Work is what we have to do, play is what we choose to do. Nobody has to play a game, but you probably have to do to work. Imagine if you felt the same way about doing things you choose to do as the things you have to do?

In the last article, 'Gamification - Press START to Begin' we took a brief journey through the history of games and explored Gamification, as well as a model for using Gamification to improve motivation in military training. In this follow up article, I intend to provide actionable steps you can take to gamify training. The ideas presented are drawn heavily from Yu-Kai’s work, mentioned in the first article[1]. I have attempted to present his formula in a context relevant to the Army. I strongly recommended purchasing his book (Actionable Gamification), or searching his articles on the internet.

Before you begin, you must appreciate this process is always ongoing. These steps can, and should, be habitually reviewed to ensure the gamification strategy is working as best it can, and the audience (the players) are motivated and enjoying themselves. Think of the player lifecycle – they start as novices and over time, by playing the game, they transform into experts. In turn your game, like all the best games, needs to continually evolve to keep the players engaged. In a sense, your game must be resilient[2] to the players.

Soldiers in a field

Step 1 – Define the Outcome and Success Metrics

Firstly, ask yourself what outcome you are trying to achieve? Is it improved soldier fitness? Better combat behaviours at the range? A reduction in back-log of maintenance hours? Improved cargo tracking processes? Consider where you want to finish, and that is where you should start.

Once you understand what success looks like, it is time to get specific. Real specific. By doing so, you give yourself constraints within which you can work and a clear direction for your training. Consider using the SMART goal template (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) to guide you.

Continuing the examples above, this could look like: I want to improve my section’s maximum strength in the Squat and Deadlift by 10% over the next month; I want to improve Seven Platoon’s RP3A scores by 20%, without prompting to utilise cover by end of July; I want the workshop’s maintenance hours to be below 100 within 100 days; I want cargo transit to take no more than 30 days within Australia; I want every Corporal to command a convoy before Exercise Hamel.

Step 2 – Who are the players?

With the outcome in mind, you now need a deep understanding of who will be participating, or rather ‘playing the game’. The outcome of this step is to understand what motivates your players. It means you can design the activity to be something the players want to play. Start by exploring the goals and motivations of your audience:

  • What are they interested in?
  • What is their background / where have the come from?
  • What do they want to pursue, or get better at?
  • How do they see themselves, their image, and what do they aspire to be?
  • What don’t they like?
  • Is their involvement willing or required?

For more detail, consider using Richard Bartle’s Four Player Types, and which of Yu-Kai’s Core Drives they are motivated by (more on the Core Drives in Step 3):

  • The achiever: driven by a sense of development and accomplishment. These people love to show others how they are progressing. Roughly 10% of people fit into this category.
  • The explorer: driven by unpredictability and curiosity. These people love to use their creativity – for them, discovery is the prize. Roughly 10% of people fit into this category.
  • The socialiser: driven by social influence and relatedness. They love new information, experience fun in games through human interaction, and often want to collaborate to achieve bigger and better things. Most of us fall into this category, at roughly 80%
  • The killer: driven by development and accomplishment, as well as social influence and relatedness. They strive for high performance and goals, and need others to recognise their achievements. This category can be very similar to the achievers, however the difference is that killers want to see others lose – they want to beat everyone else, regardless of cost. As a result, they are very competitive. Killers are very rare, being less than 1% of players.

Other assessment options include Andrjez Marczewski’s Six Players Types, or the Myers-Briggs assessment.

Once you understand what motivates your players, you can then group them into like groups.

Step 3 – Consider how you will motivate your players

Now you understand your objective and players, you should design how the game will generate motivation. For this step, take your previous knowledge and consider how each of the ‘Core Drives’[3] listed below will, or will not, appeal. You can then design the game to target your player motivations:

  1. Epic Meaning and Calling: Will the players believe they are doing, or contributing, to something greater than themselves?
  2. Development and Accomplishment: Will the players be challenged, and therefore feel accomplishment and development? How will they feel like they are achieving mastery? This is an easy and common gamification design trait – the idea of badges and leaderboards resides here.
  3. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: Will your players be able to express creativity in discovering new things or try different combinations? A critical element to this drive is having a feedback loop to enable creativity to continue. Players must see the results, receive feedback, and be allowed to adjust.
  4. Ownership & Possession: Will your players feel like they ‘own something’ in your training? People innately want to increase and improve things they own – this is where our desire for wealth comes from.
  5. Social Influence and Relatedness: Will your players feel and social elements that motivate people? Companionship, competition, peer pressure, mentorship, and social acceptance all fit in here.
  6. Scarcity and Impatience: Will your players want something purely because it is extremely rare, or exclusive? Scarcity and Impatience can be very powerful. If someone can’t have something right now, they can often think of nothing else all day.
  7. Unpredictability and Curiosity: Will your players remain engaged because they don’t know what will happen next? To understand this drive, simply watch gamblers. If you read my first article, Skinner Box Satisfaction falls into this drive. Randomness in your game design, proven to be an incredibly powerful motivator, falls into this category.
  8. Loss and Avoidance: Will your players want to avoid losing something, and therefore be motivated to avoid that loss? Ever met someone who just couldn’t admit that perhaps they were wrong? They are motivated by this drive.

To go the next step, even consider doing an anti-motivation analysis. Use the above core drives to analyse why your players would not want to perform the actions you want them to.

Step 4 – What are your desired actions, and how will you reward them?

Desired actions are the activities or elements of training you want the players to perform. This should be quite straight forward. Remember that these actions must move the players towards the Outcome (step 1).

Examples of this include conducting the post-engagement sequence during shooting, logging workshop maintenance hours before finishing work, conducting mobility work after PT, ensuring RFID tags are firmly fitted to cargo, or first and last vehicle parades.

Every desired action should lead to a reward – a gratifying experience that encourages the action to be repeated. How do we understand what is a suitable reward? By understanding what motivates the players (step 3).

Often the military gets this part wrong by preferring to use punishing experiences when the player’s action isn’t suitable. If your gamification objective is to stymie creativity, destroy self-motivation and initiative, reduce self-esteem, and ignore experience and growth, then use punishing experiences – otherwise, focus on rewarding the desired action.

The critical link in designing gamified solutions is that the reward should always encourage the desired action, which in turn should increase the success metric. By doing so you are focusing on improving the motivation to perform the skill or behaviour you want encouraged, instead of focusing on the outcome or overall result.

A key practice to gamification is to make the very first reward as big as possible! This should be early, and if done correctly the player will exclaim something akin to 'this is awesome!' Again, because it is important, the sooner this occurs the better.

Continuing the example trend, the first reward could be firing the combat shooting standards as the very first thing, performing a new and stimulating exercise for PT that has a ‘cool’ effect, seeing the results of your hard work weightlifting during a second wave of testing, being able to go home on-time because you’re ahead of work hours, even simple praise for hard work (particularly for those motivated by accomplishment and social influence).

Lastly, the best types of rewards are those that encourage the players to go back and pursue your desired action. If the reward is so good that they stop playing, then the reward has undermined your attempts to motivate them to continue.

It may seem challenging at first, but giving this step dedicated thought will eventually provoke a raft of reward options you can cunningly employ.

Some options for rewards can be found at Annex 1.

Step 5 – What is the feedback?

The desired action, and the reward you will allot for that action, are very important. But players need to know if they are moving towards the reward they crave. This is where the feedback system comes into play. Feedback can be visual, audible, or even using other senses, but it must help the players gauge if they are getting closer to their reward or not. Feedback is what makes games so popular – you are always told when you are doing the right thing, and possibly rewarded for it.

In the early stages of Gamification, your feedback can be as simple as graded scoring, verbal acknowledgement, handshakes, a report, or even a thank-you letter.

A point to note here is that the reward is a form of feedback; but not all feedback has to be a reward.

Further examples of feedback can be found at Annex 2.


'End? No, the journey doesn't end here.'

To conclude, we will quickly look at three common pitfalls or traps, and how failing in Gamification is important. A full example of this process can be found at the end of this document.

'It’s a Trap!'

Trap 1The collapsing floor and spike pit. This pitfall focuses on the reward and not the experience. This is what Yu-Kai would call ‘Function-Focused Design’ over what he coins ‘Human-Focused Design’. Function-Focused Design often manifests in the belief that simply adding a leader board and points system is gamification – it doesn’t last, and doesn’t work. Core Drive 2 includes leader boards and points, but they are merely a feedback tool and only a single component. Points, badges and leader boards don’t provide a challenge in-and-of-themselves and therefore can’t generate a true sense of accomplishment.

