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Game mechanics are the components of a game — the tools employed by game designers to generate and reward activity among players (or, in the case of a gamification program, employees, customers, or other users). Most gamification programs in the workplace leverage game mechanics in one way or another.

When it comes to game mechanics, various tools are available to you, each designed to elicit a specific reaction from players. These tools, which can be combined in infinite ways to create a broad spectrum of responses and experiences, include the following:

  • Points

  • Leaderboards

  • Levels

  • Missions, challenges, and quests

  • Feedback

In addition, you'll want to consider anti-gaming mechanisms. We cover all these subjects in this section.

Points in a workplace game

Points help users know they're in a gamified environment and that many of the small behaviors they take along the way are being recognized at a system level. Companies running gamification programs use points to spur desired behaviors. These points can then be compiled into a score.

To really drive desired behaviors, game designers can weight points. Weighting points means awarding more points for those behaviors deemed more valuable or that require more effort.

Leaderboards in a workplace game

Winning is great. But you know what's even better? When everyone else knows you won. That's the power of the leaderboard. A leaderboard is a board that displays the names and scores of current “competitors” in a gamified system. Companies with robust gamification cultures may even consider adding these scores to their balanced scorecard!

Alternatively, a leaderboard may simply indicate a person's ranking in the system without noting the scores of others.

Recognizing that achievement is super important, the purpose of a leaderboard is to show people where they rank. Those at the top enjoy the notoriety it brings; as for everyone else, the leaderboard shows them where they stand relative to their peers. Building friendly competition is a key cog in a high-performing culture.

Often, the very presence of a leaderboard can elicit the desire to play. The simple goal of rising up the rankings serves as a powerful motivator to continue. People like to keep score. Understanding this and providing easy ways to do it is a great way to foster engagement. For some, the mere sight of their rank on the leaderboard is all the reward they seek.

Levels in a workplace game

Anyone who has ever played Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, or Angry Birds (or, for that matter, pretty much any electronic game ever) is familiar with the concept of levels. After you conquer one level, you move on to the next one. Each level constitutes a sub-game of sorts, often with different types of obstacles and tools at the player's disposal, and typically more and more difficult.

A gamified experience doesn't employ levels in quite the same way as arcade games do. If your goal is to gamify your company intranet, users won't, for example, suddenly see their whole screen change to offer a new set of challenges the moment they “level up.”

Instead, gamified systems more closely mirror role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, where a level is effectively a rank that corresponds to the player. It's earned through accomplishments and represents additional privileges or abilities.

So, if players don't level up by rescuing a princess from a giant gorilla, how do they level up in a gamification system? In a gamified system, the change in level occurs when the user reaches a set point threshold, often indicated by the reward of a new badge.

Levels serve two important roles in gamification systems:

  • They indicate progress. Proceeding from one level to the next gives players a sense of satisfaction.

  • They convey status. A player who has reached level 42 of your system can reasonably be considered more expert than someone who has failed to advance beyond level 7.

It's a good idea to make the first few levels easier to attain because that encourages users to participate more often. The highest levels may require extended usage over a longer period.

Missions, challenges, and quests in a workplace game

Mission, challenge, and quest are essentially different words for the same thing. They require users to perform a prescribed set of actions, following a guided path of your design. A mission, challenge, or quest may involve a single step (for example, completing necessary paperwork during the onboarding process) or several steps — even as many as 20. Often, missions are about discovery or education.

Sometimes, the actions in a mission must occur in a certain order; these missions are called progression missions. Other times, actions can occur in any order; these are called random missions.

The tasks in a mission may revolve around the same behavior (reading five posts, for example), or could be an around-the-world variety, where different behaviors are performed (for example, reading a post, commenting on a post, and adding your own post).

As each action is completed, the player is generally given a reward. The player is also given a reward — usually status based — when the mission is complete. At the same time, the next mission is unlocked. Successive missions contain harder-to-earn rewards. From the player's point of view, completing missions is a lot like leveling up in a particular topic. As the player completes each mission, her perceived status will likely increase.

A track is a collection of missions. Like missions, tracks can be ordered or unordered, although if the track centers around expertise, ordered tracks are the way to go. Why? Because the ordered progression of missions represents increasing mastery or advancement in a particular topic or specialization. In other words, the user must complete the first mission before progressing to the second mission, and so on.

Feedback in a workplace game

One way to encourage engagement in your gamification program is to broadcast well-written, helpful, engaging onscreen feedback in the form of real-time notifications within the game system and/or via e-mail when users perform a desired behavior, level up, unlock a reward, or need to complete an additional behavior in order to earn their next reward.

Notifications may appear in the user's activity feed or as a small pop-up on the screen and can become increasingly sophisticated, triggered by any behavior or series of behaviors. Often — especially in gamification systems that involve daunting goals — feedback can keep players from feeling paralyzed, as if no progress is being made.

Don't go crazy with feedback, or you'll likely overwhelm your user.

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