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ANYTHING CAN BE FUN GAMIFICATION AS AMPLIFIER FOR USERS’ MOTIVATION AND ACTION With reference to the online-based innovation platform Swisscom Labs
     

 

Stefanie Hermann

Master of Science in International Management
     

2010/2011  

Extract: Research Results – Empirical Data Ascertainment Adjusted for the interview experts
       

Gamification as Amplifier for User’s Motivation and Action

6 EMPIRICAL DATA ASCERTAINMENT AND EVALUATION   This paragraph shall investigate prior developed research questions by conducting an empirical ascertainment. Before the results of the investigation will be presented, an overview of the applied research methodology will be given. 6.1 Research Methodology Herein the research objective, research design and research method of the following primary research will be described in detail and topped off with a critical review. 6.1.1 Objective The objective of the subsequent primary research is to examine previously established gamification theory and to gain further profound insights into gamification as amplifier for users’ motivation and action and its proper application by testing prior developed research questions. In this context, explorative research will be applied. Explorative market research compensates a lack of knowledge by gaining insights into a problem area (Buber 2009, Kuß and Eisend 2010). Although, gamification recently undergoes more and more investigation in form of books and conferences, the topic is still quite recent and lacks profound and proven popular theory or longterm experience. Thus, the primary research is based on data gained from secondary research (Kuß and Eisend 2010) and follows explorative patterns to examine previously formulated research questions. 6.1.2 Research design Explorative research rather refers to qualitative than quantitative research design. This is because qualitative research seeks diverse and profound insights into the objective of the study (Kuß and Eisend 2010) and seeks to understand phenomena in contextStefanie Hermann

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specific settings (Golafshani 2003). Moreover, qualitative research delivers comprehensive data and gains importance for academic and commercial market research (Buber 2009). Therefore, qualitative research is applied to gain profound and diverse insights into the research area of gamification and to analyze the connection between theory and reality (Kuß and Eisend 2010). In contrast to quantitative research, the following explorative qualitative research involves less quantifiable statements and small and less representative samples. Moreover, findings will not allow hard and rapid conclusions (Kuß and Eisend 2010). 6.1.3 Research method   Since the particular objective of the primary research constitutes an explorative qualitative approach, expert interviews are conducted, as they are the most convenient method in the context of explorative conversations (Buber 2009). Experts are particularly capable in the field of research to receive desired information (Kuß and Eisend 2010). They are equipped with comprehensive and accurate knowledge within a particular area and they offer principal problem solutions (Buber 2009). Moreover, within expert interviews, bibliography and thus the interviewee take a backseat, as the objective is the inquiry and pursuit of expert knowledge (Mey and Mruck 2011). Thus, the following primary research involves interviews of experts in the field of gamification and game design to receive profound insights and to explore arguments and explanations, whereby prior established research questions are clarified and investigated. A heterogeneous group of experts was selected throughout secondary research. The chosen experts have different educational and practical backgrounds. Thus, the selection involves game designers, self-appointed gamification experts and experts with a psychological background. Moreover, while some experts have
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profound theoretical knowledge about gamification, others have practical knowledge and experience in the field of study. In this way, different trains of thoughts regarding gamification can be revealed. 6.1.3.1 Expert interview guideline The interview guideline and questions were developed by the author and simultaneously researcher of this Master thesis. After a first draft of the interview guideline had been developed, it was discussed with the supervisors of the Master thesis in hand. At the same time, colleagues were asked to give their feedback on the understanding and formulation of particular themes and questions. After all feedback had been considered, the final version of the expert interview guideline was developed, taking account of the scientifically correct formulation of questions, which properly circle around the particular research questions to be investigated. During the design of the interview guideline, its explorative intention to winkle out as many profound insights and information as possible had to be considered. The final version of the interview guideline is semi-standardized, giving both interviewee and interviewer freedom of speech (Mey and Mruck 2011). The guideline is subdivided into five themes, each relating to a particular research question. The themes are fixed to examine the research questions (Buber 2009), but must not follow a specific order. Moreover, the guideline involves neither fixed question formulations nor predetermined answer opportunities. The interview questions serve as a means for the interviewer to guide the expert through each particular theme. They follow an open style, providing no restrictions on the content to enable the interviewee to participate actively into the conversation (Buber 2009). Thus, depending on the course of the interview, additional unplanned questions may be asked to follow up on what the experts say (Robson 2011).
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The expert interviews are estimated at 30 minutes. The length of time is justified by the fact, that sessions less than 30 minutes may not be valuable and sessions longer than 60 minutes may be too time-consuming for busy interviewees (Robson 2011). The identified gamification experts are very busy with projects and speeches of their own and a limited time frame increases the likelihood of their participation. Moreover, since the experts come from different countries, the majority of interviews was conducted via telephone and thus had to be relatively short, whereby 30 minutes are a recommended time frame (Robson 2011). 6.1.3.2 Execution of expert interviews The expert interviews were conducted verbally in form of individual interviews either face-to-face or via telephone, depending on the location or schedule of the experts. Moreover, the interviews took place within a timeframe of two weeks, between the 4th of August 2011 and 16th of August 2011. Altogether ten experts were interviewed. Due to privacy reasons, the names of the ten experts are not disclosed in this extract. The interviews were conducted on workdays only, whereby time differences had to be considered in selected cases. To fully exploit the short 30-minute time frame per session, the experts received the topic overview beforehand to be prepared. However, the 30 minutes were not treated as strict deadline, so that the interviews were gladly extended as far as the experts agreed. All of the experts had been contacted and asked to participate in written form. 6.1.4 Critical review Looking critically at the data ascertainment, it must be admitted that it underlies certain limitations.

