The Blend Podcast EP003 – Level Up With Gamification

Tom Payani  00:28

Today we’re going to talk about gamification.

Brendan Cox  00:33

Yeah, that’s one of our favourite things.

Tom Payani  00:39

There’s just so much to talk about. And it’s just so heavily ingrained in what we do. We really wanted it to be one of the first podcasts. One of the first podcast topics, didn’t we? I mean, it’s evolved quite a lot over time, gamification, and now I would almost say it’s, it’s pretty standard, in any decent interactive content. It’s been going on a lot.

Brendan Cox  01:04

It is over 100 years old.

Tom Payani  01:07

I think this is the thing, isn’t it? It depends what your definition of gamification is, because when I’m talking about chess, and backgammon, and this sort of stuff, they’re just games, aren’t they? And I guess gamification is when you bring game elements into something that you wouldn’t categorise as a game?

Brendan Cox  01:28

Yeah. And I think that’s the funny thing is that people see it as I mean, a lot of people will see gamification as like, when you mean video games. And the reality is that actually no, it’s into reintroducing play, which I think is a fundamental way that humans learn back into stuff. 

It’s almost like as adults, we kind of forget that actually, as kids we learn everything through playing. We listen to stories from people. And we practice things by having toys, doing all that kind of stuff, building things out of Lego. And actually, as adults, we sent a kind of we get so wrapped up in being adults. Sometimes we forget actually, the the aspect of game playing is fundamental to how our brains work and how we learn things.

Tom Payani  02:13

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I remember when I was younger, I used to have gamification, you know, inserted into so many different elements of my life, for example, cubs or, or scouts? Oh, yeah. Trying to collect your badges by doing different activities and things like that.

Brendan Cox  02:33

I nearly got the fire starter badge twice.

Tom Payani  02:41

Did you get it in the end though?

Brendan Cox  02:43

Yeah. Oh, no. I mean, I nearly got the badge twice. I was really good at making bonfires.

Tom Payani  02:48

Oh, I thought you were talking about arson.

Brendan Cox  02:52

No, no, there wasn’t there wasn’t a badge for that at the time.

Tom Payani  02:56

I mean, if we sort of go back…Apart from sort of the boy scout movement, what are the earliest examples of gamification you can think of growing up?

Brendan Cox  03:12

From growing up? I distinctly remember a box on my bed with all of the fighting fantasy books, which is like, choose your own adventure stuff. And I used to love that. I mean, I liked comics. But there was something about being in control of what happened. 

That made it so much more like you cared. I mean, you could read a book or watch a film. And I mean, I’m the first one to say that I absolutely love movies. You’re kind of empathising with the person on screen. But when you when you are the person having the adventure, it kind of ups the stakes a lot more, and makes you a lot more considered about what’s happening, and actually makes it a lot more emotional when you either succeed or don’t, so for me, definitely the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Tom Payani  04:02

There’s a deeper level of emotional investment, isn’t there?

Brendan Cox  04:06

Yeah, it becomes genuinely closer to a real life situation. When what you do affects the outcome. Suddenly, yeah, you’ll be a bit more realistic. It’s more, it’s more, makes a much deeper connection, I think.

Tom Payani  04:22

I mean, I even remember, when I was a kid, becoming a teenager, and you have those little subway cards, where if you had enough sandwiches, you’d get free one. And this was sort of the first example I remember of it in a business context, you know, this reward loyalty programme type stuff that came in.

Brendan Cox  04:44

Yeah, I’ve got a similar thing. They had like a tiger and it was like a petrol garbage and they had tokens, which you basically collected. And I remember my dad had a load of them. And I always used to see the magazine. And it was like, all of the things you could buy like a SodaStream with it, which was like put fizzy bubbles into stuff. And it was always this kind of amazing thing of like, you were buying this product, but you were actually like, oh, wow, you can actually win stuff at the end of it as well, if you did enough, on a call. 

I mean, soda streams were like that weren’t great, but it was just like the appeal of that was quite strong.

Tom Payani  05:31

I think we’re sort of at the end of the 90s and early noughties, this was when gamification was sort of taken seriously as a concept, wasn’t it? And, and when people when businesses corporations, tried to sort of implement it into their marketing or into their product or service as well. 

There was a paper in 1999 by Steven Draper, that said, and I quote, enjoyment should be a major requirement of all software design. And I think, Game Theory and game of game mechanics, these were becoming acknowledged in their own right, weren’t they as a as a form of learning or skillset or wherever.