Trap 2The log bundle rolling down the hill. This trap focuses solely on extrinsic motivators, versus intrinsic. Yu-Kai discusses the differences between extrinsic[4] and intrinsic[5] motivations and places them in his ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ categories, respectively. This is also represented on his Octalysis model in the placement of his eight core drives. Importantly, both have their place in gamification. However, studies show that motivation for a task will plummet below the starting levels if extrinsic rewards disappear. Because of this, it is strongly recommended that intrinsic motivation be carefully and deliberately included. Yu-Kai provides a simple test to understand if something is extrinsically or intrinsically motivating: ‘if the goal or objective were removed, would the person still be motivated to take the desired action or not?’ Remember that ‘motivation drives us to complete the desired action, and rewards are what we obtain once we perform the desired action’ (Yu-Kai). If your whole system is designed around motivating through reward, then you have a purely extrinsic system. You should review your player types and look at the Core Drives of Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Social Influence and Relatedness, and Unpredictability & Curiosity. Here are some other tips from Yu-Kai:

  • Make the experience more social
  • Add more unpredictability into the experience
  • Add more meaningful choices and feedback

Trap 3The trash compactor. This trap involves imbalance between ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ motivation. Simply, White Hat motivation ‘make us feel powerful, fulfilled, and satisfied… Black Hat Core Drives make us feel obsessed, anxious, and addicted’ (Yu-Kai). White Hat sounds better, and it is, but the downside is it does not create a sense of urgency like Black Hat. Therefore, designing with White Hat as your primary motivators, with a dash of Black Hat for urgency, is optimal. Check out Yu-Kai’s Octalysis Model to understand what Core Drives are White Hat and Black Hat and ensure your balance is optimal.

Don’t fail me again… Admiral

Like all games, yours must go through a BETA-testing process to be the best it can be. You will have problems (‘Bugs’) you need to sort out – so get it out there and get testing. Interestingly, your game design can be its own gamified solution – with success metrics, players (including you), feedback (how well it is or isn’t’ doing), and rewards (when it works).

Some may even geek out on this process, deep-diving into analytics and data collection. If that is thing (strong Core Drive 3), then have at it! It will only benefit your game design. For those of us that aren’t so nerdy, simply observing the process suffices to understand what does and doesn’t work. If you truly care about improving motivation and ‘human drive’ then the process of designing your gamification should be enjoyable!

With this in mind, go forth and gamify. You might be surprised at the results.

A soldier looking at a computer screen.

Annex 1 - Designing Rewards

'One of the biggest mistakes that people make when designing engagement with gamification is to assume that cash (or stuff) is the ultimate reward. Time and time again, evidence shows that tangible rewards have serious deficits in an incentive scheme.'
– Gabe Zichermann

A great and simple technique for designing meaningful rewards is to remember SAPS, which is:

Status – a position relative to other players

Access – to information, resources, people, or objects that other players do not have or only a few have.

Power – over other players, information, or objects

Stuff – things that players get that only a few others get, or no-one else gets.

SAPS categorises what people really want, from most desirable to least. The reward types also range from least to most expensive – which is handy, because those with the most impact also cost the least.

Some examples include:

Status – being on top of a leader board; public announcement of your achievements; medals (could also be considered stuff, except the important difference is the meaning behind medals – which could apply to other objects).

Access – get 30 minutes with the CO; get time with a much desired training resource or person.

Power – promotion; temporary responsibilities; being allocated ‘group leader’; get to be the PLCOMD for a day.

Stuff – give-aways; time off; object rewards.

Lastly, as Irving Fain quite aptly points out, SAPS could be considered meaningless without a community for the players to exist in. Thankfully, the Army has this in spades already.

Annex 2 – Feedback Suggestions

Below are some feedback suggestions linked to Yu-Kai’s core drives. Note that not all types of feedback will be appropriate for every situation. Having an understanding of them all will provide you with tools to suit your specific circumstances – ranging anywhere from day-to-day physical work to online learning.

Drive 1 – Epic Meaning and Calling

  • Demonstrating the changes the players actions are making. Providing updates is one method, an example being describing the outcome of the training you have provided to another, and their success since that time.
  • Showing how the player actions are contributing to the betterment of the team, or Army. 'Because of your actions, Bravo Company no longer has to do X'; 'Your feedback on the new X has been submitted to Army Headquarters, and they have responded with Y.'
  • Displaying photographs or other media would enhance this.

Drive 2 – Development and Accomplishment

  • Points, badges, leaderboards, trophies all fit here. The critical requirement for them is to track meaningful actions and not stuff the players do not care about. A suggested good action is to provide feedback on shooting ability improvements / trends, with a bad example being amount of rounds fired on the range.

