Essay: How gamification can be incorporated into a mobile app

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  • Subject area(s): Information technology essays
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  • Published on: October 30, 2018
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1.1 Aims and Objectives

The projects aim is to explore how gamification can be incorporated into a mobile app which motivates pro-environmental behavior. Through examining existing ideas using gamification as a tool to motivate, the project aims to identify what contributes to the success and pitfalls and techniques to be applied when motivating environmental behavior.


1. Identifying what gamification is and its uses.

2. Analysis of successful instances of gamification as well as its pitfalls

3. Research existing solutions for motivating pro-environmental behaviour

4. Design an app incorporating gamification techniques to promote pro-environmental behaviour

5. Evaluate the mock-up app through use of a focus group

1.1 Project Approach

The approach of the project will involve creating a mock-up of an app which uses gamification to motivate pro-environmental behaviour and using a focus group to evaluate the effectiveness. To do this I will first need to gain an understanding of; what exactly constitutes gamification, analysing successful and unsuccessful practices and then applying the ideas to motivating environmental behaviour. Once an understanding of what it takes to successfully incorporate gamification into motivating certain behaviours the next step is designing a mock-up of an app applying these techniques. Following the creation of the mock-up a focus group will be presented

1.2 Dissertation Outline

Traditionally, dissertations tend to contain a description of each chapter:

Chapter 2, discusses the background for my project, and identifies some key techniques that can be adopted during the development of the proposed solution. Chapter 3 explains how the project will be undertaken . . . etc, etc.

This approach is acceptable, however it can make quite bland reading. You might like to consider drawing a flow-chart of your project, showing how information such as background data, questionnaire data, results of studies, running computer programs, or undertaking user studies act as input to, or output from your chapters. You can also indicate how each chapter relates to your objectives. This kind of diagram can help to add clarity for your reader, and can help you to get your head round the structure of your project.

2 Background (Gamification)

2.1 The future of Earth

Whilst the future of Earth is uncertain there is strong evidence showing that the climate is changing and not for the better. The topic of climate change is not new, in fact since 1938 ‘using records from 147 weather stations around the world, British engineer Guy Callendar shows that temperatures had risen over the previous century’ he further showed that Carbon dioxide concentrations had also increased during the same period. Just over 60 years later in 1989 UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a speech to the UN also claimed a ‘vast increase in Carbon dioxide levels reaching the atmosphere’ and the same year carbon emissions reached 6 billion tonnes per year.

There are many contributing factors influencing the change in climate however many climate change scientists agree that human activity is the main cause.

Figure 1 – A Public poll on beliefs of global warming

A poll conducted by Yale in 2016 shows 70% of participants believe global warming is happening with just over half believing that humans are the main cause.

2.2 Solutions

There are many ways to reduce the effects of human activity on global warming. The underlying issue is that the mass production of goods requires a tremendous amount of energy which is generally produced through the burning of fossil fuels further releasing greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere. The population of Earth is also rapidly increasing with the current population at over 7 billion there are many more factors contributing to climate change than there are ways of limiting it.

For the average person aiming to limit waste is perhaps one of the most effective ways of limiting their input to global warming. The three ‘R’s’ being; Reduce, Re-use and Recycle are part of a ‘Waste hierarchy’ showing the order of priority when it comes to waste management. The idea is instead of simply throwing waste in the bin to be sent to a landfill after it’s lost value individuals are encouraged to manage their waste produced by for instance re-using an empty bottle or recycling an empty can, so the materials can be used again. Waste products that are not recyclables or not suitable for reuse such as food waste are generally sent to a landfill where they decompose and release methane along with other greenhouse gases.

Figure 2- World leaders of recycling

The graph above shows the world leaders of recycling and their recycling rates, Germany in the lead has a rate of about 54%. The report from Eunomia claims the leaders have both good funding for recycling as well as incentives for citizens such as ‘Pay as you throw’ where individuals are charged a rate depending on their amount of waste produced.