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First of all, the amount of conducted interviews may meet criticism concerning insufficient statistical representativity. However, different from quantitative research, statistical representativity is not the focus within explorative qualitative research as it emphasizes on the discovery of profound insights regarding the object of study (Kuß and Eisend 2010). Moreover, the explorative qualitative research usually involves small and less representative samples of informants, mostly less than ten in number (Kuß and Eisend 2010).

One must take into account that the expert insights rest upon assumptions, personal research and experience only. This is due to the recency of the topic, which hampers long-term experience as well as quantitative proofs at that moment. Thus, the results will not allow hard conclusions. This may imply that the experts will not directly validate the research questions but rather enhance them and jointly derive new ones to be tested in the future.

Moreover, the experts may treat the discussion themes differently. On the one hand, the research questions may turn out to be overbroad, leaving room for too much interpretation. On the other hand, different educational and practical backgrounds of the heterogeneous expert group may lead to different opinions and mindsets towards gamification, resulting in varying conversational depth within the topics. Additionally, varying interview length will also reflect in the conversational depth among certain topics, so that some experts may spawn more detailed information than others. Besides, the open question design of the interview guideline may have limiting effects, so that the course of conversation may differ among the experts, restricting the egality of the interviews.

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Moreover, it may occur that the expert insights, especially of game designers, are too closely connected to games. In this case, one must keep in mind that gamification applies to real world problems and thus, the taxonomy and experience from games is not one-to-one transferrable to gamification. Potential bias emerging from telephone interviews is avoided as effectively as possible, by recording all interviews with a dictating machine. The recordings also serve as proof for the researcher’s objectivity and the study’s quality, trustworthiness and credibility (Golafshani 2003). Finally, one needs to consider the so-called interviewer-bias, which occurs within qualitative interviews when the potential influence of an untrained interviewer may lead to distorted results (Robson 2011, Kuß and Eisend 2010). Contortions may occur when the interviewer influences the interviewee’s answer behavior through his or her personality or behavior. Also, if the interviewer himself has a prominent opinion towards the object of study, his or her perception may be selective. In this context, the interviewer has a tendency to perceive answers in a way that fits his or her expectations and thus distorts them (Kuß and Eisend 2010). 6.2 Research results In the following, prior developed and operationalized research questions will be examined concerning their validity by analyzing and summarizing the results obtained from the ten expert interviews. In this context, the recorded interviews serve as source of information. To start with, chapter 6.2.1 presents the experts’ general understanding and definition of gamification. Subsequently, chapter 6.2.2 depicts the experts’ experiences and knowledge about the themes surrounding the five research

