viernes, 23 de agosto de 2013

7 ways to avoid cheating in Gamification

Cheating in Gamification: Turn cheaters into your very best friends

When something is good, there will always be people that will try to get it using shortcuts and that's why, if there is something we can be sure of is that great games always have cheaters. Richard Bartle calls them killers, some people call them hackers, and I call them "very interested players that cannot wait to beat the others".

This kind of players are going to be there, so, what can we do? Is there something we can do to reduce the likelihood of having them in a negative way? And even more important, how can we help them turn into our very pro players?

The answer is YES!

Here are 7 ways that you can use to fight cheaters in your gamified system:

- Make it worthless: Cheaters usually are like that because the reward is worth the effort, so one of the most effective ways of decreasing this behavior is making it worthless. If we can turn all the way around the reward-effort ratio by making it inverse, or in other words, if cheating takes a great effort and the achieved reward is small, no one will ever think of cheats again.
A great example is iTunes and its low prices policy. Very few people feel like paying for a whole album because it is either too expensive or they only want a single, but they are willing to pay for HQ music. So what did Apple do to reduce piracy? They lowered the prices, made it simple to buy single songs, and offered great quality.
This model has been copied by many successful games and can be applied to most gamified systems.

- Add social dependance/pressure: Another way of cheating appears when some pro or experienced players discover the way to benefit from others without them barely noticing. This kind of players usually act on their own, and the key of their success is trying the others not to realize that they are cheating, but when it comes to social dependance or pressure, we can turn it all the way around.
We all know peer-to-peer reviews as a way of avoiding cheating in the scholar world, and even when it has some flaws, this system can be totally applied to game environments, because when the victory is not fully depending on us, players will tend to cooperate and be nice to others instead of cheating on them.
You can see this as a fact in many co-op game modes, such as the ones available on Steam.

- Introduce balanced cheating: Some of the main reasons why players cheat are that they want to get bigger or better in a shorter period of time. Cheaters love your game but they feel like experiencing something new, something that makes it exciting again because they are bored of the normal mode. They want it all and they want it now. So why not give it to them?
So when we talk about balanced cheating, it means that almost everyone is going to be able to play with increased attributes or elements. It can be from a speed server to global cheats that are published online.
The best examples of this kind of mechanics are The Sims and their available-to-all cheats, or Travian with its speed servers.

- Implement time limitations: time constrains, also called cool downs, refers to any kind of limitation that makes the players wait to take any kind of action. Cheaters are usually taking advantage of being connected to the system 24/7 or just implementing hacks that allow them to take actions in the game without them even being there, because the amount of resources gained is worth it.
Apart from preventing players to game the system in this particular way, cool downs produce two really great effects: they make players curious and wanting more, and they also produce a loss avoidance feeling that works amazingly good when creating action loops in any kind of system!
Epic examples of time limitations can be found in any MMORPG, such as WoW, Guild Wars 2, or TLotR Online.

- Implement decreasing rates: another way that cheaters game the system is by repeating some kind of actions that provide them with unbalanced amounts of rewards. This is usually caused by a not balanced positive feedback loop and it can be detected since the testing phase. Anyway, there is an even better way to solve this out. Just make a decreasing progression of those rewards in time, and link them to some time constrains to eliminate this kind of behaviors and produce in the players the same kind of feeling that cool downs do.
A great example of decreasing rates is the app Tapjoy that increase the conditions to give rewards in time, while decreasing the rewards to balance the system.

- Resources limitation: this is a very simple technique that works perfectly for any kind of system. As we have said before, cheaters usually profit from an abundance of resources so just by cutting the available amount of those, we can reduce the likelihood of this kind of bad behavior. As simple and easy as it sounds, it has been one of the main techniques used in many world famous games such as monopoly (reducing the amount of houses available to make it more fair), Team Fortress 2 (reducing the amount of crates that give access to the very expensive and great items) or Ogame (by cutting the storages' capacity)

- Implement small bottlenecks: sometimes, cheaters will try to skip some parts of the game just to go faster, get higher in the rankings or just to achieve better stuff. That's why sometimes it's recommendable to implement bottlenecks that are linked to some kind of level or requirement to make the system fair for all players. Since gamification heavily focuses on recognition and status, bottlenecks are a really good way to make everyone go through the same steps and assure a fair competition. What's more, they'll also help to make the system more interesting and challenging by having some epic goals that all players will have to achieve.
An app that really nailed this concept is duolingo, but besides it, they can be found in any kind of game as a way to make players ready for harder steps

Many people think that cheaters are both dangerous and a terrible threaten. In my opinion they are as good as having some angry customers in front of your business door, if you can turn them into your best customers, you'll gain much more!
And that's why cheating should be considered as a sign that players really are interested in your system, so the best thing to do is either collaborating with them or taking advantage of it in a positive way.

Because...always remember the GOLDEN RULE...

"Having cheaters in your system is good, but quickly turning them into your best players is way better!"

Victor Manrique

viernes, 2 de agosto de 2013

The 5 Key Factors for Long-Term Engagement with Gamification

The 5 key factors of long-term engagement for Gamification

This article was originally posted at Gamification Co. as an Op-Ed. You can see it here

Did you ever lose track of time because of a game? And did you ever asked yourself why?

Games are one of the most engaging things that we can find because they involve and fulfill almost all of our main human motivators and happiness factors while creating so much fun (see my post on "why people play" here), but some very special ones have this stickiness that makes us want to play them for a long period of time.


As it turns out, if we analyse and explore some of the best selling games ever as well as the most popular ones nowadays, it can be stated that there are 5 key engagement factors that all of those games share in common, while matching these requirements:

- Every single one creates real short term engagement by itself, and the sum of them produces long term engagement that lasts in time.