There are a number of existing incentives to encourage people to manage their waste more effectively. Some schemes offer reward for waste management whilst others take the approach of consequences for excessive waste production. Generally, the approaches that use consequences for excess waste work through use of monetary charges such as the ‘Pay as you throw scheme’ or deposit refund schemes where a product such as a bottle of water would have part of the price ‘made up by a deposit, which would then be returned when the customer returns their empty bottle or bottles’. Germany has already adopted this scheme and ‘90%’ of bottles are returned successfully.

There are a number of limitations the existing incentives set to increase recycling rates. One of the most significant would be availability, there are many existing schemes that only exist in specific locations only providing incentive to a limited number of people. In the borough of Bracknell forest there exists a scheme where residents can register for a ‘e+’ card where they are able to collect points every time their recycling bin is taken. Residents are then able to spend these points on a set list of rewards such as DVD rentals or Golf sessions. Whilst this scheme may provide incentive for people to recycle the fact that it’s only available in this particular borough heavily limits the extent at which this scheme can be effective.

Another limitation of the existing incentives is that they generally only offer reward for a particular behaviour. Whilst an incentive scheme designed to increase recycling may boost the recycling rate there are many other important behaviours that should be encouraged to further benefit the environment. For instance, minimising energy wastage by using energy saving bulbs or boiling the amount of water required and not more should be encouraged however
the existing schemes generally focus on motivating a particular behaviour instead of positive environmental behaviour as a whole.

2.3 Gamification

Deterding et al. (2011) definition

Gamification involves adding game design elements to a non-game context such as education, exercise or in the workplace. The game elements applied can range from levels indicating progress being made to points being awarded when certain actions are completed. The purpose of gamification is to increase engagement and provide motivation for the gamified situation.

There are many instances where different gamification techniques have been applied to a range of contexts with varying levels of success. Starbucks as well as other retailers such as Nando’s have seen significant success through implementing loyalty programs where customers are awarded gifts for engagement with the brand. Starbucks in particular offers an app where customers can pay for their goods and earn ‘stars’ for transactions.

Figure 3 – Starbucks tiers

As shown in figure 3 Starbucks also offers levels in their loyalty program, customers start of in the ‘Green Level’ and after fifty transactions are made within a year they are upgraded to the ‘Gold Level’ where some additional benefits are provided to improve the customer experience.

The Starbucks rewards scheme works slightly differently in other countries, in America customers are awarded 2 stars for every Dollar spent rather than a single star per transaction. By adjusting the number of stars awarded depending on the amount being spent higher spending customers are able to earn points at a faster rate than the lower spending customers results in better benefits for the higher spenders. With over 13 million customers using Starbucks rewards the loyalty scheme through using simple game elements such collecting stars Starbucks has been able to boost customer engagement as well as their revenue.

Gamification has also seen success in many other areas, another example of success is Nike’s running app ‘Nike+’ which tracks a user’s running statistics including time, distance and speed these figures are then converted to ‘NikeFuel’. The app incorporates gamification in a number of ways such as using ‘missions’ where users have limited time to earn a specific amount of ‘NikeFuel’ in addition leader boards are available allowing users to compete with friends for the highest scores. The idea proved to be successful with millions of users signing up and ‘more than 1 billion fuel points’ being earned daily.

2.3.1 Behaviour change

Getting people to change their behaviour and become more pro-environmental first requires an understanding of how to instigate behaviour changes. Dr. BJ Fogg a behaviour scientist has produced a number of models regarding what causes behaviour change and the types of behaviours to expect.

Fogg’s model states that if the elements of motivation, ability and a trigger at the same time this can lead to a behaviour being displayed.

Figure x: Fogg Behavior Model

The behaviour model above shows how high motivation can lead to trigger action for something hard to do whilst low motivation can only lead to easy to do actions. The elements each have sub-components that are also important when considering how to design for behaviour change.

Motivation: Fogg considers 3 types of core motivators being: Sensation (Pleasure/Pain), Anticipation (Hope/Fear) and Belonging (Social acceptance/rejection). Using these motivators when designing can help motivate certain behaviours depending on context.