Drive 3 – Creativity and Feedback

  • As mentioned, feedback for this drive is critical. The drive cannot exist without it.
  • The outcome of the player’s creativity is normally enough feedback. Milestones are a great way of enhancing their feedback. Many Gamers use milestones subconsciously ('just one more level then I’ll go to bed'), but deliberately planning to employ them can provide powerful feedback.
  • Another option are what Yu-Kai calls ‘Boosters’, which temporarily give players additional power. An example is in Mario games, grabbing a random difficult-to-get flashing star grants the player a time-limited invulnerability and power. Not many people would be capable of stopping playing the game when they have a booster. Mini-games could be considered a form of booster, breaking routine to challenge the players towards the desired action – with adequate additional privileges during that time.

Drive 4 – Ownership and Possession

  • Representing what has been earnt and is possessed is the feedback for this drive.
  • Consider making the representing object public to the other players (ties to loss & avoidance).

Drive 5 – Social Influence and Relatedness

  • Demonstrating how well ‘liked’ someone (and their actions) are is a great example. This is employed by FaceBook very effectively. Displaying team performance statistics, or other results, can be used as feedback to enhance competition.
  • Direct feedback from mentors is also an option.
  • Publicly announcing the successes or progress of the player / team, through Social Media, Video, or story-board, is also a great option. If done well, it will motivate others to be given the same treatment.

Drive 6 – Scarcity and Impatience

  • Restricting the time available and representing this on a count-down clock is a good example. Anything that demonstrates how limited the resource that players desire is will work as feedback to this drive.

Drive 7 – Unpredictability and Curiosity

  • Difficult to implement, but could take the form of unknown rewards – particularly if on public display. A giant, wrapped box wresting in plain sight in the morning tea room is feedback to continue working towards it as a reward – each and every time a coffee is made!

Drive 8 – Loss & Avoidance

  • Physical penalties, or removal of privileges or previous rewards is feedback for Loss & Avoidance. This can be particularly powerful if the player has already committed significant time towards the game, increasing the undesirable loss exponentially.

Annex 3 – Example Gamification Design Process

Step 1 – Define the Outcome and Success Metrics

  • Outcome: I want soldiers to comply with, and be supportive, of the unit Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Program
  • Specific: By the end of September, 9 Platoon will have completed every session of the S&C program, recorded their results, and been influenced of the benefits
  • Measurable: 5% improvement on the main lifting activities (Squat, Deadlift, Floor Press and Shoulder Press) over four weeks. 90% of training sessions recorded in SMARTABASE logs. 90% compliance in training sessions programmed outside the Gym.
  • Attainable: Yes, with no additional resources required. We possess the equipment and the program. Must ensure that time is protected for training to occur each day.
  • Relevant: The Highest Goal is to train and prepare for war; sub-sets of this include physical employment standards - Army (PES-A), exercises and activities, and general health. The S&C program supports the preparation for these by scientific design.
  • Timely: By the end of September. After this, we can re-assess of conclude.

Step 2 – Who are the Players?

  • 9 Platoon. Platoon Command (PLCOMD) is an intelligent, hard charging individual. The Platoon Sergeant (PLSGT) is progressive in military skills training but not convinced of the importance of strength training. One and Three Section Commanders are fit individuals. Two Section Commander is less fit and motivated.
    • PLCOMD is an Explorer
    • PLSGT is a Socialiser
    • Sect Comd 1 is a Socialiser
    • Sect Comd 2 is a Socialiser
    • Sect Comd 3 is a Killer
  • The Key outcome is that most will be strongly driven by Social Influence and Relatedness, with a degree of Development and Accomplishment

Step 3 – Consider how you will motivate your players?