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questions to either verify or falsify them. Finally, chapter 6.2.3 reveals some additional remarks of the experts regarding gamification in general. 6.2.1 An introductory definition of gamification The majority of experts agrees on a general definition of gamification, which is in line with the definition given in the theoretical work-up in chapter 3. The experts define gamification as the use of game elements, such as game mechanics, game design principals and game psychology, in non-gaming contexts. Thus, success factors of games are isolated and integrated into other areas, making ordinary tasks more playful and fun. In the experts’ opinion, gamification follows the objective to drive user behavior, whereby engagement and motivation were predominantly mentioned. This insight corresponds to the identified purpose in chapter 3.1. However, gamification has other positive side effects. In this context loyalty, satisfaction, user experience, product awareness and increased consumption were mentioned. Moreover, the experts highlight that gamification applies in several industries, whereby it depicts an objective tool that allows better decision-making, as it enables transparency through user tracking. However, besides praise gamification also meets criticism. Not any given product or service can be made a game, as its application is not appropriate in each case. This statement adds to the criticism introduced in chapter 3, saying that gamification cannot solve profound business problems (Zichermann and Cunningham 2011). A minority of experts perceives the term gamification as misleading, because one automatically thinks of games, whereby applied game-stimuli do not necessarily transform activities into games. Instead, it makes them more enjoyable and thus the terms “game-thinking” or “gamefulness” were proposed.

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6.2.2 Creating and applying proper gamification In the following, the experts’ insights into the five prior established research questions will be revealed and the research questions will be investigated concerning their validity. 6.2.2.1 Gamification in online and offline environments The majority of experts is convinced that the environment, whether online or offline, is irrelevant regarding the success of gamification. That is because gamification is not tied to digital or network technology, as games are a trans-media phenomenon. Moreover, success rather depends on the context, the target audience and the proper usage of motivational incentives, making the environment less important. However, the experts termed advantages and disadvantages for each environment. Offline environments enable particular emotional dimensions, such as sensuality and physicality that online environments lack. Nevertheless, gamification is difficult to perform in offline environments, because it is challenging to move people. Moreover, people may be annoyed by artificial rules and memberships. On the contrary, in online environments gamified applications are cheaper to conduct as they reach a larger base audience and spread virally. Moreover, more scalable interaction enables user tracking and monitoring to understand user behavior and to realize and visualize success. In this context, competition and cooperation is encouraged, as users compare themselves with a large group of other players. However, the experts highlight that the distinction between online and offline environments becomes increasingly obsolete, as people are constantly using the Internet and due to the increasing prominence of mobile devices and GPS functions. Thus, a combination of both environments’ properties may provide the key to success. In this way user behavior can be quantified in the real world and synchronized to
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computers to evaluate and compare the generated data. Still, a minority of experts assumes that a higher degree of connection to the Internet provides more opportunities for success, because it enables more networking and interaction. Moreover, since gamification evolved from the social and digital media industry, the majority of the experts agrees that most current gamified applications apply online and one can assume that all current offline applications will be transferred to online environments in the future. As most experts perceive the environment as irrelevant regarding the success of gamification, the research question Gamification is equally successful in online and offline environments can be verified. This result explains why both, gamified applications tied to the online or offline world, as mentioned in chapter 3, can perform equally successfully. Moreover, the result is in line with the findings throughout the best practice examples (chapter 5). However, the best practice examples demonstrate and several experts highlight the growing predominance of the Internet and the increasing prominence of mobile devices and GPS functions, making the inclusion of online environments more and more essential. 6.2.2.2 Considering social player motivation The experts’ opinions are divided concerning the importance of social player interaction. To start with, almost half of all experts argue that all games are at the core social, providing people with a context to hang out, socialize and to have fun. The minority of the experts questioned is convinced that gamified applications must involve social interaction to be successful, as they perceive sociability as strong motivation mechanism and single most important form of interaction. In their opinion, a lot of experience fails because it is not social enough. Thus, focusing on social

