Gamification Pitfalls: Meaningful Rewards or nothing

Why Rewards?

Rewards can change behaviors

13669644_293861710964898_4602676894946595891_nThis morning, I woke up to this picture on my whatsapp messenger.This meme is about the recently launched mobile game Pokemon Go. If you haven’t heard about the game yet, you might start wondering what does a mobile game has to do with maintaining physical fitness. Pokemon Go is an Augmented Reality based mobile game which requires you to physically walk around places to collect various pokemon characters using your phone camera.

After sometime, I’ve received an invite to the event below on my Facebook account.

rewards01Someone’s conducting a walk in the city to play the game as a group and collect as many pokemon characters as possible. I was never interested in walking before, but I couldn’t resist accept the invite as I’m excited to collect more characters than my friends. I’m sure that to most of the participants, this is a first time walk-in-the-park event.

Around 2,500 people are interested as of today for taking part in this event. Do you think all these people would have shown the same interest if the event was just a walk-in-the-park? What motivated them? The rewards (characters) it offers are acting as extrinsic motivators to encourage people to take part in this physical fitness activity.

If you’ve noticed, there are two types of rewards here, one is visible while the other is concealed. People are interested in collecting more and more characters (visible reward) and for this reward they have decided to participate. The concealed reward here is the physical fitness they would obtain by playing the game. Even though the latter is more purposeful, the players might not be as much motivated to achieve it as they were for the digital characters. This is meaningful design of rewards.

Rewards in games are very carefully designed to motivate the players. Without proper planning of rewards, there is a greater chance to actually demotivate the players, leading them to leave the game. I’ve seen some E-learningcourses where every now and then, a reward appears on-screen diverting the learner’s attention and leaving him clueless as to why he has earned it.

Here are a few things we can learn from the usage of rewards in games which can be helpful while developing our gamified learning programs.

Purposeful rewards promote performance:

Do you remember the coins Super Mario used to collect? Why did he do that? For every 100 coins that Mario collects, an extra life is awarded to the player. Most of the rewards in games serve a purpose. The player would be interested in performing the task only when he sees a meaningful reward linked to it.

For example, mobile games don’t have lengthy play times as compared to the console games. It shouldn’t take much time for the player to complete the game if he continuously plays it in one go. Therefore, designers have come up with a limited resource approach. The player will have limited energy/health which he can use to play the game. This energy is occasionally awarded to the player in multiple forms. For example, if the player achieves highest score in a level, he’ll be awarded more energy to continue. Look at the picture below.



This detective game offers players with different rewards for checking in to the game every day.





How can this be used in a learning context?

Good for us, someone already did. Have you used the Language Learning App Duolingo? I’ve recently started learning Spanish using this app and it is one of best gamified learning approach I’d come across. Similar to the game we’ve seen earlier, this app encourages the learners to use the app every day by providing them rewards for doing so. This encourages active participation in training which is very important in self-paced learning.


It’s all about XP & Badges:

So how do you reward your players? Rewards are commonly expressed as experience points or XP in games. The more XP you have, the higher is your status/level in the game.

Experience points are great motivators for the players, pushing them to perform better. Badges are usually awarded to the players for special accomplishments in the game. Rewards can be used in several ways. Here are a few.

  1. To Encourage Progress: You can award your players with XP points as they progress towards the end goal by creating check points. That is, for every level they pass by, certain fixed amount of points can be awarded. In a learning context, you can reward your learners for completing each topic in the course. This encourages continuous learning to happen.


  1. To Improve Performance: Performance based rewards are one of the best user engagement strategies in video games. Most of the players play the game because it is fun. If that is the case, how long do you think it’ll take for him to be bored with the game? Therefore, game designers always wanted the players to look for something more than fun in the game – Mastery. The player is encouraged to perform his best in the game for a reward in exchange.


The same is the case with a training program. How do we enable our learner’s active participation in the course? Offering him a reward in exchange for active participation and better performance could be a motivating factor. For example, at the beginning of a topic inform the learner that he will asked a few questions on the topic once complete and on successfully answering the questions he’ll get a reward (could be a badge or a title). This will motivate him to focus on the topic in order to earn the reward later.

  1. To Promote Additional Content: Players can also be rewarded for completing certain activities. Open world games often come with side quests. These are not mandatory to complete the game but when played, the players be given additional rewards.


Remember that lonely more info button in our courses? We always have that additional content which needs to be provided to the learner in some form in the course. There is no guarantee that the learner will go through this content with same interest as it is not directly aligned to the learning objectives, unless you make it mandatory to complete the course (which is not learner friendly approach). Adding special rewards for learning this type of content will motivate the learner to access this additional information which helps him master the subject.

There’s other side to the coin:

Rewards are not all good when it comes learning domain. Especially when we are talking about adult learners we should be very careful in using this game element in our training. Here are a few things to remember.

  • Rewards can be demotivating too: It is good to use rewards as an extrinsic motivator to promote learning but what about the learners with intrinsic motivation? Some of our learners already come with certain motivation levels to the training and our rewards could be a diversion, actually demotivate them. We should make sure that our rewards add to their existing motivation levels but not lower them.
  • Rewards might not always work: It is not that we have used rewards in our training and learner engagement is assured. There is a greater possibility for the active learner participation in the course using rewards compared to a training with none. However, this requires careful planning and design of meaningful rewards and not just for sake of using them.
  • Rewards doesn’t mean Gamification: Rewards are one of the key components of games but not the only ones. Many other elements such as challenge, feedback, storytelling, social connectivity, etc., make a game successful when combined with rewards. Therefore, rewards are not to be looked at as the only components of gamification and we cannot call it a gamified course just because it offers rewards to its learners.

Do you think rewards have a major role to play in Gamification of Learning? Please share your views in the comments section. If you like this post, please click the Follow button below to help me keep you posted on more interesting training ideas.

‘Thanks for reading’


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