By Elodie Swanberg, CEO and co-founder, POMMINE
We’ve been talking about the looming health and environmental crises for decades, but despite countless well-intentioned campaigns by governments, business and NGOs, these problems are getting worse overall, not better. Despite a year in which global emissions were reduced due to the pandemic (roughly 7% reduction in emissions), this is still only anticipated to result in a reduction of just 0.01C in global warming by 2050.
Added to this, too many of us still don’t exercise enough, fail to make healthy lifestyle choices, and continue negatively impacting the environment through our actions, and in many cases, the pandemic has compounded these issues. According to recent research POMMINE conducted with YouGov, 40% of us have seen our walking habits nosedive since the start of the pandemic.
Combating these challenges should come hand-in-hand. Yet changing behaviours, particularly where health and sustainability are concerned can be hard. Biking to work rather than driving there can be too tough a challenge, as can walking more or avoiding the use of single-use plastics. How, then, can people be motivated to live healthier and more sustainable lifestyles?
For many entrepreneurs, government bodies and technologists looking to solve these problems, gamification techniques are increasingly seen as key.
Gamifying for gold
Gamification, or the act of designing gaming elements into popular apps and applying them to non-gaming contexts, has long been used in the corporate world to drive engagement and achieve long-term behavioural changes. For example, pizza company Domino’s Pizza developed its Pizza Maker course to train employees through simulations and gamification, decreasing onboarding time. Consultancy firm KPMG on the other hand thought outside the box in its recruitment process by creating an app to subtly gamify psychometric testing. This helped them attract applicants from more diverse backgrounds whilst cutting hiring timelines by almost 50%.
There’s clear (and largely untapped) potential for the technique in the realms of health and sustainability and a growing number of developers are looking towards gamification to foster meaningful changes in user behaviour. With that in mind, what’s important for developers going down this route to consider and include? Here’s what we think.
Gamification requires at least five key elements. The mechanics designed should include goals to build a sense of purpose into the system, rules to provide limitations that enable creativity and achievement, feedback to allow users to track their progress in the context of the goals and rules set for them, rewards such as a points or achievements system to provide a return for the time and investment they’ve made, and motivation – creating a story for why users should act in the first place.
Creating sensations of delight and fun are also important where gamification is concerned in order to effectively drive behaviour change. However, this requires a deep understanding of what makes people tick.
Creating motivation for users to use products is a key part of effective gamification. Motivation theory has long provided useful principles to think about when designing products, with Maslow’s 1943 paper on the hierarchy of needs is one of the earliest examples of useful conceptual frameworks.
Gamification focuses on the top three layers of the needs pyramid – belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. Collaboration and connection form part of the belonging layer and are some of the most fundamental human needs, whilst motivational theorist Daniel Pink adds an additional three layers to the self-actualisation layer – purpose, autonomy and mastery.
The smash-hit nature of Pokémon Go provides an excellent case study of the power of incorporating the above to drive positive change in people’s lives, creating opportunities for users to fulfil esteem and belonging needs. It also helped build a community of like-minded players that crossed the boundaries of age and sex. In the process, it made people healthier and more active.
Think purpose and connection
Gamification is no silver bullet and there’s a risk that as gamification takes hold in ever more areas of our lives, fatigue with often-pointless notifications, badges and scores will inevitably set in. And for that reason, purpose is a critical piece of the puzzle.
Purpose must be at the centre of all product design decisions, and this holds especially true for health, sustainability and ‘tech for good’ products, the success of which hinges on connecting with users’ wants and interests. For example, POMMINE’s mission of helping the user take action to help the planet was central to its approach in designing the 10 Steps to Mars step counter app.
Businesses can also look to existing governmental and non-governmental (NGO) frameworks. The UN actively encourages businesses to advance the aims of their Sustainable Development Goals, a list of seventeen goals which as a whole provide a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030”. Product designers can then create specific in-app mechanics that gamify these goals and contribute to a sense of achievement for the users. 10 Steps to Mars is centred around three of the goals – Good Health and Well-being, Climate Action and Life on Land.
Another way to achieve a product’s intended purpose is to partner with an organisation that helps fulfil some of the user needs the product intends to meet. For example, companies can partner with bodies like Climate Action and Trees for the Future to help promote causes such as the long-term health of land, families and communities, breaking the cycle of generational poverty and leaving a legacy of hope for the future.
By understanding what drives people and their needs, as well as craft engaging, gamified experiences, designers can develop better products and services that drive effective habit change – and make the world a better place in the process.