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interaction and building other motivations like achievement and exploration around it to activate other players, is most likely the key to success. In contrast to that the vast majority of experts is confident that gamification must not involve social gameplay to be successful, as various gamified applications prove. However, most of them admit that it depends on the application’s context and the audience’s motivation whether social interaction is important. Moreover, most experts of the vast majority admit that people are social beings, so that social interaction provides an advantage that creates value for the platform. The experts’ opinions differ strongly regarding the utilization of social interaction in form of cooperation and competition within gamified applications. One assumption is that cooperation and competition are not mutually exclusive. Another assumption implies that the target audience and the underlying application determine whether cooperation or competition should be applied. Moreover, disagreement exists whether cooperation or competition is more likely to achieve sustainable user engagement. However, the application of social interaction meets criticism, implying that gamification does not play a decisive role within cooperative environments and that competition must be more playful than business contexts often allow. Moreover, the media overvalue social interaction, making it over-used soon as already numerous platforms enable social interaction. As the vast majority of experts is convinced that social interaction must not necessarily be part of gamification to make it successful, the research question Successful gamified applications must involve social gameplay motivations can be falsified. This result lurked already in the best practice examples, because “Miles & More” is successful without targeting social interaction. However, since the majority of experts perceive the significance of sociality among humans and most best practice
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examples (chapter 5) demonstrate successful utilization of social gameplay, the inclusion of social interaction appears to be an advantage. 6.2.2.3 Proper alignment of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation The vast majority of experts is convinced that intrinsic motivators are more effective than extrinsic motivators in sustaining user engagement. This is because games in general are a voluntary action, which is performed when it embodies relevance and value for users, making the activity inherently enjoyable. Although, extrinsic motivation can be powerful, some experts argue that focusing on extrinsic motivation only will fail, because they cannot turn boring activities into fun and, referring to the over-justification effect, extrinsic motivation may decrease initial intrinsic motivation. Thus, the majority of experts explains that intrinsic motivation is stronger and more valuable by providing an epic meaning, such as being part of a larger mission or making the world a better place. Although the minority of the experts questioned states that intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are equally important and effective, because one cannot neglect the importance of extrinsic motivation as a result of the extrinsically driven economic system, almost half of the experts claim that it eventually depends on the target group, the underlying application and the company goal whether intrinsic or extrinsic motivation is more effective. In this context, the majority of the experts perceives extrinsic motivation as short-term effective and intrinsic motivation as long-term effective. However, the majority of the experts concludes that a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation makes up the key to success. In their opinion, extrinsic motivators must be properly aligned to users’ intrinsic motivation, being a reinforcement of it. This way, extrinsic motivators activate intrinsic motivation,
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whereby the adjusting screws must be watched narrowly regarding the overjustification effect.

The results from the expert interviews partly verify the research question Intrinsic motivators are more effective than extrinsic motivators within gamification. This result is in line with the gamification theory (chapter 3.4.1) and the assessment of the best practices (chapter 5). However, the theory, the best practices and the experts clarify that a proper combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators is the key to success. This is because extrinsic motivators can reinforce intrinsic motivation, whereby a proper weighing of the two motivators is crucial to prevent the overjustification effect, which was elucidated in chapter 2.2.3. Moreover, the underlying application, its target group and the particular company goal must be considered. 6.2.2.4 Quest for properly designed challenges The expert interviews reveal that challenges within gamified applications cannot be generalized and no one-size-fits-all exists. In this context, the majority of the experts questioned is convinced that the challenge setup must be tailor-made depending on the context and the target audience. However, the experts introduced a few rules that serve as guideline for an appropriate challenge set-up. First of all, besides being solvable, challenges must build on the flow theory (chapter 2.3.2.2). Thus, to match user capability at any time, being neither too difficult nor too simple, challenges must be progressive and evolve over time in line with player skill level and motivation. However, a single opinion expresses that flow-like experiences, such as control, arousal and relaxation (chapter 3.4.2), are likewise effective. Moreover, in line with the flow theory, the set-up of challenges depends on the users’ stage within the player life cycle, so that people at different
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stages demand different challenges. While onboarding challenges should be rather simple, they must become more difficult and complex when users progress. In addition, challenges must be constantly accessible to support players’ achievement behavior. In this context, players receive challenges either passively or they actively choose to take new challenges or even customize challenges themselves. Finally, challenges must be agile and need constant update and refreshment to add new functionality and avoid users hacking the system and to keep pace with changing user behavior and new technologies.   The results from the expert interviews falsify the research question To engage broad audiences, gamification must involve diverse challenges, because challenges cannot be generalized and the term “diverse” itself is too universal in this context. Diversity should rather refer to the approach to the challenge set-up. In this context flow theory, player life cycle, accessibility and refreshment play an important role. Although within the presented best practice examples (chapter 5) the challenges vary in complexity, content, level of difficulty and customizability, they are tailor-made for each specific underlying context and target group. Thus, already within the best practice assessment one could have recognized that challenges must not be diverse to attract broad audiences but rather be tailor-made to properly address the desired target group. 6.2.2.5 Significance of the player life cycle   As the expert interviews reveal the critical edge among the player life cycle depends on the underlying application, the target audience and the business goal. Concerning the latter, to attract a large audience to increase user numbers, priority is given to novices. In contrast to that, when focusing on small committed target groups to

