game Design

This section explores the core parts of game design… game dynamics, mechanics and elements. It provides definitions for each and why they are important.

Starting with Dynamics where it briefly mentions Steven Reiss 16 Basic Desires and how they motivate human behaviours, before moving onto mechanics and Jon Radoff’s 42 kinds of activities that people enjoy doing, and ending with game elements (points, badges, and leaderboards).

At the end of this section it also briefly touches on Platforms and what to consider when deciding on the most appropriate one (e.g. analogue, digital, transmedia)—and storytelling as a key element in the system (motivating and engaging).


“games and fun in general represent something more than simply a way of entertainment. As they are directly related to human psychological needs and behavioural patterns, they become highly powerful tools for achieving goal”.

“If this relationship between human psychological patterns and game elements, mechanics and dynamics is clearly established, it means that game techniques and thinking can be used to successfully promote human behaviours.”

Bertran, F. A. (2014). The Revolution of Fun. Retrieved from

Gamification in Education (Tetrad)


Gamification in education is relatively a new and emerging concept that is being widely discussed in educational circles.

According to Kapp (2012), Gamification as it relates to education can be defined as “using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.

Wang (2011) further defines it as “a series of design principles, processes and systems used to influence, engage and motivate individuals, groups and communities to drive behaviors and effect desired outcomes.”

According to a Gartner Group study, 50% of organizations that manage innovation process will gamify those processes within the next decade (Gartner, 2011).

While the aforementioned definitions are derived from the business sector, it is important to note that it is this sector that could potentially influence education, as educators prepare their students for the 21st century workforce. Therefore, it seems that gamification in education is inevitable and as a result, careful study and analysis of this emerging concept should be on the forefront of every educator’s agenda.

gamification in education - tetrad
gamification in education – tetrad


Gamification in education has the potential to enhance student engagement more so than a traditional lecture or textbook reading. Students that find one particular subject boring could possibly find it fun if the subject were to be presented in a gaming format. Additionally, gamification has the capability to provide immediate performance feedback and display progress, which could also serve as a motivator.


Gamification in education also has the potential to replace books and traditional brick and mortar type schools/classrooms. Gamification tends to lend itself to distance learning where there is no need for a building or classroom. Gamification and distance learning can conceivable offer computer-based or online instructional material such as textbooks, articles, websites, and other pertinent material, which could eliminate the need for hard-copy textbooks and articles. As a result, libraries would also become extinct, as online databases would provide necessary resources for the gamified learner.


Gamification can also rekindle the practice of collaboration by provide students a broader range of opportunities to collaborate, problem-solve, and network with other students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, yet another 21st century skill that our students need to have.

For years, traditional learning has placed emphasis on the premise that failure is not an option, yet learning from ones mistakes is the primary method of learning in gamification. Failure allows students to revaluate their approaches to problem solving and it also permits them to test their own hypothesis, which in return would result in a positive learning experience.


While the aforementioned benefits of gamification in education have merit and value, it would irresponsible not to consider the possible reverses and potential problems that may surface. The use of gamification in a leaning environment, if used inappropriately could possibly lead to the infantilization of learning. Students would run the risk of believing that if the gamification experience is not fun then learning the material would hold no value. Additionally, the focus would be on the rewards and achievements a student could gain and not on the self-satisfaction of newly acquired knowledge. There would be an increased intrinsic value to learning that simply focuses on a means to an end.


Gamification in education can prove to be a tremendous tool for engaging students; however, if it is poorly implemented and improperly utilized this emerging concept could lose its significance and usefulness.

It is vital to gain an understanding of the dangers and stipulation that are required in implementing gamification. While gamification can possibly increase student engagement and achievement, it behooves us as educators to consider our goal in the framework of learning and not in the context of simply adding another trending and emerging technological device or concept.

Gartner, Inc. (2011). Gartner says by 2015, more than 50 percent of organization that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education (p. 11). John Wiley & Sons.

Wang, R. (2011). Demystifying enterprise gamification for business. Retrieved from

Skill Trees

I recently came across skill trees and was intrigued by the idea of them and liked the way they could be used in teaching and learning. It would be interesting to use this concept when doing lesson plans (sequencing, pre-requisites, etc.).

