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Gamification: The 6D Development Process11 min read

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This post is part of a series.

for the win gamificationSo, you understand game mechanics and components, and are ready to actually develop your new system? You need a process. Werbach and Hunter have devised the following 6 step process (you should buy their book for full details, the audiobook is concise, affordable, and well narrated). What steps can take you from concept to successful product? Try these “6 D’s.”

  1. Define business objectives
  2. Delineate target behaviors
  3. Describe your players
  4. Devise activity cycles
  5. Don’t for get the fun
  6. Deploy the appropriate tools

1. DEFINE specific business goals

You could gamify your system, even engage many users, but end up not meeting business goals and losing revenue. Business goals are not just monetary, but must consider meeting or creating a real need that the User is wanting to accomplish. However, if you want to continue to improve your product, it needs to bring in revenue, and monetizing your product should not be ignored.

In this step, there are four substeps.

1.1  List all potential objectives

You need to brainstorm all possible objectives, both for your business and the Users.

1.2  Rank Objectives

Some objectives are your top ones. Pick them.

1.3  Delete Mechanics

Cross off any that are a means rather than an end. For example, signing up 1M new Users is a means towards some other goal – like earning X dollars, or hitting a critical number of Users for profitability.

1.4  Justify Your Objectives

Why is each objective important? How would it benefit your organization and the User? If you can’t justify it, remove it. Ask this question of each:

If only this objective were met, would that be ‘success’?

2. DELINEATE target behaviors

What do you want your players to do and how you will measure them?

Again, there are a couple steps here:

2.1 Brainstorm all possible target behaviors

For example:

  • post a comment
  • register
  • share on fb/twitter
  • sponsor others
  • buy tokens
  • take some other specific action

2.2  Prioritize target behaviors

And keep the top ones. You decide which low priority behaviors you don’t think matter.

2.3  Develop metrics for each

Decide how you will measure each behavior, and assign relative point values to each behavior. For instance:

  • posting in the social area might be worth 10 points
  • commenting on a post, 5 points
  • giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, 1 point.

2.4  Define Win States

When will you tell a user that they have won or succeeded? When they perform a triple combo? When they share 10 times? When they finish the level?

You must consider both temporal and long term wins. Temporal win states are such things as daily contests, completion of a mini-objective, or rank within their cohort.

Long term win states include level completion, cumulative badges, and worldwide leaderboard rankings.

3. DESCRIBE your players

Essentially, this means developing personas.  You should have as few as you can to represent 80% of your user base. Personas that should be considered should be based on at least these attributes:

3.1  Player Lifecycle / Skill Level

Typically, there are three levels to consider:

  • Novices – who need initial step by step help (on-boarding)
  • Regulars – who need novelty and newness to keep playing
  • Experts – who need challenges and status reinforcement

3.2 Bartle’s Four Player Types

Richard Bartle developed a well know suite of gamer personality types, all of which we ought to accomodate. And in fact, one person may, based on their mood, want to play as more than one player type. Those types are

  • Achievers – need a sense of progression and accomplishment
  • Explorers – want to explore your world and learn
  • Socializers – want to connect with others who are like minded
  • Killers – thrive on competition and rank

In the end, designing for player types means asking this question:

What might motivate my players? Need for competence and skills? Knowledge? Adrenaline? Social connections?

3.3  Give each persona a name and an avatar

Giving a face to each persona you design. It will help you think through the question of motivation.

4. DEVISE activity cycles

Progress through your gamified system should not be viewed as merely linear. In fact, activity cycles fall into two categories – loops and branching trees, both of which you should create visual maps of.

4.1 Engagement Loops

These provide immediate feedback and further actions. Each loop has three components you must define:



For example:

  • Movitation – User wants to level up
  • Action – User clicks on game component (e.g. a tile)
  • Feedback – System responds by awarding points or achievements, with some combination of visual and auditory feedback
  • Motivation – user wants to level up

You might kickstart an engagement loop by sending the User a communication (“come build your kingdom!” or “enter the contest!”), or have a friend send them a notification (“come play this game with me!”). Once they are inside your system, other incentives, such as temporary sales or daily challenges, or alerts about rankings can incite action on their part.