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sustain user engagement, priority is given to experts and masters. Thus, to sustain user engagement, masters are most valuable, being creative, moderating systems, attracting and supporting novices without producing costs for the company. While a single opinion views onboarding as obviously necessary step, the vast majority agrees that the novice stage is critical, because the application must be perceived as joyful to attract, excite and convince people. Many companies fail to convert non-users into novices. However, a minority of experts perceives the transition stage from novice to expert as equally crucial, because this moment decides whether user engagement will be sustainable. In this context, another minority highlights that each transition between stages within the player life cycle is risky, because most players are lost throughout their progression when it becomes too difficult or getting onto the next level in the reward system is too laborious. Although the interviews reveal that a proper onboarding set-up is context and target group specific, some general recommendations were given. First of all, to attract users, the gamified application’s value and uniqueness must be immediately graspable. Next, interactive tutorials, enabling “learning by doing” rather than being explained, help users to understand the system. Moreover, simplicity constitutes a key component, meaning that cascading information series reveal system functionalities on an “as-need basis” so that at the beginning only core functions are introduced. Moreover, rewarding users early and often and giving them immediate feedback increases their motivation. Finally, failure is destructive and must be prevented by offering alternatives, such as side quests to advance and eventually succeed. However, it should not go unmentioned that the three-stage player life cycle, introduced in chapter 3.4.3 meets criticism, as a minority of experts perceives it as

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over-simplified and context-specific, arguing that more than three stages exist. However, they admit that it serves as initial guidance to understand players. The results from the expert interviews verify the research question if the onboarding process is flawed, gamified applications fail, which is in line with the results from the best practice examples (chapter 5). Both, the experts and the best practices reveal that no role model for successful onboarding exists, because it depends on the underlying application, the target group and the business goal. However, besides onboarding, the transitions between player life cycle stages must not be neglected. This becomes even more important for companies, targeting sustainable and valuable user engagement.   6.2.3 Concluding remarks about gamification   Apart from the discourse concerning the research questions, the experts revealed additional insights. In line with the theory illustrated in chapter 3, several experts mentioned that gamification is not new, as the influence of user behavior has already been applied for several years. Simply innovative technology turned it into a hot topic, enabling cheap registration and evaluation of human behavior. In this context, the usage of mobile applications in the field of gamification becomes increasingly important. Throughout the discussion of social player motivation, some experts agreed that the player typology frameworks, introduced in chapter 3.3, are overrated and incomplete and cannot be mapped to the context of gamification. Still, the majority of experts is convinced that player typology frameworks might serve as initial guidance. This is in line with the insights of chapter 3.3, which reveal that player typology frameworks are not one-to-one applicable to gamification. While some experts recommend focusing

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on one player type only to address it properly, others recommend targeting different player types to reach a broader audience and to create a holistic experience. However, the vast majority of experts highlights that one best understands the potential target group and their motivation by conducting comprehensive market research and creating personas rather than referring to player types only. Moreover, a minority of experts recommends the consideration of the so-called motivation-ability-trigger model for the set-up of an appropriate gamification design. All three components, motivation, ability and trigger underlie human behavior and must be properly aligned or happen at the same time. While motivation depicts a person’s willingness to perform, ability means that a person can do it and trigger means that the person is told to do it. Finally, a minority of experts expresses criticism, saying that the gamification trend will not last too long, because of the increasing social media opportunities, which start to overwhelm and annoy people, as they cannot process the plentitude of information anymore. 6.3 Summary of research results Chapter 6.2 disclosed expert insights regarding pre-determined topics within the field of gamification and in this context prior established research questions were examined concerning their validity. Summarizing, it can be said that the most striking insight is that any gamification set-up, involving the environment, user motivation, player type, challenge design or player progression, cannot be generalized and always depends on the context of the underlying application, the target audience and the business objective. Thus, no role model for gamification exists, which is one-to-one

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transferrable, because gamification is most likely to succeed if it is tailor-made, taking account of the above-mentioned dependencies. Figure 41 summarizes the results from the conducted research question validation.

Figure 41: Results from research question investigation
Source: Own illustration    

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