K is for Kinship “a feeling of being close or connected to other people”. So what would bringing gamification to online, largely anonymous communities mean for those connections.
The core driver for any online community starts with a desire to seek out and exchange information, whether this is knowledge around a specific subject area or more personal social exchanges for entertainment purposes. Gamifying this experience means adding to it:
1. Shared gameplay and a goal
What differentiates the creation of a community to be gamelike, as opposed to a roaming conversation is the shared gameplay. The creator of Stackoverflow, has called this programming community, his Counter Strike.
The game’s objectives and rules are all cleverly constructed to make working together the most effective way to win. None of these players know each other; the design of the game forces players to work together, whether they want to or not. It is quite literally impossible to win as a single lone wolf.
The site brings the idea of strangers cooperating to answering questions on programming and they do it within the structured gameplay set-out by the site. A free-roaming conversation like a forum thread, may end up answering a question, but it may also end up in a philosophical debate about toast. (I’ve seen it happen).
The threads on a community forum can create some purpose, but its like the playground at school with kids playing chase over there and another group are just whizzing around like aeroplanes over here. This kind of dispersed play of a playground might loosely formulate around a goal, but without explicit rule setting and cohesion that brings all the kids together, it is not a game.
Compare that to the focus of the StackOverflow. The community benefits from gamification, because it uses both goal and constraints to create an experience of teamwork towards a shared objective. The best possible answer to the question.
2. Recognition and status to promote desired actions
Recognizing community members for how many posts, their date of joining or even what their ‘expertise’ is via their profile and bio, isn’t something new to online communities.
However, gamification treats recognition and status as something that is interlinked with the behaviours and actions, which the community wishes to promote. Your desired contribution to the community is made explicit by the signalling of what can be gained via ranks and badges.
When Communities Go Bad
Let’s not get all rose-tinted glasses about this. As much as I love games, game communities can be harsh and awful places to be. In fact anywhere, you tap into intense play emotions that involve winning, losing or just you know webland anonymity, the troll is never far.
Instead of thinking that this is down to the specific game and the kind of people it draws in, what game developers have shown us is that it is within their control as designers to change it. Take League of Legends, which has a reputation for having a particularly toxic community and where its developers have now honed in on improving.
The League of Legends lead designer of social systems Jeffrey Lin, shares some interesting analysis and changes from their progress, such as:
3. Team first impressions count
if pre-game communication is negative, then players file 15% more reports even if they win the game. “A poor experience here taints the whole game,”
4. Mom got it right. “If you don’t have something nice to say, then….”
71% of players improve communication after just one chat block experience. It’s even 34% more effective than using bans.
5. And finally, remember we all like to work for Honour, as well as Justice