Tag: gamification

If you work at a nonprofit organization, you know it can be tough to engage your supporter base. Even though the work you’re doing to save the world is critically important, it’s hard to compete for people’s attention. This is particularly true for engaging supporters online, when you’re up against exploring Tumblr blogs of adorable animals, playing Candy Crush Saga, and watching the latest TV episodes on Hulu.

Fortunately, there are ways out there to increase supporter engagement. A particularly powerful one is gamification.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the process of taking tactics often used in games and applying them to serious activities. Games do a great job of engaging people. The idea of gamification is to capture that appeal and use it to make non-game activities more interesting and fun for users.

You’ve probably used gamified systems before, even if you haven’t realized it. Fitbit and Fitocracy employ gamification to encourage people to exercise more; Treehouse gamifies the process of learning new skills; and frequent flyer programs with airlines often add game elements to accumulating and using flight miles. If you can think about some time when you’ve received points for doing a non-game activity or have competed against friends on some serious task, you’ve experienced gamification.

One common point of confusion around gamification is to think that it means creating a game with a focus on a serious topic. While this can be a powerful way to spread a message (check out Spent and Tax Evaders as two great examples), meaningful games are different than using gamification to increase the appeal of non-game tasks.

Points, Badges, and Leaderboards

So what kind of game tactics can make serious activities more fun? We’ll start with the big three:

Points: Rewarding points is one of the easiest and most common elements of gamification. They attach a clear value to taking specific actions and make it simple for users to track their progress. By awarding points for completing them, otherwise menial tasks can be turned into compelling activities. A good example of points in gamification is how Treehouse awards users with points for taking quizzes and completing courses on their site.

Points accumulated on Treehouse

Badges: Badges are a visual reward for completing a certain task or set of tasks and are designed to give users a sense of accomplishment. While points provide a more gradual measure of progress, badges give the sense of suddenly taking a big step forward. Swarm (formerly Foursquare) makes extensive use of badges, called “stickers,” to reward users for “checking in” at certain locations.

Some examples of Swarm stickers

Leaderboards: Competition can be a major motivator in games, and the same holds true for gamification — being able to compare yourself to other players through leaderboards can drive users to spend more time and effort on the desired activities. Leaderboards pair particularly well with points, since they provide a clear quantitative indicator of success. A good example is how Fitbit shows you how you rank against your friends in total steps taken over the previous week.

The Fitbit dashboard, with a leaderboard of steps taken by friends in the last week

Points, badges, and leaderboards (often abbreviated PBL) are the most commonly discussed gamification elements, but there are many others as well. Leveraging social connections can make activities more fun and can enhance the effect of other game elements, like badges. Challenging users to “quests”, where they must complete a certain collection of tasks, can be a big motivator for people. And mixing in surprises, where certain badges or virtual rewards are given unexpectedly, can keep things from getting boring and engage the reward centers of users’ brains.

Gamification in the Nonprofit Space

While not terribly common, gamification has been used by various nonprofit organizations to engage more supporters. Here are a few examples:

Commit to Vote Challenge (Democratic National Committee): In 2010, I was working as the director of the web development team at the Democratic National Committee, and our department was tasked with turning more people out in the midterm elections. After some brainstorming, we decided to do this using a gamified Facebook application to encourage people to vote that November. We asked supporters to commit to vote, and then encouraged them to recruit their friends to commit as well. Users could track how many people they’d convinced to commit (points), receive virtual trophies for recruiting more people (badges), and see how their total recruitment count compared to their friends (a leaderboard). The results were impressive; over 600,000 people committed to vote in the election, with more than 500,000 of them having been recruited by friends.

The Commit to Vote Challenge application

RePurpose (AFL-CIO): In 2012, the AFL-CIO rolled out a new system to increase volunteer engagement called RePurpose. The premise was that people who spent more time volunteering for the organization would have a greater say in how the organization’s money was spent. The means of managing this was via volunteer points, which could be “repurposed” to fund specific efforts. The AFL-CIO introduced additional gamification elements to the tool leading up to the 2012 elections, including volunteer challenges and surprise point awards for using the tool multiple days in a row. They ultimately engaged more than 10,000 volunteers through the site.

The RePurpose website, on Election Day 2012

Sustainable Seafood Challenge (Greenpeace): Every year, Greenpeace USA produces a report on how different supermarkets compare in making sure that the seafood they sell is sustainably-sourced. The goal of the report is to encourage consumers to adjust their shopping habits to favor more sustainable seafood, but Greenpeace had been having trouble reaching a wide audience with it. To increase visibility, Greenpeace teamed up with ShareProgress to create a gamified Sustainable Seafood Challenge. The website asked users a few questions about their shopping habits, gave them a “Sustainable Shopper” score, and then encouraged them to ask friends to also take the challenge and see if they could do better.