- They are independent from each other but also related in some way.

- All of them can be applied to gamification, setting apart the ones that are only found or work properly in games.

The 5 Key Factors

These are the 5 main factors of long term engagement in gamification experiences that match all of the requirements:

- Action & Progress loops: human beings like habits, and our brain usually craves for patterns that it can follow. Everyone of us has some good or bad habits and they are one of the main keys of behavior management. As Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) or Prof. Kevin Werbach (For The Win) state in their books, habit loops are a very powerful source for encouraging people to take some actions, while giving them any kind of feedback that motivates them to repeat that behavior in time.

In gamification as in games, we can identify two different types of loops: action and progress loops. Basically, action loops are based on taking some kind of action, getting something for it and stay motivated to do it again, while progress loops focus on mastery and the player's improvement in time.

As an example of how to combine these, we can build an action loop implementing some quests in our system that the player can repeat in time getting some XP points, badges, rewards or any kind of item. If the system is well designed, players will keep on coming back to make those quests and get their rewards. Besides, they will not only be motivated by the rewards achieved, but also because of the progress made in the rankings, the improvement of their skills, or the new levels that unlock other stuff, or give them access to some privileges.

Some very good examples of these combined loops can be found in games like Travian, Mafia Wars, Celtic Tribes or Top Eleven.

-  VIP Goals (Valuable, interesting, possible): Goals are one of the main elements of progress loops that we just mentioned, but they have some specific instructions that we should follow to make the work properly. In a more psychological approach, goals are great for engagement because when reaching them, they create a feeling of fulfillment, achievement and mastery that releases big doses of dopamine making us happier. Apart from that, getting to the point where we complete them is a path towards learning, something that we all like!

So back to gamification, VIP Goals stands for Valuable, Interesting and Possible goals. Not every goal works out good and encourages people to achieve them, so thats why they need to be VIP goals but... What do we mean with that?

In any gamified system, we need valuable goals for players, or in other words, achieving them must have some intrinsic or extrinsic value for them. Besides that, they have to be interesting and engaging, because it's not only about the goal itself, but also how we come to that point. And last but not least, our players must feel that they have a real chance to achieve them in a short period of time!
So when creating VIP goals in a gamified system, we want them to be meaningful for our players, dividing them into small goals towards a bigger objective to keep flow going on, and mixing them with a small touch of epicness. Only true heroes can achieve VIP goals!

Some great examples of VIP goals are Nike+, Duolingo, and some of the campaigns of Kickstarter.

- Well designed rewards systems: Rewards are related to both loops and goals, being a step in between and that's why basically, every gamified system needs some kind of rewards whether they are real or virtual, extrinsic or intrinsic, positive or negative. In short, they are a very basic but powerful element in any system because they reinforce or discourage the player's behavior in time.

There are many types of rewards but what we want to create is a system that has different kinds of rewards according to the phase the player is on at the moment. So in the beginning, it's good to have some fixed rewards that create the first action loops; after that, it might be good to combine those with some interval rewards, that are linked to new actions while in the end we want variable rewards depending on the player's choices, that will lead to the main goals prizes.

As with VIP goals, rewards need to be valuable, meaningful and fun, or otherwise, no one will want to get them! If you want to get some inspiration on how to design a nice rewards program, check out Team Fortress 2 and its items system, it's just an awesome mix of virtual goods and real money!

- From Solo to Social: Before keeping on reading, have a look at the App Store or the Google Play Store and check out what are the most downloaded and profitable games for mobile devices. I'm quite sure you will recognise some pattern...
So...did you realise that there is a great number of MMO games? And that almost all of the most profitable games are related to some kind of social feature? Is that a coincidence?

Well, not at all. Humans are social animals and relatedness is one of the most powerful drives of engagement and motivation as well as one of the key factors of well-being and happiness, and games are not an exception. All this said, it is difficult that all gamified systems can implement social features or start as a social platform due to the lack of an initial critical mass in most of the cases, so that's why we want to start it as a great solo adventure to evolve into a more social community.

But keep this in mind, social games have levels of emergence and complexity that solo games cannot even dream of. Most of the times, we only play due to the people that play with us, and it is proved that engagement usually skyrockets when a game implements some kind of social feature if it's done well. So start it as a solo game and let it become social progressively.

There are so many examples of this type, and many of them are related to growth hacking strategies, but one of my favorites is Dropbox and its storage system.

 - The X Factor: the last one of the long term engagement factors is what I call "The X Factor", or in other words, that special ingredient that every really great game has and makes it unique and amazingly engaging. It can be anything from a core mechanic that produces so much excitement to an epic story, a creative theme or a unique identity or style, but what they all have in common is that they boost the user's engagement in a way that no other game or system does. However, some of these features can be difficult to implement in a gamified system but we need to try finding our very own X Factor to really create a memorable experience.

Some examples of this X Factor can be found in Tetris and its core mechanics that have engaged players for so long, Final Fantasy and its epic story that makes you want to keep on going to see what's going to happen next with the characters, Angry Birds and Candy Crush with their creative and colorful themes that produce so much fun, or World of Warcraft, The Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars Online with a totally unique identity and style that creates a passion and cult feeling that only the most powerful and well-known brands in the world have been able to achieve.

In the end, designing a great gamified system that lasts in time and keeps users fully engaged is a difficult task the same way that creating a unique game experience is not easy at all.
Following and implementing these 5 factors in the right way increases the odds of being successful and achieving our main gamification objectives.   

Victor Manrique