I think this would be a great tool to allow students to customise their journey (what skills to upgrade), as well as allowing them to visualise areas that they are strong in and areas that need improving. It would also be great to make connections between certain “nodes” (or branches) on the skill tree and specific careers, showing them where certain skills can take them.

Skill Trees

Skill Trees (also known as talent trees) are a component that can add depth, fulfilment, and replayability to most any game. They are also great for easing in new gameplay dynamics by starting players with scaled-down versions that can be fully unlocked over time, or by delaying their acquisition so players are not overwhelmed at the start.

Legends of Aethereus Skill Tree
Legends of Aethereus Skill Tree

What is a Skill Tree?

Skill trees are an array of skills that start small, but that grow and branch out into a more robust organism. They are populated by “nodes”, which are tied to various components of the game (max health, regen, bonuses to income, movement speed, etc.).

Everything that the player is or does can be tied to nodes in skill trees. The nodes are unlocked as the player progresses in the game until a node is “maxed”. The base value of these nodes and their tiered bonuses are key ways for a designer to balance gameplay.

They can be unlocking mechanics that ‘gate’ the player from picking whatever they want, whenever they want. A certain number of low tier talents, or player levels, may be required to reach higher tiers. If a player is able to choose any talent at any time—the progression dynamics, and the “flavor of play” each tree brings will be lost.

Path of Exile Skill Tree
Path of Exile Skill Tree

Why use Skill Trees?

They are fun little puzzles that empower the player to personalise the game into something they enjoy. This personalisation also feeds a common need for self expression. Though simple and isolated from play, the impact skills have on your game can be very meaningful.

There’s no better way to educate your player in what they can (eventually) do in your game than by having a talent tree that they’ll be looking over time and time again thinking about where they want to advance their character.

Talent trees can make your player feel empowered and surprise them. They can also be the carrot on the stick that keeps them playing so they can get that one talent that defines their build and items.

How to Use Skill Trees?

Pacing the progression of a talent tree is vital to making it a positive aspect of your game. Lower tier talents should be simple but potent, hooking the player immediately. Conversely, it’s best to add more complex aspects of the tree at higher tiers, to ensure the player is ready for these more complex dynamics.

Berry, J. (2013). Let’s Spec Into Talent Trees: A Primer for Game Designers. Retrieved 22 June, 2015 from–gamedev-6691

Design Thinking – Human Centred Design

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president & CEO

The three “Design Thinking” forces (people, business, and technology) are then translated into the three lenses of Human Centred Design (HCD):

  • Desirability (people): What do people want, need, desire?
  • Feasibility (technology): What is technically feasible.
  • Viability (business): What is financially viable.
IDEO human-centred design (HCD) lenses
IDEO human-centred design (HCD) lenses

HCD is a process and a set of techniques used to create innovations. It starts with the people we are designing for, and examines their needs, dreams and behaviours through the “desirability lense”. We seek to listen to and to understand what they want. Once we have identified what is desirable, we then view our solutions through the lenses of “feasibility” and “viability”. (IDEO, p. 5)

“The solutions that emerge at the end of the Human-Centred Design should hit the overlap of these three lenses.” (IDEO. p. 6)


The HCD process goes through three main phases:

  • Hear: Collect stories and inspiration from the people you are designing for (ethnographic research: observation, interviews, etc.). Determine who to talk to, how to gather stories, and how to document your observations.
  • Create: Work to translate what you heard from the people into the reality of today. This includes moving from concrete to more abstract thinking in identifying themes and opportunities, then back to the concrete with solutions and prototypes.
  • Deliver: Begin to realise your solutions by taking your top solutions, making them better, and move them towards implementation by, revenue and cost modelling, capability assessment and implementation planning.
IDEO human-centred design (HCD) process
IDEO human-centred design (HCD) process

“In the process you will move from concrete observation about people and their needs and desire, to abstract thinking as you uncover insights and themes, then back to the concrete with tangible solutions.” (HCD Connect Website, n.d.)

IDEO (n.d. b). HCD. Human Centred Design. An Introduction. 2nd Edition. Retrieved 1 June, 2014 from

HCD Connect Website. (n.d.). Human-centered design allows us to create and deliver solutions based on people’s needs. Retrieved 14 June, 2014 from