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  • Writer's pictureKerri Williams

A Different Kind of Quest

For many years now, there has been an interest in the idea of ‘gamifying’ experiences, particularly in the customer and Community space. But what does it mean and does it work?

First off, what exactly is gamification? It’s not just a fancy buzzword in the Community profession but it actually has much deeper roots — even our friend Merriam Webster really only scratches the surface of the concept, defining it as “the process of adding games or game-like elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation”

Concepts of gamification stem from years and years of behavioural psychology around what what motivates someone to complete a task. It shares numerous similarities with the newer field of behavioural economics, (a Note on BE and my favourite resources are below) but has at least one fundamental different — it’s primarily meant to be fun, incorporating gaming elements like leaderboards, badges and other incentives to feed continuous participation. It’s the basis of some of the most popular video games on the planet, supporting the idea of an Epic Quest, with rewards and validation along the way, motivating players to continue their path towards greatness. Jane McGonigal, one of the OG thought leaders in the space has been spreading her message about how games can make us better for years in her books Reality is Broken (2011) SuperBetter (2016).

In the Community space, you most often see these concepts play out in the form of a Rank ladder, Badges for specific engagement actions or Leaderboards to add a little friendly competition to the space. But are these still effective motivational elements in the 2023 Community world?


I wonder if we’re not seeing a shift, in particular, within the B2B space, where there is an opportunity for us to rethink what exactly our intention is with gamification and work to make sure it’s not just a check box on a vendor evaluation. Leaders who ask us to ‘gamify’ a user journey, as though it’s a magic solution to user engagement fail to understand is that no amount of ranks, badges or notifications is going to entice users unless there is value attached for them — and in some cases, it might just annoy the heck out of your users too.

It’s important to work with your users to understand what motivates them, what they value and how they would want to be involved (or not) in such an program. Community pros need to look more deeply at what we want to achieve with a gamification strategy — realistically, a large portion of your users are not going to be swayed by badge notification or the latest rank. It *might* remind them to come back if it was triggered by another user’s actions, or it might give them a little dopamine drip if someone has accepted their solution. But I’m not convinced that in 2023 it will lead to widespread increases in engagement without some enhancements to the current table stakes execution.

The users who will be most impacted by these smaller trinkets to start with are then more likely to be motivated by elevated programmatic recognition— like a Top Contributors program, or a customer advocacy program opportunity. So, in some ways it can help you to identify potential, but be sure to have various metrics to weigh and score.

From my experience in B2B Communities, we’ve moved away from what used to be more intrinsic motivations for highly active users to something more extrinsic. Users still feel good when they achieve something or help others, but they are more driven by access, acknowledgement, public recognition and the like. Which makes sense when you think about it, even the shift in our economic and social world around us. The job market is challenging, content creators/influencers are everywhere — so how better to stand out among their peers but by showcasing their expertise to the industry. So, with everyone being asked to do more with less — perhaps this is an opportunity for a new quest for Community users and a new frontier for Community professionals to thoughtfully conquer.
I’m curious, would love to hear responses in the comments:

Is there anyone out there who is not leveraging ranks, badges, leaderboards? What, if anything, are you doing instead?

Those who are using them, do you have sense from your data that they are driving additional engagement? How are you measuring value?

Note: While it shares some similarities of concepts with Behavioural Economics such as actions, triggers, rewards, gamification has the ‘fun’ differentiator and often goes deeper into the ongoing journey of overall achievement.

That said, BE is another topic I love — for more on this check out:
Anything by Dr. Dan Ariely, he’s basically the master BE
And can’t forget BJ Fogg — one of the pioneers of behavioral science and technology.
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