How sustainable are *your* shopping habits?

Using Gamification at Your Own Organization

Alright, you work for a nonprofit, and you’re interested in using gamification to engage more supporters. How do you make that happen?

While there are certainly common tactics, gamification isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach—you need to think about your specific audience, what will motivate them, and how that connects to the actions you want them to do. Will they be motivated by tracking points? Are there certain “quests” you can send them on? Can you leverage their social network to make their activities more interesting?

Just as designing a compelling game requires a lot of careful planning and effort, designing a compelling gamified system is a difficult task. But if you can get it right, it could mean that your supporters decide to stop looking at those cute kitten photos and spend their time engaging with your organization instead.

Thank to Kevin Werbach, whose Coursera course and book For The Win provided a lot of guidance on the principles of gamification.

I work as an instructional designer at Kent State University in The Office of Continuing and Distance Education (OCDE). In my department, we offer faculty presentations, workshops, and short courses on subjects such as accessibility, building online courses, and course design. These offerings, designed by experts in the field, provide faculty with a toolbox of ideas and strategies to use in the online classroom.

In the past, Kent faculty received a certificate of completion for these events. The certificates were often used by faculty seeking tenure to showcase their efforts. However, certificates do not explain in detail what the participator can do as a result of the workshop. What skills or knowledge did the participant acquire? What did the participant do? Does the person have an artifact as a result of their participation?

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Open digital badges were designed to showcase skills and accomplishments. Similar forms of rewards have been around for centuries in the form of ribbons, arm badges, and buttons. This concept has been digitalized in small icons, called badges, and are used to showcase skills online. It is important to note that a digital badge is simply digital art unless it is open. Open digital badges contain metadata. An open digital badge includes a description of the badge and includes the criteria for earning the badge. It also includes the issuer, the date issued, and may also include a link to evidence. This opens a whole new realm for professional development.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Displaying Badges

Badges can be displayed in two types of systems: closed and open. A closed system exists behind some type of wall and does not allow for multiple issuers. For example, Khan Academy issues badges, but all badges are Khan Academy badges and may not be shared elsewhere. Closed system badges can’t be displayed in other locations, or the other locations or networks are under the purview of the issuing entity.

Kent State University has a badge system for students attending Kent, called Merit. Students can earn badges for making the dean’s list or studying abroad; these badges are contained within Kent’s badge system. The badges in this system can be shared with friends, the community, and social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, though the “system” decides which social media may be used with their system. (Note: even though a closed system does not accommodate badges from other issuers, a closed system may display open digital badges, meaning there is metadata behind the individual badge.)

Open systems showcase your badges in backpacks. A backpack in an open system can display badges from several issuers. An open system was important to our team at Kent, as we didn’t want to lock our earners down to badges delivered only from Kent. My personal backpack contains badges from Kent State, Blackboard, and the Badge Alliance, among others. At the time of this writing, the main open backpacks are Mozilla Open Badges, Credly, and Open Badge Factory.

At this point, you may be wondering how badges get into your backpack (if you are a user) or how to put badges into backpacks (if you are an issuer.) The process of issuing badges varies with the capabilities of the issuing organization. The McArthur Foundation funded the open badge initiative, and all the code is free and available. Our department didn’t have coding personnel or a system to issue badges to Mozilla except through our learning management system (LMS), which is Blackboard. Since some of workshops are face-to-face, Blackboard was not a viable solution. We selected Credly because it offers the features we wanted, it is inexpensive, and it is easy to use. An organization that has coders or has the funds to hire coders may want to dig deeper into Mozilla or look into Open Badge Factory.

Creating and Issuing Badges

This is how to create and issue a badge with Credly in three steps.

  1. Upload your digital art. Although Credly has a badge builder to create artwork, I do not recommend this, as badges are visual representations of your company, and Credly’s badge system is very basic. Use a graphic designer to create professional badges.
  1. Once your art is uploaded, add a description that details what the badge is and what the user had to do to earn it. This is the most important part of a digital badge. If their participation was simply to attend a presentation, note that. If they had to do something spectacular and was expert accessed, note that. If they had to create an artifact, link to it.
  1. Issue the badge.

Help your Audience Understand

As issuers, it is important to understand how your system will work and provide instructions for users on how to accept their badge. If your organization uses Credly to issue badges, you may use and modify the document we use at Kent.

Be sure to email your users prior to awarding badges. It’s best to discover incorrect email address before awarding a badge to the wrong address. For your convenience, the letter we use at Kent can be found here.

Providing step by step videos can be a nice touch as well. These videos can get you started on badge basics and sharing badges.

