Designing Gamified Systems is a fundamental guide for building essential skills in game and interaction design to revitalize and re-imagine real-world systems—from cities and corporations to schools and the military. Brought together here for the first time, leaders in the field like Katie Salen, Nicole Lazzaro, Ken Eklund, Rajat Paharia and Sebastian Deterding explain how they are redefining the job of the game designer. Author Sari Gilbert develops a set of core principles and tools for using game thinking and interactive design to build motivation, explain hard concepts, broaden audiences, deepen commitments and enhance human relationships.
Contributions from and Interviews with Thought Leaders and Practitioners in the Emerging Field of Gamified System Design
Katie SalenKatie Salen locates her work in the field of game design and is the founder of a non-profit called the Institute of Play that is focused on games and learning. She is also Professor of Games and Digital Media at DePaul University. Katie led the team that founded Quest to Learn in 2009, a 6-12th grade public school in New York City, as well as ChicagoQuest, a 6-12 charter school that opened fall 2011 in Chicago. Katie is co-author of "Rules of Play," a seminal textbook on game design, The Game Design Reader, Quest to Learn: Growing a School for Digital Kids, and editor of The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, all from MIT Press. She has worked as a game designer for over 12 years and is a former co-editor of The International Journal of Learning and Media. She was an early advocate of the then-hidden world of machinima and continues to be interested in connections between game design, learning, and transformative modes of play.
Ken EklundGame and experience designer Ken Eklund creates Alternate Reality Games that explore real world issues through collaborative play. Ken is known for creating the award-winning "World Without Oil," the groundbreaking collective imagining of our next oil shock; Giskin Anomaly, the cellphone adventure for museums in Balboa Park; He was the Community Lead for "Evoke," an innovative social entrepreneurship initiative created by Jane McGonigal and funded by the World Bank Initiative, The game won the Games For Change Direct Impact Award in 2011. Ken has made games professionally since 1988. His current project is "FutureCoast," a game exploring climate-changed futures, for the PoLAR Partnership at Columbia University.
Rajat PahariaRajat Paharia is the founder of Bunchball, which provides a cloud-based gamification technology platform and service for over 300 major corporations including Adobe, Clorox, Urban Outfitters, Wendy’s, USA Networks, Cisco and Ford. Paharia is at the forefront of gamifying business, and is recognized for coining the phrase gamification. He is the author of "Loyalty 3.0: How to Revolutionize Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data and Gamification," a book that underscores the importance of data in gamified systems.
Nicole LazzaroNicole Lazzaro is the founder and President of XEODesign, an award-winning firm that helps organizations increase engagement with play. Widely recognized as one of the top women 27 working in video, social and mobile games, she is also recognized as one of the pioneers and leader in the field of gamified system design. Lazarro has spent the past twenty years crafting expertise in Player Experience Design (PXD) for companies that include: EA, Ubisoft, D.I.C.E., Lucas Arts, Disney, PlayFirst, The Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon, and titles including Diner Dash, Myst and the SIMS. Nicole is a world-renown speaker who shares her valuable ideas about play and her “Four Keys to Fun” methodology for creating optimal play experiences through emotions. She has spoken at the US State Department, and has been widely cited by global news media services including Wired, Fast Company, ABC News, CNN, and CNET.
Josh AtkinsJosh Atkins is the Vice President of Creative Development at 2k, where he is responsible for the editorial process, internal research and business development for its family of game titles, including the "Bioshock" series, "Sid Meier's Civilization" series, and "Borderlands 2". Prior to his role at 2K he was the Director of Game Design at Microsoft, where he managed the company's first party portfolio for the XBOX and the XBOX 360. During his ten years at Microsoft he also had the position of Senior Design Director at Lionhead Studios overseeing the design of "Fable I, II, and III."
