Creating user experience for gamified products at STC Summit 2013

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2013, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. I’ll blog about the sessions I attend, and give you some links to other news I hear about too. You’ll find my posts under the tag stc13 on this blog.

Marta Rauch presented a session titled Game On! Creating User Experience for Gamified Products. Marta learned about gamification when she became interested in what motivates people to contribute to communities. This was around 2005. She is now a certified gamification designer.

A key take-away from Marta:

Gamification is already here. It’s time for us to get our game on!

Importance of gamification

Why should we pay attention to it, as technical writers? Gamification is the technique of applying game techniques in non-game situations, to motivate people and drive behaviour. So if that’s what we need for a particular piece of user assistance, gamification would be a good fit.

Game techniques:

  • Game dynamics, which are rules to help you progress through the game
  • Game mechanics that help you achieve your goals
  • Game components that help you track your progress

Some stats

By 2014, over 705 of companies will have at least one gamified product. And by 2015, half will gamify innovation.

In the near future, a company that gamifies will be as important as eBay, Facebook, or Amazon.

In terms of money, the market is huge.

The focus is on engaging users. Gamification is the best way to engage younger workers (“millennial” workers). They have 10,0000 hours of gaming by age 21. This qualifies them as experts in gaming. They form 25% of the workforce now, and it’s a growing portion.

Marta highly recommends a TED talk by Dr Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world.

Game changers for tech comm

The next 9 sections are about the things gamification is introducing that we need to consider in tech comm.

1. Understanding motivation

We need to understand our players’ (users’) motivation. What would engage them and what do they really like? To this end, Marta has set up special sessions at user conferences (such as Oracle OpenWorld) to talk about gamification. They had surprising results:

  • Some players are not interested in badges, but rather in gaining access to information and people. That would be the kind of reward they would like.
  • Some people really like to help other people. This can also be a reward.

There’s been a lot of research on the general types of players that play games, and what motivates them:

  • Competing. Seeing how you rank against other players. Getting visibility.
  • Completing tasks and checking them off.
  • Helping other people.

In your gamified product, have tasks that play to these difference types of motivates.

Marta gave the example of the Nike fitness apps. They target main user groups, such as people who want to move through their fitness goals, or those who want to talk to and share with friends, or those who want to compete.

2. Gamified user assistance architecture and patterns

Plan the process, then keep the players motivated throughout.

There’s the concept of “onboarding” in games. It helps people know what to do when they get started. Games give you a plan to get started, and quests to follow or levels to conquer. Marta gave an example of a game used to teach maths.

A use case in tech comm: we may need to get people more involved in installing and configuring a product, and we want to keep them motivated all the way to the end.

In games, there’s often no documentation. Everything is embedded. There may be a quest to set up your user profile and get connected with other people. The game may also show you what other people are doing – a bit of peer pressure.

3. Gamification terminology

Marta listed some examples of game terms that have crept into general terminology, such as:

  • Onboarding
  • Avatar – this targets people who really like to customise and personalise
  • Quests
  • Leaderboards

4. Gamified messages

Messages are really crucial in a game.  They set the tone, as well as telling people what to do and giving them instructions. Think about a coach in real life. The messages are there just when they’re needed.

Often there is a link to the game FAQ. Inspired players love to share what they learn in a forum, and you may want to consolidate the top tips into the FAQ.

5. Writing style

The style is more informal, more friendly, intended to engage and motivate.

Marta pointed us to a chart by Amy Jo Kim – a social actions matrix. It shows the type of words you would use, depending on the quarter of the chart in which the target audience sits, or the type of quest.

6. Testing

When testing, have people sitting in a booth, unable to see each other. Watch how they’re doing. Are they achieving what we want them to achieve. Are they gaming the system in ways we don’t really want? Sometimes you may want to let them do that, and add it as a new feature, otherwise design it out.

7. Change mangement

If you’re going to upgrade or change the game, you must let the players know. They’ll be engaged and motivated, and will hate it if you take something away or change it while they’re in mid stream.

8. Accessibility

If your company is required to be accessible, your gamification must be too. The best information available is from game designers. See Includification as a good source.

9. Localisation

This is always a challenge, because you need to consider the culture as well as translation. Game strategies may need to change. In some countries, for example, you don’t want a leaderboard, because it’s not seen as a good thing to be at the top of the board. Or, it may be OK for a group instead of an individual to be at the top. There are also legal and privacy considerations.

Examples of user assistance

Marta picked a few examples that she thought would be fun to talk about, and to get us thinking.