Badge Features

One of the best features of badges is how easily they can be shared. If you are a pro issuer for Credly ($250 per year), your users can showcase their achievements on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Mozilla, or provide their own custom URL. Now, when Kent State faculty attend our workshops, they can provide the tenure committee with the URL of their badges. Badges in a Mozilla backpack can be shared with Credly and vice versa.

Digital badges are ideal for professional development. An open backpack is a great place for individuals to showcase their accomplishments, both inside and outside an organization. At Kent, my goal is to see badges would then reside in open backpacks with badges received from other issuers.

I hope you will start a badge program at your organization. If you do, and need more help, feel free to email me. I would be delighted to video-conference a presentation on badges to your team. All I want in return is a badge.

Data analysis poses a tremendous challenge for scientists today. While technology has vastly expanded our capacity for collecting massive amounts of information, our ability to translate those mountains of data into practical knowledge has remained quite limited. Scientists at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) recently pioneered some innovative methods for expediting the quest for a cure. In fact, the results of CRUK’s 2013 GameJam were so impressive that the event may very well establish a radically new model for disease research — one in which the public plays a crucial role in the scientific process.

Gamification has certainly reached new levels. At first glance, Play to Cure: Genes in Space might not appear to be a game designed to aid advances in cancer research. However, it is hoped that gamers will help scientists find vital new clues in the fight against cancer.

What Was GameJam? 

Held in March 2013, Cancer Research UK’s GameJam brought together a community of 55 developers from Facebook, Google, and Amazon to participate in a 48-hour hackathon, along with a team of scientists and academics. Their challenge: to create an entertaining video game, wherein those who played actually conducted valuable data analysis that would otherwise take researchers many tedious hours to complete.

At the end of the weekend, the teams had successfully created 12 game prototypes. Of those, a mobile app called Play to Cure: Genes in Space was chosen as the winner. After about a year of further refinement, it was recently released in the Apple Store and on Google Play, and now gamers around the world are helping cancer researchers advance their work by leaps and bounds.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space

You may be wondering how the game works? On the face of it, Play to Cure: Genes in Space is a Star Wars-esque flight through space, dodging and zapping asteroids to collect the valuable and tradable substance Element Alpha. As the game progresses, you can upgrade your ship to become more powerful in your intergalactic mission. Players start at level 1 as a new recruit and can progress to level 50, becoming a galactic legend in the process. However, whilst flying through space and undertaking your gaming mission, you are also analysing the genetic data of thousands of tumours from breast cancer patients, which would otherwise take scientists a considerable amount of time to process.

In the game, whilst gamers chart their path, they specifically identify defects in DNA microarray data. Thus, as thousands of casual players dedicate countless hours to the fun game, they relieve scientists of a massive research burden. The information they help sort through helps researchers identify which genetic defects are most common amongst cancer patients, giving them new targets to study.

The Power of Crowd

After experimenting unsuccessfully with various software solutions, researchers found that many types of data analysis are much more accurate when categorized by the human eye than by computer programs. Yet with limited personnel, all of whom are highly trained scientists, the time-consuming manual analysis proved a major setback to timely research.

Because digital tools alone couldn’t solve the problem, researchers decided to use technology to bring together a massive group of global volunteers. Thus, the seed of Genes in Space was first planted when CRUK debuted an innovative crowd-sourcing platform called Cell Slider, which allows participants to donate their time (rather than money) to cancer research. The online platform teaches users to identify aspects of cancerous cells biopsied from real patients, then enables thousands of people to contribute in a tangible way to the search for a cure.

Now, having gamified the analytic process, they have taken their crowd-sourced research a step further. Not only do participants get the reward of knowing they are contributing time to a worthwhile cause, but they also have fun doing it.

An Insider Look into The App

Cancer Research UK teamed up with Dundee-based agency Guerilla Tea to enable the data to be translated into the Genes in Space game, essentially as a map. The peaks and troughs on the DNA readouts correspond to mountains and valleys on the game. As gamers navigate their spaceship over the various terrains, the locus of the journey is mapped. So whenever someone navigates a mountain a peak is identified on the DNA readout and vice-versa for valleys and troughs. By having a large number of users continually downloading and playing the game, scientists are effectively having the information read through at a much faster rate.

The idea comes from what is known as “citizen science.” Through Cell Slider, thousands of users across the globe were able to analyse tumor samples within 3 months, reducing the time it took scientists from 18 months. Using the information produced in the Genes in Space game by one gamer may be inaccurate; however when taking the same information as read by several gamers, the validity is much improved, and patterns efficiently identified.

Since its launch, the app has been downloaded over 100,000 times from the Google store and ITunes, to mixed reviews. The game app has been subsequently upgraded due to consumer demand and is proving important in the fight against cancer. Many of the reviews show similar feedback; there is certainly room to improve the nature of the gameplay-ability.

