The Player’s Journey

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J in the A to Z of Gamification is for the player’s Journey.

I’ve already covered how important the habit loop is to gamification that keeps us engaged through even the most repetitive activities, and this is especially apparent when we see how a player’s engagement with a game changes over time. Referred to as the Player’s Journey.

The middle stage that a player goes through aligns heavily with the design of these habit loops and can be seen through Amy Jo Kim’s popular player journey definition that names this middle stage for regular players as “Habit-building”.

This is the usually a considerable chunk of the journey linking the new player or newbie, who has come into the system and learns its rules via on-boarding, through to an end stage of mastery.

The triggers and rewards of habits keep you coming back, but there is more to this loop when it comes to a well-designed game. Gamification is a popular area for educators and learners, who recognize the strengths of games to structure and lead us to “level-up” our in-game skills and rise to the difficulty of greater challenges.

In another player journey model used by Yu-Kai Chou, the middle habit-building stage is instead called ‘scaffolding’ and the name reflects I think the structured quests and actions, which continually move the player towards the latter stage, which he calls the “end game”

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Yu-kai also includes an initial stage before onboarding that captures the initial discovery of the game or gamified product, was it via word of mouth, a friend’s invite or your boss told you about it. I like this stage, as it recognizes that players can come to a game with a preconceived or weighted impression of your system even before they’ve done a single interaction. This can either work in your favour or not and may to some degree be out of the designers control.

Gamification is often compared to loyalty programs, which have used what some see as the same ‘gamelike’ techniques for many years. For example, air miles clubs with their different point driven statuses.

However, by examining how these two areas perceive the journeys that their end ‘customer’ is going through, the fundamental difference to these different approaches become clear.

In a loyalty program, the customer is always building a relationship with ‘something’ else. Either a brand, a product or a system. There are two entities and the steps that mark the stages of that journey describe changes in the relationship between them.

In a game and therefore in applications of gamification, the player’s journey is marked by the changing needs of the player. The game facilitates and enables a transformation that is centered within the player. Without the player, the game does not exist.

Loyalty is a relationship. Journey is a transformation.

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