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Gamification Tenet #2: You Can’t Change What You Don’t Track

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

In my previous gamification post I started this series of short posts with some tenets of successful gamification. These are fundamental principles that I found to be inherently true, but are very often overlooked by less experienced gamification practitioners. I hope these tenets could help bring the gamification industry into the slope of enlightenment and eventually plateau of productivity.


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Last time we discussed tenet #1: Have a Granular Understand of Your Desired Behavior


Now it’s on to tenet #2. And it is all about measurement!


You Can’t Change a Behavior that You Don’t Track

If you follow tenet #1, you should have formulated a long list of very detail and granular behaviors you want to drive. Once you have this list of behaviors, you must have ways to track those behaviors and measure them. What good is “knowing” the behaviors that lead to success if you can’t measure them? Lord Kelvin once told us that “if you can’t measure something, you can’t change it.” In the context of gamification and behavior psychology, we now understand that it’s only through feedback that certain behavior is reinforced. The behavior reinforcement could be positive (i.e. rewarded) or negative (discouraged). And yet, it’s only with a thorough behavior tracking that one can provide accurate feedback on the behavior. In other words, if you can’t track a behavior, you can’t change that behavior.


So before you start implementing any gamification, you must think hard about how to measure and obtain accurate behavior data from your players.


Fortunately, there are more than 7 billion mobile phones in the world and billions of internet users, so there are many devices and channels that can assist with behavior tracking and measurement. Despite that, I have spoken extensively about how gamification is more about psychology than technology. In fact, some very successful gamification has been implemented in classrooms using only trading cards to track student behaviors. So don’t get carried away with picking the right technology.


Nevertheless, technology can definitely help. Accurate and detail behavior tracking (especially at large scale over long periods) is where technology is most helpful.


The right technology for you depends precisely on behaviors you need to track. If the behaviors leave behind some digital footprints (e.g. tweeting, downloading an asset, posting a question, etc.) then there are many digital platforms that can either accurately track or at least infer these behaviors. However, there are often many behaviors we’d like to track in the physical world that don’t have digital footprints (e.g. visiting a store). For this type of behaviors, you will need to be creative and use a combination of strategies, incentives, mobile technologies, ubiquitous sensors, internet of things (IoT), and all the latest gadgets to obtain the necessary behavior data.


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If you cannot accurately track or measure the necessary behavior data to provide feedback, and thus drive your desired behavior, then you need to create another gamification just to encourage the players to opt-in to that data first. If designed well, these 2 gamification schemes can often be coupled together and executed in tandem. This technique is often employed in the game design industry—putting mini-quests within a bigger game. That’s how important it is to track your players’ behavior data.


Just remember, without this data, you can’t provide meaningful feedback to your players, so you won’t be able to effectively drive the behavior you want.



Michael Wu, Ph.D.mwu_whiteKangolHat_blog.jpg is CRM2010MKTAWRD_influentials.pngLithium's Chief Scientist. His research includes: deriving insights from big data, understanding the behavioral economics of gamification, engaging + finding true social media influencers, developing predictive + actionable social analytics algorithms, social CRM, and using cyber anthropology + social network analysis to unravel the collective dynamics of communities + social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics + its application to Social CRM. He's a blogger on Lithosphere, and you can follow him @mich8elwu or Google+.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.