Sebastian DeterdingSebastian Deterding is a researcher and designer working on game based experiences. As an independent designer and associate of the international design studio Hubbub, he has created gamified systems for clients including the BBC, BMW, Deutsche Telekom, and Greenpeace. He is a sought-after speaker who has been invited to present and keynote at venues like Interaction, GDC Online, Games Learning Society, Google, IDEO, and Microsoft Research. He is currently a visiting assistant professor at the RIT Laboratory for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC) at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is the organizer of the Gamification Research Network, and co-editor of The Gameful World from MIT Press.
Scott EberleScott G. Eberle, Ph.D., is vice president for play studies at the National Museum of Play, and the editor of the American Journal of Play, which explores the history, science, and culture of play. Dr. Eberle has a Ph.D in intellectual history, and is the author of Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame and other works on American history, culture, and play. His “elements of play” framework is highly regarded by the behavioral science community.as an effective tool for understanding and explaining the concept of play.
Patrick JagodaPatrick Jagoda is the co-founder of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab where he leads design projects primarily related to social justice. As an Assistant Professor of English and an affiliate of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, Jagoda specializes in new media studies, twentieth century American literature, and digital game theory and design.
Eric AscheEric Asche is the Chief Marketing Officer responsible for overseeing the groundbreaking anti-smoking Truth brand. Truth's home, the American Legacy Foundation, is a D.C based non-profit organization founded in 1999 with funds from a major settlement between the tobacco industry and forty-six states. Truth is known for targeting teenagers with bold and edgy messaging about tobacco products and the way they are manufactured and marketed, so that they can make informed decisions about their use. In addition to major marketing campaigns across multiple media and entertainment platforms, over the past few years Asche and his team have started using games and game dynamics to reach their 12-17 year old audience.
Robert NashakRobert Nashak has spent over two decades in the field of interactive entertainment. He has held executive level positions, overseeing product development and strategy at BBC Worldwide, Electronic Arts, Yahoo, Vivendi and Acclaim. Robert also teaches Business and Management of Games in the Interactive Media and Games Division at School of Cinema and Television at the University of Southern California. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer at the virtual reality gaming company, Survios.
Robert BatchelorDr. Robert Batchelor is an historian whose work focuses on the history of East Asia and its influence on 17th century China. He is known for his discovery of the Selden Map of China, a treasure of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. He is the author of London: The Selden Map and the Making of a Global City, 1549-1689 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). An associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University he is a co-designer of the board game Fujian Trader.
Lucien VattelLucien Vattel is the founder and CEO of GameDesk. Named one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Education, GameDesk develops new models of education, changing the way students learn by embedding academic content and assessment into hands-on experience, digital games, and simulations. Prior to founding GameDesk, Lucien helped design the master's and undergraduate Computer Science Program in Game Development at the University of Southern California, where he also served as the Associate Director for interactive research.
Harold JonesHarold Jones is the Creative Technical Director at the top-tier creative agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CP+B). He has a decade of experience helping lead digital strategy, creative direction, development and innovation for big-name brands including Domino’s, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Jello and Triscuit, Coke Zero, and Microsoft.
Caitlin FeeleyCaitlin Feeley is a game designer and project manager at MIT’s Education Arcade. I spoke to her about her job and about her experience working on Vanished, an environmental science mystery Alternate Reality Game (ARG) developed in partnership with the Smithsonian and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Unfortunately, only a small portion of Feeley's interview made it to the book. Fortunately, you can read the entire interview here.
The complete interview with MIT's Caitlin Feeley
How did you get into this field?
I had been designing LARPS (live action role-playing games) since I was a teenager, and had wanted to be a game designer for a long time. After I graduated from college I was accepted into AmeriCorps, and went on to work in science and technology education. Eventually I asked myself “why don’t I combine these two things I love?” I enrolled in the graduate school at Harvard University in Technology, Innovation and Education, and have been designing educational games and game experiences for the past eight years. I truly believe that games have a strong power to engage people emotionally and intellectually.
