Killer Gamification: Targeting the Drives That Make People Want to Engage

by Jesse Lahey on February 17, 2014

Killer Gamification | EngagingLeader.com | Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.com (3838749).

Employee Gamification: the use of game-inspired tactics to engage employees.

The tech research firm Gartner made headlines in late 2012 when it predicted that 80% of current gamified applications would fail to meet business objectives — due to poor design, ineffective communication, or ill-defined business objectives. Even so, Gartner also predicted that by 2015, 40% of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations.

If poor design is a primary culprit of failed gamification, how can you improve your chances of success?

Assuming you have defined the right business objectives, the most important key is to target the right motivators: the drives that make people want to engage and that stimulate the right thoughts and actions to accomplish your objectives.

Early Efforts to Target the Right Motivators

In 1996, University of Essex professor Richard Bartle published a paper on player personality types in multiplayer online games. This paper described what has become the best-known model of player types, often used by game designers to plan, design, and improve a game. Bartle’s four player types are:

  • Achiever: Prefers to gain points, levels, equipment, and other concrete measurements of succeeding in a game. Likes showing off skills, competing, and receiving praise.
  • Socializer: Prefers interacting with other players, rather than the actual game itself. Likes engaging with friends, meeting people and making new friends, and helping others. Dislikes competition.
  • Killer: Prefers influencing other players or the game environment, either through destruction or through leading, helping, healing, building, and creating. Likes imposing their will, notoriety (good or evil), friendly competition, and leading a community.
  • Explorer: Prefers discovering new information or areas, creating maps, and learning about clues or hidden places. Likes detail, puzzles, and discovering and sharing secrets.

“A key value of Bartle’s system is to raise awareness that different people enjoy different types of fun,” says renowned game designer Amy Jo Kim. “It’s also useful for de-bugging some of the more simple-minded thinking around gamification – particularly the limited appeal of Achiever-style points, badges, and levels.”

Bartle’s model came not from empirical research (“do not expect a conventionally rigorous approach to the subject matter”), but from facilitating a six-month online discussion among highly experienced players. Sometimes, intuition and experience can be more powerful than empirical research (as witnessed by the Myers-Briggs instrument, arguably still the world’s most popular psychometric assessment tool despite being conceived without empirical basis).

Even though Bartle’s model isn’t based on empirical research, it’s striking how it correlates with other motivation-theory models that are based in science. For starters, the first three Bartle Player Types listed above correlate to the Three Needs:

  • Achiever needs Achievement
  • Socializer needs Affiliation
  • Killer needs Impact

Perhaps you think the Killer/Impact connect is a bit of a stretch? You’re not alone. The issue lies in Bartle’s identification and definition of the Killer type. There are two problems, which I call “Killer confusion” and “Killer constraints.”

  • Killer Confusion. The Killer label and definition often causes messy overlaps with Achiever in the minds of game designers and gamification planners (for example, see  Lithium chief scientist Michael Wu’s interview with Management Today). As a result, this shortcoming of the Bartle model gets in the way of the awareness that Kim describes — and instead encourages “simple-minded” thinking and “limited appeal of Achiever-style points, badges, and levels.”
  • Killer Constraints. The Killer label and definition is too narrowly focused on behaviors observed in a specific type of game: massive multiplayer online role-playing (MMORP) games, such as World of Warcraft. The Killer type is less helpful in designing other types of games — and especially in designing gamification, which is intended to accomplish business purposes rather than to provide an opportunity for genuine gameplay that might include “killing” other players.

By 2012, Amy Jo Kim had determined the Bartle model “doesn’t generally work well for casual, social and serious games and gaming systems.” Based on her practical experience over years of game design and teaching, she tested a modified model “that captures the motivational patterns I’m seeing in modern social gaming and social media.”

Here is how Kim described her four Social Engagement Verbs:

  • Compete (similar to Bartle’s Achiever) competition drives social gameplay AND self-improvement (competing with yourself to improve your own metrics). People who enjoy competition assume everyone likes competition, but that’s just one among many motivators – and often not the best, especially if you’re serving a female audience.
  • Collaborate (similar to Bartle’s Socializer) collaboration and collective action are a purposeful, non-zero-sum way of socializing. From Facebook “likes” to Kickstarter projects, collaboration is driving many of today’s most innovative and influential social systems. People who enjoy collaboration like to “win together” with others, and be part of something larger than themselves.
  • Express (a replacement for Bartle’s Killer) self-expression is a key driver for modern social gaming and social media – and a major motivator for engagement and purchases/monetization. People who enjoy self-expression are motivated by gaining a richer palette and greater abilities to showcase their creativity and express who they are.
  • Explore (identical to Bartle’s Explorer) Exploring content, people, tools, and worlds can be a rich and rewarding activity. People who enjoy exploring are motivated by information, access and knowledge; stand-alone points won’t mean anything to them.

In Kim’s model, the most significant difference from Bartle is Express as a replacement for Killer. It’s an ironic departure from Bartle, whose original paper quipped, “Killers are people of few words.”

Some may assume that Express is simply Kim’s arbitrary replacement for Killer. However, the underlying motivator for both the Killer type and the Express verb is the Impact need. And the research on the Impact profile supports Kim’s model: According to researcher David Burnham, Impacters tend to be fluent with words and more likely than other types to become renowned authors, artists, or architects.

In Bartle’s experience, players motivated by Impact impose their will on others or the environment, most commonly by killing off other characters — but also by leading others or creating buildings or a virtual society.

In Kim’s experience, players motivated by Impact express themselves. Why? They do it influence, teach, or encourage others.

The Impact Drive

Killer Gamification | EngagingLeader.com | Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.com (3838749).Focusing on the Impact need, rather than merely the Killer player type or the Express verb, is more than a simple nuance. It’s a clarifying lens that can make it easier to design and evaluate effective gamification.

Impact is a core drive — unlike killing or expressing, Impact is one of the Three Needs. Rather than starting with secondary questions such as whether the application should allow players to kill people or to express themselves, you can start with a more fundamental questions:

  • How can we help people feel they are making a difference that affects other people?
  • How can we give people opportunities to influence, teach, or encourage others?
  • How can we provide opportunities for people to boost their impact “capital” — in other words, enhance their potential to influence others, such as with increased status, prestige, reputation, and influential relationships?
  • How can we give people a chance to feel they are accomplishing group goals, and making a difference in people’s lives?

Asking these questions may lead the gamification planner to design features that allow a user to kill or express. Or it may lead to other features that also appeal to the Impact need, such as curating content, facilitating a discussion, or creating a village. To achieve business objectives, the trick is to target the Impact drive (as well as other of the four Game Drives as appropriate), rather than killing or expressing.

In The Four Game Drives: E.A.S.I. Gamification, I explain all four Game Drives that make people want to engage and that stimulate the right thoughts and actions to accomplish your objectives.

Excerpted from “Employee Gamification for Impact – One Drive to Rule Them All” by Jesse Lahey in Gamification: Engaging Your Workforce, available from Ark Group (also see Amazon.) Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader and Game Changer podcasts and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!

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