Engagement loops can and should be a little more involved than the simple three steps above, though that simple structure should describe your Core Loops.1

Secondary loops, or timed loops with degradation penalties for too much time away are other secondary features of loops, such as this example from Clash of Clans:2

Mouse Over to Enlarge
Mouse Over to Enlarge

Engagement loops define the basic ways the game functions, but not how people advance. That’s what progression stairs are about.

4.2  Building Loops Around ‘Trigger Stories’

The trigger story can be outlined this way:3

When I [trigger]
I want to [purposeful, goal-oriented action]
so I can [expected outcome]

So for example, let’s say I am designing a Bible Study application. I might write this trigger story, which I can use to help me design a useful product:

When I … want to spend time with God
I … open an app on my ipad
So I can … get a structured plan

However, we must also remember that people also use games to relax doing something mindless, so that story might look like this:

When I … want to unwind
I … pick up my ipad
So I can … play a mindless game building something

4.3  Progression Stairs

These provide the macro perspective of the entire player journey. They map short term missions and long term goals. You can also map ‘random’ big rewards, which are shown to keep players engaged.  The major phases include:

Mouse over to enlarge
Mouse over to enlarge

4.3.1 Phase 1: Beginner Onboarding

Difficulty is kept low, with frequent positive feedback (though such components as achievements and points) so that they have the freedom to learn without harsh penalties.

4.3.2 Phase 2: Intermediate Challenge

Now that the player has mastered the basic skills of your software, they need increasing difficulty to stay engaged.

4.3.3 Phase 3: Rest

Believe it or not, difficulty should not continually increase. That leads to fatigue, and users need a short period of feeling powerful with less concentration before taking on the big boss or test.

4.3.4 Phase 4: Boss Fight and Level Up

Time to feel some real accomplishment – kill off a boss, level up, and then start the Challenge/Rest/Boss Fight cycle again.

4.4  Random (Big) Rewards

There are many components one can employ in a gamified system, but one that stands head and shoulders over others is the inclusion of random rewards – as it turns out, humans would rather gamble for random big rewards than trudge endlessly for known, smaller rewards. So across your activity cycle, don’t forget to add random acts of rewardness.

5. DON’T forget the FUN

4keystofunToo much gamification analysis can lead you to miss one important heuristic – your system has to be fun. You have to ask yourself:

Is it fun?
Would players do this voluntarily?

But if you want to get analytic about fun (and you should, there are perhaps four types of fun, as nicely defined by Lazzaro:4

  • Hard Fun – fun for the pleasure of overcoming it
  • Easy Fun – blowing off steam
  • Experimental Fun – trying new identities, learning
  • Social Fun – interaction with others

As with designing for Bartle’s four player types, your gamification should also consider the four types of fun activity and try to work them all in.

6. DEPLOY the appropriate tools

In a future post, I’ll talk about the various components at your disposal, including PBLs (points, badges, and leaderboards) as well as avatar systems, achievements, and the like.  But at the higher and practica level, deployment means one thing – finding what works through competitive analysis and iteration.

6.1 Competitive Analysis

Does anyone else build similar systems to yours? What makes them successful? What makes them suck? Learn from them.

6.2 Testing and Iteration

Gamification is a science in that we can analyze and strategize based on data, but in the end, it’s also an art that plumbs the mystery of what humans find fun and engaging. The only way to know what works in the real world is to test in the real world.

As with all user testing, the best way to start is to build simple prototypes that cost little time and money, and let potential players try your system out and give you feedback. Are they chomping at the bit to see your next iteration or final product, or are they just being nice but have no addictive interest?

One of the easiest ways to do this is by creating an interactive PowerPoint or Keynote presentation that mimics what your software would do. Another is to use one of the many cool (and some free) online prototyping services like or All you need to do is mock up your screens, then use the online software to string them together for an interactive experience, along with the ability for your testers to leave feedback.


There are a few good design outlines for gamification or buildling game software, but I like this one. Comments?

  1. Entice Me Back: How Core Loops drive Re-Engagement (, accessed 2015.05.06)[]
  2. Mid-Core Success Part 1: Core Loops ( accessed 2015.05.06)[]
  3. Driving Re-engagement with Job Stories & Habit Stories ( accessed 2015.05.06)[]
  4. The 4 Keys 2 Fun (, accessed 2015.05.12)[]
  5. Best Tools to Build Your App Prototype in a Day (, accessed 2015.05.12)[]