How did your experience on Vanished validate your ideas about games and emotional connection?
Over the course of eight weeks we saw 6800 middle school students from all 50 states and several different countries actively working together and in conjunction with Smithsonian Scientists to solve the mystery we created. This was not a school-based initiative. Vanished players were taking on this challenge and sticking with it voluntarily. Watching the feeds and comments, it became clear that there was a profound sense of pride in their work. They took the responsibility they had to help out and work together very seriously. Players let us know during and after the event that they felt like their experience was immediate and important.
Why did you choose an ARG for Vanished?
Though the Smithsonian knew that they wanted to create an educational game, they didn’t really have a sense of the best direction to pursue. In the first meeting between our group at MIT and the Smithsonian scientists, there was a conversation about some of the issues with contemporary science education in the schools, particularly that most learning is done in isolation, and that students weren’t encouraged enough to experiment, get creative and problem solve together. There was a consensus that we wanted the experience that we created to be collaborative, potentially messy and open ended. Our (the MIT Education Arcade’s) Creative Director Scot Osterweil and designer Jason Haas came up with the idea of using an Alternate Reality Game to create that kind of experience.
Because we chose an ARG, we were able to push forth a narrative with puzzles that the group had to solve collectively. In fact, the story could not move forward without the community’s input. Because ARG’s emphasize trans-media we could also meaningfully embed content about science and encourage conversations with the scientists involved in the project. One of our primary goals was to expose our audience to the incredibly interesting work they do and at the same time to humanize them as people. We wanted to create an emotional engagement with the scientists.
Most importantly, rather than asking players to identify with fictional characters or avatars, because we chose an ARG as our form we were able to make the player into the central character. The emphasis on the player as hero, allowed us to send the message “you are one of the only people that can solve this problem. You are clever, and we can’t do this without you.”
What was the process like? How did you work with your content experts?
We had four designers on the project working with four different scientists, including a paleo-climatologist, a bee expert, a paleontologist and a volcanologist. We all did the initial brainstorming together, and then we developed the story. We worked iteratively, using the scientific outlines and journal articles they provided, and then checking in with them to make sure we were on the right track. We had to be very respectful of their time, but we also wanted to make sure that the science in the game was sound. Ultimately, they were excited and wanted to support the effort. Their input was very useful for helping us develop clues for the players to move the narrative forward. For instance, the climatologist helped us talk about how climate is recorded geologically, and the bee expert encouraged us to pursue a line of what might happen to our food source if we were to lose a major pollinator. We were able to weave all of the specialties of the different scientists in to the mystery, which was very beneficial for meeting the goals of the project.
How would you say what you do differs from an entertainment game designer?
No one wants to make a boring game. All designers want their games to be novel and exciting, new and inventive. On the other hand, we have to make games that are both fun and have educational value. We also have a lot of responsibility to the organizations we work with, which means a fair bit of compromise. With Vanished, as much as we wanted to encourage a community, we could only do so through heavily moderated forums, which limited communication. Even though players wanted have meet-ups to discuss their progress in person, we couldn’t condone these unless they were run through our partners, like participating museums.
Brian YoonBrian Yoon is the quest designer on JumpStart’s School of Dragons educational MMO. He worked on the overall narrative and design of the initial game, and continues to produce new player quests regularly for the popular title. Before joining JumpStart he spent nearly a decade as an RPG designer and writer at the tabletop game company Alderac Entertainment Group.
Shawn YoungShawn Young is the creator, designer and developer of Classcraft. He teaches high school physics and has an advanced degree in education. He leverages his diverse skill to innovate new approaches to learning including project based learning and game-based learning projects.
Justin MezzellJustin Mezzell is an art director and designer at Code School. He works with subject matter experts who specialize in teaching programming and web development to deliver online courses for professional development. Justin has worked on fifteen courses for the company, and is currently championing user experience design across all of the company’s projects.