Brendan Cox  06:16

And I think that’s the thing as well is that simultaneously there was the the experimentation and the kind of exploration of gaming that was happening in the video game industry, that was starting to filter across and into the things like marketing and communications. 

Because there was a lot of it obviously started off video games were a distraction. And it’s a bit like that thing of each medium, as each new medium comes out, it’s sort of frowned upon, is not a proper, not culturally sophisticated enough. The radio was looked upon badly by people that used to go to the theatre. And then radio listeners frowned upon TVs as just a distraction. 

And then people in the TV generation looked at computer games as, oh, it’s just childish. And so there’s this this element of like, the next technology that comes out, that actually brings more and more aspects together and combines more and more things, often is frowned upon. 

And I think it’s like in the 90s, it started to change and people started to see that kind of the impact that you could have, if you really brought together like the psychology, the gamification, the kind of the enjoyment factor. And I think the humour as well, because there was a lot of there was those games that we used to play with the PC, the summer max hit the road, that was it, and Monkey Island. Yeah, things like that, where you could control it, but you could also, you got a little bit of cheeky humour in there. And it was, it was really appealing as a kid.

Tom Payani  07:43

I also think those games to me felt a lot more open ended. You know, rather than just completing the task, and going to the next level, you decided where you went in that game a little bit more.

Brendan Cox  07:54

I think this is the thing. I think having that open aspect of it, because I think that genuinely, you’re with games, you’re creating something for people to enjoy. But if you create a game where it has an open aspect to it, you’re creating a toy, you’re creating something like say, for example Lego.

It stands up so well, because there’s obviously crossovers with Lego where you have a story like Star Wars. And so it’s establishing really strong narratives, and strong elements, like elements of that story. So like the characters, the objects, the ships, the battle stations, all this kind of stuff. 

And so when you deconstruct those kind of really strong bits of the story, you can actually then apply them to gamification. And so Lego has all of these crossovers. So you’ve suddenly got all these Star Wars characters in what is basically a sandbox. So you can you can retell the stories of Star Wars, or you can build your own. And I think there’s that that aspect of gamification, where if you keep your people like a framework to actually be creative, it rises above just basic entertainment. 

There’s different levels of it. And there’s a lot of good examples by Will Wright. So he’s basically the guy that made the Sims, and Sim City. And so a lot of his games are basically about building simulators. And so he focuses quite heavily on like the relationship between play and story, which is what we mentioned before that whole aspect of you learn by playing with a toy, and you listen to stories. 

And so with his games, he kind of basically built a sandbox for people to tell their own stories. And I remember like, when we were at university, we had a version of the Sims. And we basically built a house. Rather I didn’t, one of my mates built a house with all of the housemates in it, and they were all just like living. 

They all have their own rooms and they’re doing this stuff. And he basically created this next level of interaction and next level of engagement by basically using the tool to make it make his own stories. He wasn’t particularly happy when I basically had to go there and actually set fire to some stuff and killed one of our housemates. It wasn’t that good after that point.

Tom Payani  10:20

There’s a sort of worrying theme coming through me with you on fire.

Brendan Cox  10:25

Oh, yeah, well, this is what these podcasts are for is all just to basically go back and rediscover whether or not I should be arrested. But this is the thing and I think that there’s the stuff that came out kind of organically with things like the Sims, they’re now becoming a lot more acutely aware of the potential of it. 

For example, something like Minecraft, which is basically caught on to a point which is crazy. And then but you have, it creates sub communities of people that are passionate about the toy, but use it to create create new things. And the element of play goes into this creating, like generating stories again. And I mean, like, literally, this is this is pretty crazy. The I went to a meet up with some filmmakers and things in Paris. And I met a guy who was a cinematographer within Minecraft.

Tom Payani  11:23

Can you explain that to me?

Brendan Cox  11:25

There are people that are literally like the the dozers from Fraggle Rock, if anyone ever saw that, Jim Henson thing. They basically adore building stuff. They have their normal jobs, like architects or something like that, as well. So it’s all overlapping. And they’ll basically build like a giant Mayan civilization, for example, over the course of like, two, three months. 

Then at the end of those two, three months, they’ll basically get everyone in a big group. And they will basically pick axe and break down all of these beautiful giant structures and like buildings, and they’ll break them back down. And this guy’s job –  he’s paid by Minecraft. 