Ability: Sometimes replaced with simplicity this element considers an individual’s capability of completing an action

2.3.2 Why Gamification works

There is substantial research into the reasons why using game elements in non-game contexts can incite motivation and behavioural change. Blohm and Leimeister (2013) highlight some of the most important game-design elements and their motives.

Table x?

Game mechanics refer to the techniques in gamifying a context offer for instance points and trophies badges. Game dynamics instead describe the effects of the mechanics on the user experience over time and relate to the user’s motives (Huotari and Hamari, 2012). In relation to gamifying pro-environmental behaviour, including mechanics such as a ranking creates a competitive dynamic. When an individual’s performance is compared to the performance of others particularly relevant other such as friends ‘social pressure may be evoked’ which can prove to be effective in motivating certain behaviours. Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C. and Rothengatter, T. A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of Environmental Psychology 25, 3 (2005), 273-291.

Competition which can be consider a game element is commonly included in approaches aimed at reducing energy usage. A study on dorm residents in over 150 campuses, and these effects of competitions have ‘achieved median reductions of 22% in energy use from students’ (Johnson et al., 2012).

Game elements such has group tasks can also produce opportunities for social exchange, essentially a distribution of ideas within a relevant community. With reference to pro-environmental behaviour, allowing users to interact with one another by displaying their thoughts and experiences and encouraging users to partake through rewards. There are a number of ways this can be implemented; an example would be a forum where users can create threads regarding relevant topics or experiences they’ve come across. Having an area where users can display sustainable behaviours for others to see allows for these ideas to be used as a reference to many (McKenzie-Mohr, 2011)

Another strategy to incite behaviour change is to use normative social influence between players. Normative social influence is essentially a type of social influence that can lead to conformity. A study conducted by (Hamari & Koivisto, 2015) investigating the role of social influence in gamified exercise found that ‘social influence, positive recognition and reciprocity have a positive impact on how much people are willing to exercise as well as their attitudes and willingness to use gamification services’ an empirical study also showed how ‘getting recognized, receiving reciprocal benefits and network effects contribute to use continuance’ of their gamified application.

Allowing participants, the freedom to choose the ways they want to present a behaviour can increase intrinsic motivation (Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008) and self-determination (Agran & Krupp, 2011). In the domain of pro-environmental behaviour there are many different ways ranging from recycling items to cycling instead of using motor vehicles or even installing solar panels each of which can have a positive impact on the environment. Whilst there are many ways to display pro-environmental behaviour not everyone may be willing or capable to partake in certain actions for instance individuals living without gardens are unlikely to be composting however since composting is a pro-environmental behaviour it should be rewarded.

2.3.2 Player types

An important factor to consider when developing a game is the types of players interacting with the game. Research conducted by Richard Bartle has identified 4 distinct types of players being: Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers and Killers. Each of these player types have different characteristics and motives when engaging in games.

Figure x: Player types

As shown in the figure above the player types vary in what their focus is when playing games: Killers have a focus on competition and aspire to be the best, Achievers focus on completing tasks and have less interest in competing with others instead they focus on themselves, Socialisers have less focus on a games mechanics and competition aspect and instead focus on the social aspect of a game and play for fun and Explorers also do not focus on competing with others or even socialising instead they enjoy interacting by exploring and discovering areas of the game.

the frequency in which people engage in the said behavior increases significantly (Phillips & Gardner, 2016). More importantly, habit formation leads to long-term behavioral maintenance even without the need for intentional motivation to maintain the said behavior (Judah, Gardner, & Aunger, 2013). Long-term behavior change will occur only if people perform the sustainable behaviors multiple times during the intervention. Gamification precisely addresses this issue by having players enter a state of flow, which intrinsically motivates the players to repeat sustainable actions.

(Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999) – behavior strictly for the reward, and not because they are inherently interested in it

As soon as the competition ended, so did the behavior change (van der Linden, 2015)

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