Topics covered: gamified system design, game design fundamentals, interactive design fundamentals, behavioral psychology, marketing, branding, business strategy, learning theory and instructional design.
This book is for: game designers, UX designers, instructional designers, teachers and educational administrators, museum curators and exhibition designers, themed entertainment designers, media and entertainment professionals, branding, marketing and advertising professionals.
While the term “gamification” has been used for this complex, emerging and varied field, and though this terminology may continue—especially for corporate marketing projects it has become too limited a concept to encompass the whole of what is happening right now. For those in the game industry, it too often suggests easy solutions—let’s create a points system with badges and rewards! For those outside the game industry, it suggests games-lite—ooh it could be like a game….
But suppose the game was not something merely tacked on to a company’s marketing system to build audience but was integral to the success of a task and could change the way people and objects interact. For example, programmers using Agile development play a version of poker (Planning Poker) to collectively estimate how large a feature (or user story is) and how long a programming task will take. The card game is a unique and effective approach for initiating conversations, revealing insights, exposing potential issues and solutions, redefining problems and eventually achieving consensus. Isn’t this what an advertiser, educator or manager really wants to do? They want their system to work better.
This book uses the term “gamified systems” for the purpose of building critical analysis around frameworks employing game elements to accomplish goals outside of the context of games. Such structures like Planning Poker are ‘real world,’ so that the virtual play of the game when connected with a non-play elements or components creates new ways of achieving tasks and solving problems. This is what gamified system (GS) design does.
Gamified System: A system that incorporates game methodologies
to generate data by utilizing inputs and outputs related to a non-game context.
Paths of progression like story arcs, badge collection, obstacles and quests provide clearly defined objectives. These in turn drive interactions supported by on-going feedback, including rewards, support from friends and community members, and guides and cues at the interface level. Interactions initiate the generation of data, like GPS locations or number of check-ins, which can then be utilized in a variety of ways to meet target goals or tasks external to the user or play experience. This structure—paths, interactions, feedback, data, and goals—in many ways defines gamified systems, applying to digital and non-digital experiences alike. Historically, the most successful gamified systems have kept all of these aspects in mind.
Designing Gamified Systems introduces the spectrum of gamified systems,which is an approach for defining categories of experiences ranging between the real world, gamified systems, and games meant for pure entertainment. The book introduces three primary categories within the spectrum include systems that are: 1) game-like, 2) game layer, and 3) Alternate Purpose Games (APGs).
Sitting between the two poles of “not-games” and “games for pure entertainment.” are the three forms of gamified systems, organized according to how much or how little the structure resembles a game. Sitting in the center of the spectrum are systems that fit in the game layer category. Game layer systems represent the majority of gamified systems. They are recognized through their patterns, which marry real world tasks to game elements. Game-like systems sit closest to the “not games” area of the spectrum. While they may promote a sense or experience of play, game-like systems do not depend on actual game components. The third category, Alternate Purpose Games (APGs) are games in which a particular set of external goals has been substituted for the more generic “entertainment.” Consequently, they are closest on the spectrum to “games for pure entertainment.”
While gamified systems use concepts or entities from the game world, what really sets them apart are the goals, articulated throughout the design process. These extend beyond the specific interaction that the player experiences during play. Gamified system design (or GS design) meets these articulated goals using elements and concepts associated with games and play. It also involves defining the mechanisms for incorporating and generating data to support and measure these goals. As a practice, gamified system design brings together the fields of game design and interaction design. Given how new the practice is, most designers today are likely to be have been trained in either the field of game design or in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Although game and interaction design tend to be separated in the academy and in industry, they actually both fall under the larger category of user experience (UX) design, which can be understood as the design of content and form to meet a certain set of human behaviors. With the public’s overwhelming receptivity to social media gaming, casual gaming and now gamified system designs, it seems inevitable that the lines between these two disciplines will continue to intersect. Through this evolution, gamified system design will continue to benefit from the confluence of skills related to creating interactivity and game play.