He’s programmed a virtual camera, to fly through the environment, and film it as it’s being deconstructed. And then he puts it back the other way. So he reverses it. And it basically looks like a video of like an aerial shot, flying through this vista with all of these beautifully complex buildings, organically growing back up, and like forming as if out of the ground. And it’s beautiful. I mean, I’ll try and dig up the link to it. It takes months and months of work on this stuff. And this is because someone created a tool, with gamification that basically inspired people’s creativity.

Tom Payani  12:53

I think that the sort of constant theme throughout all these examples we’re giving is how games themselves or gamification, other things have moved away from just being linear, from having to achieve one objective, and then you move on to the next part of the game. There’s different ways to do it. And you can dictate the sort of journey you go on. It can be personalised.

Brendan Cox  13:17

Yeah, definitely. I think  it’s a natural evolution of gamification,  it’s coming closer and closer to a human centred approach. Like we talked about before with storytelling with education is that basically, the humans are sociable creatures, and we want to be in the community. 

And if you create the framework for learning for entertainment, for gamification, for education, as a sandbox, where people can build communities can be creative, can grow together, it makes it so much stronger. And I think that’s what’s really interesting.

Tom Payani  13:58

Well, the social element of it is massive. When you look at games like the Sims, and Minecraft, you’ve had whole subcultures being created just in the sort of mini tribes and communities, you know, sharing things and building things together.

Brendan Cox  14:17

 Possibly the most subreddit subject ever was about a guy who’s a cinematographer in Minecraft, who backwards built buildings. But then on the flip side, you’ve got things like fortnight – fortnight is ridiculously successful, because it creates an addictive game, but builds it around the community. 

So I mean, there was the Travis Scott concert last year, and they built a concert into the sandbox, shoot ’em up game in fortnight, and everyone could just join the concert and watch it.

They had him walking around the island.  It was all like a light show, there was everyone dressed up and dancing around. It was insane. But it was it shows the power of what in theory is just a first person shooting game in a static sandbox. 

But actually, it’s a giant global community of people that connecting over this gamification, will will pop it in the shownotes. It’s pretty crazy. If you like music, or you like animation, or just gaming in general, it’s quite cool to see. And it’s got like, it’s got over 100 million views, or just on the YouTube bit. That’s not the number of people that watched it, but it was a lot.

Tom Payani  15:45

I think companies have started to understand this much better haven’t they, there’s that famous article by Kevin Kelly – 1000 true fans. And it’s basically saying  if you’re a startup, if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re trying to grow something, you just need 1000 people who will follow you or, consume your content no matter what. And I think when you have that tribe, then everything you know, that is the foundation you need. And big companies are obviously trying to build tribes, but to a much greater scale, have started to understand this community element much, much better. And gamification is, is a key tool to be able to to unlock that.

Brendan Cox  16:33

Yeah, it’s a natural part of it.

Tom Payani  16:35

It’s an integral part of it, isn’t it. And if you look at Nike, the way with their running apps and stuff like that, the way that they sort of build communities around around their apps, I think  nikefuel was the one where they’ve added gamification elements into that. 

You’ve got users sharing their, their fitness achievements, or sharing stuff on social media or competing with each other and building a community around the brand, basically.

Brendan Cox  17:04

And I think that’s the thing. Yeah. Gamification doesn’t have to be a gimmick, it can point towards the brand, like the messaging that the brand has gotten to. The Nike brand is be the best version of yourself, excel. And so all of their gamification leans in that direction, as well, you can run against yourself as a as a shadow to improve. And I think that that’s that’s the key is that it’s not a separate thing. It’s a complimentary thing that can be just as powerful as the advertising that you use and the visual messaging the app.

Tom Payani  17:46

There was another one, just thinking about this Nike app. There was another app that actually uses augmented reality, and it was called zombies run.It is a fitness app in the same way that Nike is, you’ve had to go through missions as you’re running. And you’ve got to make sure that the sort of zombies don’t catch you, you know, during your workout.

Brendan Cox  18:10

And it actually worked pretty well. For me, I need more an incentive to run than just beat myself.

Tom Payani  18:16

Well, this is the point, isn’t it? That is the point. Its incentivization. And, you know, it’s a really smart way to maybe get a certain demographic of people who aren’t interested in the competitive element like that Nike would offer with something a bit more gimmicky in air quotes, but it was a bit funny, a bit quirky, and it did work. And obviously, they use the augmented reality side of that, to make it more effective. But, you know, we have a few companies that we really look up to directly when we try and add gamification into our e-learning at Blend.