In a time when technology is connecting us in unprecedented ways, this model is an inspiring example of how modern app development can help us harness the massive potential of our global society. Humans have the power and skills to solve some of the direst threats we face today. But only by working together can we aggregate the resources and brainpower needed to make this world a better place.

To learn more about Genes in Space, you can check out CRUK’s blog.  Together, we will find a cure and, with your help, we’ll find it faster.

Gamification is employed by multiple websites across a variety of industries – LinkedIn, Merriam-Webster, FundingWorks, and Marketo marketing automation software – to name a few. Many industries are adopting gamification as a way to keep people involved and drive participation. Deloitte named gamification as one of its top tech trends for 2012. While gamification has a lot of practical applications for nonprofits, it also has many stereotypes to overcome.

  1. It’s not about video games. Gamifying your supporters’ experiences has nothing to do with handing them a joystick or asking them to fling overly-emotional birds at green pigs. Gamification is about employing game theory and game mechanics in non-game environments to spur them on a course of desired actions.
  2. Gamification is not expensive. You don’t have to create a whole gamified website. You just need to change the way you view the visitor’s experience. If you want to learn more about implementing gamification with your nonprofit read this.
  3. Gamification appeals to all age groups. Seriously.

We’ll start here as many people don’t see a natural fit between gamification and the older generation. Baby boomers are very familiar with game theory, even if they don’t know it.

Airline, and many other, loyalty programs use game mechanics and theory – such as collecting points and progressing toward a higher status. (American Airlines uses a progress bar to track one’s advancement toward elite status). The American education system is based on completing a set of activities and leveling up – in this system the badge awarded is in the form of a diploma. Even the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts award badges for mastering activities and level up according to accomplishments. Baby Boomers have been conditioned to progress and respond to the challenges at hand. They believe in mastering concepts and putting in your time. Game theory builds on these basic premises.

This group is comprised of a high number of achievers (see definitions and explanations for Bartles’ types of players). Despite their altruistic intentions, Baby Boomers want a challenge; they want to be compared publicly to their peers and they want to progress to a higher status and level of achievement. Gamification allows them to satisfy these motivations while creating an addictive environment that fosters engagement among these constituents.

Gamification and Gen X – the Gamer Generation.

Earlier I mentioned gamification is not about gaming. True, but the game theory used in creating addictive games is also evident in gamification. The average gamer is 37 years old, making her (according to the Entertainment Software Association 47 percent of all gamers are female, 30 percent are adult women) a Gen Xer. Gen Xers are part of the in-between generation, sandwiched between two very large groups (approximately 80 million Baby Boomers and 78 million Millennials, depending on the birth years included) that both get a lot of media attention. Gen Xers are looking for a way to get the recognition they deserve on their own time. Gamification allows you to reach out and engage these constituents while by-passing the time and geographic constraints of attending meetings and events.

Gen Xers are independent (and sometimes unfairly characterized as loners). They were the latchkey generation and spent a good part of their youth figuring things out for themselves. Self-reliance has been a key part of their development. From Bartles’ standpoint many of the typical Gen Xers would be considered Explorers. They want to investigate, discover and create. They can do this independently or in groups. Gamification appeals to them because their natural curiosity propels them to continued action. If you want to appeal to this group, make sure your gamified features involve discovery and changing content.

Gamification and the Millennial – Digital Natives.

This group needs the least amount of persuasion to get involved in a gamified experience. Millennials long for instant feedback and have been conditioned to receive it since childhood. Think back to how the tone of cartoons changed in the 90s. The plot lines went from passive viewing of characters on screen to an active “what do you think?” and “what’s your name?” conversation between characters and viewers. Their educational programs have been focused around interaction and sharing.

Although Millennials have been lauded for their contributions to technology and their start-up mentality, they are largely a social generation. They are natural collaborators and sharers. They believe their opinions should be heard and valued, regardless of length of employment or years of experience.

In order to maximize their engagement, make sure there are ways for them to share expertise, comments and help others. They embrace a platform that would allow them to showcase their skills and talents before the greater community. Incorporating boards and social commentary abilities is a great way to involve them.

Gamification indulges and appeals to the most basic human motivators. It provides a platform for healthy, professional competition and encourages/rewards desired actions. Gamification has multi-generational appeal when you take into account generational differences and drivers.

Gaining support from your constituents for gamification is not (solely) about the technology used. Employing content and mechanics to inspire and challenge each generation in a way that is unique to its motivational needs, will ensure that your gamified community has the broadest appeal and success in adoption.

This article is published as part of NTEN’s Member Appreciation Month.