  • Microsoft Office – Ribbon Hero 2. “You’ve tried [various games]. Finally, here’s a game that will make you better at your job.” Marta recommends we download and try this game. It’s fun. Knights on horses, dragons. The “Canterburied Tale” quest helps you learn Word, for example. It has some excellent and fun animations. There are other quests to help you with Excel, and more.
  • Adobe PhotoShop – Level Up. There are five key tasks. They had a business need to teach these tasks, to reduce support calls. An example is changing red-eye. The game takes you through various missions. You “level up” as you move through various missions, and its tied into social networks (Facebook). People love to share, so let them do it.
  • Cisco – Mind Share. Cisco knows their players – these are certifications for network administrators. It’s really hard to get the certification, and was a painpoint for the administrators. Cisco knew that their administrators really enjoy SciFi games, so this was very successful for them.

A gamified reading app

This reading app was introduced in a gamification summit in San Francisco just a couple of weeks ago: “Read Social App”. You log in via Facebook, then start reading a book. The app shows your progress, and makes you feel good about it.

Marta showed us some great photos of how the app looks on a mobile device. You are presented with challenges to engage you in the content. Players type interesting tidbits they have learned while reading the chapter. The game also has ways to quiz you about what you’ve learned.

There’s also a way to unlock content. You can get access to a video, for example, as a reward for your effort.

You can see a tour at

Gamification framework

How to get started:

  • Define your business objectives
  • Define your audience (players)
  • Describe the behaviours you want them to follow
  • Devise activity loops
  • Remember it must be fun
  • Deploy the tools you need

Marta’s responses to some questions

Gamification is not the same as games. It’s doing something with a business focus, but with a little more fun and a little more engagement.

Check your metrics. By gamifying a task, we aim to achieve that task a little more efficiently and effectively.

How does this apply to mid-career professionals? The data shows that the average age of a gamer is older than we thought. Also, a number of women play games. The Home Shopping network is very into gamification.

Thanks Marta

Marta finished off by pretending we (the audience) were on a gamification quest. Yaayyy, we’re already on stage 1, by attending Marta’s session. She took us through a number of “levels” we can follow,  to take us all the way to “mission accomplished” where we become gamification gurus.

Marta’s slide deck on SlideShare has a number of useful resources, for learning more about gamification. She also recommends a gamification course by Kevin Werbach, hosted on coursera. It’s pretty intensive, and you can gain an accreditation at the end.

This was a fun and inspiring session. It made me want to learn more. Thanks Marta!


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 8 May 2013, in STC, technical writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Sarah,

    I sat next to you as you wrote this entry at Marta’s lecture. It’s pretty cool to see it posted!

    Although I enjoyed her seminar and have a few ideas to incorporate into the work I do, I was taken by her statistics suggesting that the younger the end user, the more likely they will be comfortable with a video game-style interface. The flip side to that is that many older managers (and other employees) are suspicious when they pass by a screen and see animation, video, colorful graphics, or anything that looks like a game.

    Although we can argue that by blurring the line between play and work develops more productive and creative employees, there are some employees who take advantage of their equipment and Internet connection to entertain themselves on work hours. So i can’t blame managers for being suspicious about it.

    As someone who has worked in graphic design and multimedia over the years, I’ve often successfully explained why I draw pictures or build animation on my work computer to those who sneak up behind me to ask me what I’m doing. I know they wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if they saw a spreadsheet or a window of black text. And although I was legitimately working, it’s hard not to feel self-conscious about it sometimes!

    • Hallo again Brad 🙂

      It’s an interesting point about the age of the audience. Marta did say that the average age of people playing games is higher than we think. I guess it also depends on our audience analysis. Some user assistance may be partly gamified, for example. Instead of being a video-style tutorial, it could be primarily text-based with rewards and some community/social aspects built in. In fact, we had a stab at such a hybrid doc a while ago, with fair success and acclaim. It’s an installation/configuration guide disguised as a dragon slaying quest.

      We’ll just have to train those managers into realising learning can look like fun. 😉

      Thanks for a thought-provoking comment. I hope other people chime in too!

      Cheers, Sarah

  2. Hi, here is some data on women gamers. This is from Dr. Jane McGonigal: “40 percent of gamers are women, and 94 percent of girls under the age of 18 play games regularly, and play computer and video games regularly.” (

  3. Here is some data on the average age of gamers. This is from the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) in 2011:
    – The average gamer is 37 years old, and has been playing games for 12 years.
    – The average game buyer is 41 years old.
    – In 2011, 29 percent of Americans over the age of 50 play video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.

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