Interview with Gamification Europe Speaker Michael Wu

1) When and how did you first hear about gamification?

Unlike most gamification practitioners, my background was in big data, statistics, and machine learning. I was doing data science work during my graduate studies before data scientists existed. I basically stumble upon gamification accidentally through my data analysis.

Most of the data science I do focus on human behaviors because that is a subject that has always fascinated me. I want to analyze social media data to understand human behavior, and understand them well enough so I can build models to predict their behaviors. However, we often see a divergence between the predicted behavior trajectories and the desirable ones.

That is when I asked myself a question, “if we know certain users’ behaviors are going to diverge from the ideal behaviour trajectory, can we nudge them back to the right track?” That is when I started to research about technologies that influences behaviors and drives behavior changes. And that is when I learned about persuasive technologies in 2009 and gamification in 2010.

2) Why and when did you decide that you want to use gamification?

I don’t think I ever get to decide to use gamification. When I join Lithium in 2008, the Lithium community platform was already filled with game elements (e.g. points, leaderboards, ranks, etc). However, gamification wasn’t even a word back in 2008. This was no surprise, because Lithium was founded in 2001 by a group of pro gamers who intuitively knows the game elements, tactics, and strategies that can drive engagement and increase the stickiness of our community platform for the end users.

I simply learned about these game elements, tactics and strategy, etc. and analysed their efficacy through my data science work. And it wasn’t until late 2009 and early 2010 that I found out that they were really just some forms of gamification. So I never actually decided that I want to use gamification. It was already used in Lithium’s community platform.

3) What is the main takeaway someone will take after attending your session at Gamification Europe?

The theoretical concept of gamification is very simple. It is almost too simple. Anyone, even those without any gaming, design, or behaviour science background, could easily make sense of this subject and understand why and how gamification works theoretically. However, implementing gamification in the real world is very complex. Even Gartner (who has identified gamification as an emerging technology in their 2011 Hype Cycle Report) states that 80% of the gamification application will fail.

The complexity of gamification arises from the fact that we are dealing with human being with very different motivation, behavior history and psychological background. Moreover, human beings learn, adapt and change, so a strategy that once work, may no longer work anymore. So there are many situations where the theory and practice of gamification diverge.

The main takeaways for the attendees of my session will be the knowledge to distinguish the pretty theory of gamification from it practice, which is typically much messier. The attendees will also get a set of gamification success tenets with hands on experiences that could guide them towards successful implementation of the theory in this ever-changing world.

4) What other session of Gamification Europe are you excited about and want to attend?

As with any emerging fields that matured over time, people become more and more specialized. This is starting to happen with gamification. Although gamification is just one word, it’s actually many different specialized discipline.

For example, gamification that drive engagement with a marketing campaign may be very different from gamification that drives loyalty to a brand or a company. Likewise, internal gamification for employees who need to both compete and collaborate may use very different tactics from external gamification for customers who may never ever meet each other. Gamification that drive culture change that need to last a long time will again be very different from those that drives short term changes.

Gamification Europe has so many experts from so many different domains of gamification that I am super excited to learn from them. Since my background is so different from most of the gamification practitioners, I really wish I can attend all the sessions and hear everyone’s unique perspective and learn about the nuance of implementing gamification in their specialized domain.

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