  • With a look at the eight Core Drives, we can generate a number of techniques that can be used to motivate the players towards the desired actions.
  1. Epic Meaning and Calling.
    • Introduce a strong narrative that describes the importance of soldier fitness, strength training, and preparedness for war. Use quotes from professional athletes into routine dialogue. Start calling activities after popular mythology / movies (the 300 workout anyone?).
    • Build a small amount of elitism, or pride – if successful, each soldier will take action towards conforming to the group identity. This could be through encouraging competition with another platoon, or acknowledging the beneficial situation your team is in compared to others. T-shirts are a potential (and strong) source to encourage this – particularly if you let the team design them. Expressions, that the team adopts, can also work well in this realm. “train hard; play hard”, first of the first” or “second to none” are good examples.
  1. Development and Accomplishment:
    • Include an accomplishment board / bragging board that gets updated after each session.
    • Use symbols of achievements. An example could be using photos of outstanding efforts (soldiers doing heavy deadlifts, for example). These efforts need to be something the team appreciates. For example, if Section Commander 1 loves running, a photograph of him winning or running hard – alongside a public comment – could work wonders.
    • Introduce a ‘performance currency’. For success, or acting on the desired actions, award a form of currency that can be exchanged. For example; maybe 100 points gets you a half day off, or allows you to dictate the parameters of the next section competition.
  1. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback:
    • Difficult to implement – but useful after some time has been spent ‘in the game’. Employing the Smartabase[6] system for the players to use how they see fit resides in here, but the benefit of this will only be seen after a few weeks of playing. At this point, systems like Smartabase (or other programs that track metrics) can be incredibly powerful – and will further encourage the other Core Drives. Have it ready and available, but don’t expect results until later in the game.
  1. Ownership & Possession:
    • Implementing an effective personal log for tracking results.
    • Designating specific equipment (eg: weight’s racks) to sections as ‘their own’.
    • Implement a physical reward for the best performing team; or alternatively a physical burden (like a large rock) for the section that makes the biggest mistakes in training.
  1. Social Influence and Relatedness:
    • Create inter-team competition (links to the physical reward in Ownership and Possession). Maybe a monthly Section Team Endurance PT competition, that specifically involves activities that that would benefit from improvements to their strength (like obstacle course).
    • Look for mentors (people who the players regard highly) that can communicate the benefits of the resistance training to them.
    • Create a ‘water cooler’ where the teams can stand around with each other and talk, or complain. This could be the gym’s cooler, or perhaps a specific area that warm-ups are conducted without hierarchy around. It could even be the Smartabase Wifi network bubble that must be accessed for the program.
  1. Scarcity and Impatience:
    • Consider restricting how often the players can commit the desired actions (developed in the next step).
    • Seek out time restrictions for the gym equipment. For example; from 0800-0900 h on Tuesday and Thursday, 9 Platoon owns the Gym and no-one else has it.
  1. Unpredictability and Curiosity:
    • Randomise the rewards for achieving the desired actions (see Step 4).
    • Insert sessions that differ from the normal program randomly, but still achieve the intent. Mix in a pool session instead of a fartlek run, or conduct minor team games instead (a relay race for example).
  1. Loss and Avoidance:
    • Loss and Avoidance is powerful and must be carefully implemented. In this example, threatening the loss of facilities for training (or an equivalent) is deemed not beneficial.

Step 4 – What are your desired actions, and how will you reward them?

  • I want 9 Platoon to:
    • Arrive at PT ready to train.
    • Record their training results daily.
    • Adhere to the designated programming / weight requirements.
    • Encourage each other’s performance, through feedback or competition.
  • Based on the previous analysis, I will reward them by:
    • Weekly Results boards – individual and section top performance, and most improved.
    • Get some quick photos of outstanding or extreme performance from time to time and post them on a group board.
    • Section with the greatest adherence gets access to the Company training program and assists in designing the Company (or Platoon) training event for next week.
    • Implement a ‘Rock Reward’ for the section that has least compliance for the week (or most comical stuff up). They have to carry the rock with them all the following week.
    • Implement a currency system that can be exchanged on a ‘market place’ for specific items – such as immunity from the ‘Rock Reward’, buying time off (expensive), PLCOMD has to make them a coffee, act as PLSGT for a half day, buy a parking space on barracks, or switch sessions around in the program.
    • Apply ‘on the spot’ rewards of a day on PT gear for examples of individuals providing encouragement / coaching; and regularly recording their results.
    • Implement minor team games sessions as rewards for adherence to the program.
    • Randomise the currency, ‘on the spot’ and minor team games awards.
    • After two weeks, begin to reward individuals updating Smartabase.

Step 5 – What is the feedback?

  • Because Social Influence and Relatedness, with a degree of Development and Accomplishment, is important to the players (Step 2) the ideas that have fallen out of the previous four steps are very adequate for a starting point. They are:
    • Employing results boards and photographs is a good start.
    • Publicly announcing the results / rewards supports feedback.

Based on the above steps, we have the start to our game. Through a relatively simple analysis we can better understand what motivates the players and target their motivation positively. We are generating ‘Human-Focused Design’. Implement it, conduct some BETA testing, and release patches/updates to make it even better.