– Designing Gamified Systems, chapter 5 “Introducing Gamified System Design.”
Sari Gilbert is a professor in the Interactive and Game Design department at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she teaches courses and workshops introducing students and professionals to the practice of gamified system design. Gilbert’s twenty years of experience in interactive entertainment include designing and producing the top-selling JumpStart titles and serving as a Senior Producer at Disney Online. She has founded three companies, each innovating in the field of interactive entertainment and technology. Gilbert has an MA in Educational Technology from Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an MFA in Digital Media from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Find out more about Sari Gilbert’s projects and professional career
Sari Gilbert’s Curricula Vitae
While the book provides several design activities to develop your skills as a GS designer, some tools and additional skills were merely touched on. For this reason, I have provided some additional resources to help you along your way. I encourage you to use these as you move through the reading and exercises in the book.
Gamification.co - An online resource filled with gamified system designs developed by the controversial “gamification” proponent, Gabe Zichermann.
serious.gameclassification.com – An excellent database containing a range of Alternate Purpose Games commonly referred to as “serious games.”
Watch Jane McGonigal’s seminal TED talk from 2010 – “Gaming can make a better world.” In the talk she introduces the Alternate Reality Game “World Without Oil,” which was created by game designer Ken Eklund, who discusses this project and other similar projects in his interview in chapter 2.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shares his groundbreaking ideas about flow and happiness.
Dan Pink shares insights into the keys to motivation.
Watch a video from 1983 about the constructivist educational theorist, practitioner and Artificial Intelligence expert Seymour Papert. Though it is old, it covers important threads leading to today’s educational game and technology endeavors.
Take a look at Raph Koster’s GDC talk “A theory of fun 10 years later.”
A Persona Template for the research and ideation phase of your project.
An excellent article from UXbooth, where author Eeva Ilama details the insights of designer Alan Cooper’s workshop about creating personas.
An article from Entrepreneur provides an introduction to the critical process of conducting market research.
Learn more about the Agile framework Scrum
Take a look at “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research” written and presented by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek for the Game Developers Conference.
Stay abreast of current developments happening in the business and practice of game design at the go-to site Gamasutra.
In this TED talk, human factors guru Donald Norman describes three ways that good design makes us happy.
Tools for sketching user experiences is a great introduction about getting into the practice of sketching for ideation.
If you have access to a digital tablet consider taking a look at some of the sketching tools available, like:
Some things to consider when picking a prototyping tool:
Time to create prototype: Consider how long it will take you to learn to use the tool and to produce something that is minimally functional.
Usability testing: If you are going to be conducting usability testing with potential users or players, you will need to determine which features or functions will need to be demonstrated, and how they will be assessed.
Fidelity: You will need to think about what level of interactivity you will want to demonstrate. Will there be pop ups, animation, page transitions, or scrolling? Will you want to have gesture-specific interactivity?
Collaboration/sharing: If you are working with a group or getting feedback from a supervisor you are going to want to look for a tool that has collaboration functions so that you can quickly share your ideas and receive feedback.
Support: Are there good tutorials and documentation to help you? Are there libraries with elements you may utilize (like buttons or icons)?
Device testing: Consider if the tool enable you to test on the target device you are planning on using?
Some prototyping tools to consider:
InVision – Very easy to learn, but limited interactivity. You can set up one project for free.
Marvel – Easy to learn, and seems to offer the most functionality for free.
Flinto – Very easy to learn. Meant for mobile apps.
Axure - A professional tool for experienced designers. It has a bit of a learning curve because it is so robust.
Proto.io – Great for mobile apps with built in component libraries.
Justinmind – Intended for multiple device designs.
Solidify – Designed for usability testing.
Watch usability expert Steven Krug walk through a videotaped demonstration of a usability test.
Download the script that Krug has made available on his web site.
Optimal Workshop provides a range of online tools to conduct usability testing.