Brendan Cox  18:52

Yeah, I think the thing is, is one of the things is that we do in blend, we’re interested in the gamification and the learning aspect and stuff. But we actually discovered quite quickly that what we’re really passionate about, is also what we kind of consume. So like, I know, both of us use Duolingo.

Tom Payani  19:11

Yeah, I mean, Duolingo is, is a really famous example, isn’t it? In terms of using reward systems and social proof and things like that these sorts of gamification elements to you know, motivate users to learn a language and obviously, language learning is such a massive industry. They did such a good job, didn’t they?

Brendan Cox  19:34

Yeah. And I think that’s what’s cool about it is that they basically, it’s almost a thing of like, good design is reductive. And it’s not over complicated. And the thing is, is that they put so much work into it. It’s really elegant. And it’s so accessible, which breaks down the whole kind of, like barrier of entry in terms of, it’s really easy to use, anyone can use it. Kids can use it, it doesn’t alienate adults or It’s even though it’s got cute little graphics. It’s charming enough that anyone can use it. And I think that’s really smart.

Tom Payani  20:06

Yeah, I mean, even something as simple as where you have like league tables, and you get promoted or relegated every week, depending on how much how much time you put into the app. Like, it’s like your football team. I know these these gamified elements are really smart. But as you said, it doesn’t have to be complicated does it?

Brendan Cox  20:28

Even something like headspace where it’s I use that every morning, which is like a meditation app, I really recommend it. They’ve actually just like nabbed themselves a Netflix show now as well. So it’s, it’s proving quite successful, especially with like the Coronavirus, and last stuff, having a bit of kind of headspace and meditation type aspect to your day is proving quite useful for everybody. 

And that just keeps a tally of what you’re doing. It just says, congratulations, you’ve done this many days or this many minutes. And you just do that anyway. Well, it works, right. It doesn’t put pressure on you. It keeps it, it keeps it light and breezy, but encourages you along the way.

Tom Payani  21:09

I remember when we spoke about the education system last week, I want to go back into it too much. But there’s something I remember that we mentioned was this gap, or this this sort of disconnect between institutionalised education and non institutionalised education in terms of how progressive the curriculum is how much technology is being used, for example, right now teachers are trying to teach their traditional curriculums on zoom. 

And people are wondering why it doesn’t work. Well, of course, it doesn’t work. Because the way those curriculums were built for face to face classes, that doesn’t translate into blended learning or into online learning. So these teachers have got an impossible task. But the reason why I’m mentioning this gamification in education, is because I always felt there was a disconnect with gamification, tools, and curriculums that were that were built for education that were built for schools and try to fit them into the curriculums you had to teach. 

Because you almost felt like you were sort of crow-barring in the apps or websites into your lessons, because you wanted to bring gamification into your class. But your curriculum didn’t really help you do that. And for me, one of my biggest challenges in the classroom was always trying to sort of bridge that gap. 

I mean, you had examples, every teacher on who’s listening will know, something called Kahoot, where you have where you have a question, everyone gets their phones out, and you put a question up on the on the board or whatever on the computer. And the kids need, press the correct answer. And then it comes up onto the board who pressed the correct answer the quickest. And then you get points. And they’re all against each other. 

Especially with boys, it works really well, that app, but I never, and there was great apps like Kahoot, or grey, where you can add them in for like maybe a review of a topic or as a starter to a lesson and things like that. But I always felt there was a there was a disconnect between really significant apps that gamified learning that could be used, that could run through a whole curriculum, creating that blended learning environment. 

And anytime I wanted to try and create a blended learning curriculum, I really had to try and be creative there. Because the best I found or the best that I thought was available to me, were these sort of standalone apps that you could use in sort of short bursts during lessons.

Brendan Cox  23:36

Yeah, I think it’s the people get fatigued from stuff, like everyone hopped on to zoom, and we’re doing zoom parties and things. And it wasn’t really designed for that. And because of it, everyone’s kind of got fatigued, and we’re doing less and less of them now is off last year. And I think you’ve got something like Kahoot, which is basically a quiz tag on quiz is not really the solution in itself is just basically a component. I think that’s what like I said, it’s what’s missing.

Tom Payani  24:07

Yeah, sorry to interrupt you, but you can’t you can’t use Kahoot as part of your teaching, you know, if you’re teaching the concept or theme or whatever. It’s used to review stuff you’ve already taught. And I think, for me, this is why we always come back to this this idea of relearn that we have of trying to integrate a Duolingo type system that can be taught for kids throughout a longer term curriculum universally can apply to all sorts of things and work with lots of people rather than just it’s a quiz at the end of the lesson. 

I think whether it’s religion or whether it’s another company or organisation that does it, I think it’s inevitable that this is going to happen. Eventually, you’re going to get Duolingo type apps or platforms that are blended so they can be done face to face and online. And they’re going to be changing the way that traditional subjects or traditional school is taught.

Brendan Cox  25:05

Duolingo works because it understands the how to teach someone something and how to give them a good experience. And so that actual, they’ve worked very hard to get it to that elegant level. And because of that, there’s actually a number that I’ve discovered a number of like apps that actually use the same approach that do something completely different. So there’s actually one I’ll have to try remember the name of it, but I’ll find it out. 

And we can stick it in the show notes is for coding. So you can learn how to code using micro learning gamified sections like Duolingo. But kids can do so I mean, literally one of the hardest things he could do at school, and you can make it fun and gamify.

Tom Payani  25:45

Is it called codehub?

Brendan Cox  25:47

I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more than one now. But I think because of everyone’s realising we need to get on this and actually come up with some proper blended learning gamified approaches to everything. So distance learning works better, I think there’s going to be there is probably a large number of apps and things like this, that will be coming out soon. 

So it’d be quite interesting to see. It would be really cool if someone just builds a platform that lets anybody build things in that style.

Tom Payani  26:17


Brendan Cox  26:18

But we’ll see. I don’t know.

Tom Payani  26:19

Yeah, I think the beauty of integrating technology and Learning and Digital Learning or blended learning, whatever you want to call it, is that it can be so much more personalised. So in a traditional classroom environment, it’s very difficult to have multiple students work on different things. 

At the same time, it’s difficult to control that environment, teachers can’t prepare 15 different exercises, depending on they can’t differentiate classes, to that extent, is just not practical. Whereas if you’ve got some sort of blended curriculum, where you have students working on different things, at the same time, depending on their answers, depending on how they’ve got on with with the previous work they have done in their whole curriculum has been personalised for them as they’re working through it. 

And the teacher becomes somebody who you know, supervises and helps i think is going to move more towards that I’m not saying teachers are going to become babysitters and they stopped teaching. But I think educational institutions are more open to blended learning curriculum is going to make the teachers lives much easier. Of course, you still have to teach the kids certain concepts and themes. 

But all these kids are going to be working at different speeds different paces, there’s going to be one kid might be a kinesthetic learner or more of an auditory learner. So therefore, how they study that specific theme or topic is going to be different to another kid. And that can be done much more easily in a blended learning curriculum.

Brendan Cox  27:45

We did that first data one, people can have a look at it on our site. But basically, the idea was that it was taking something that’s fundamentally pretty tricky to keep people’s attention, like a first aid class for kids, and where literally, you’d normally only have one dummy, and everyone has to stand in a queue and treat one after another, it’s notoriously difficult to get them all to focus. 

And if only ones having a go at a time, it’s difficult to get them to get into or have a go. And the idea was, was that we built it as a gamified way to personalise the experience of learning first days, and so you’re a superhero, you get to choose your journey on it. 

And the thing  often overlooked quite a bit is that although gamification brings personalization, it actually makes things quite efficient in terms of being able to provide it to a large number of students at the same time remotely. And that’s what’s kind of cool is that you can get them really involved. But you can also teach 50 students in different places. 

And you can use it again the next year. And suddenly, it’s still relevant, because the part that makes it new is the the actual word, the student themselves, they put their name in there the character, and it’s their choices that drive the story. So it’s a bit more work at the front, but  you get a lot more bang for your buck by the end of it, I think.

Tom Payani  29:08

Yeah. I mean, listen, Brendan, we can talk about gamification, for a much longer time. I think we’re probably going to have to continue this conversation next week, because we’re not even close to getting through it. But I think this is a good sort of jumping off point now. And we can we can definitely continue this conversation.

Brendan Cox  29:27

Yeah, we can chat more about the where we think it’s going in ways that you can use gamification.

Tom Payani  29:34

Definitely. A pleasure as always.

Brendan Cox  29:37

Yep, same here.

Tom Payani  29:38

And I will speak to you soon.

Intro/Outro  29:42

Thanks for listening to the blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google and Apple. You can find blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time.

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