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Guest post by Zach Watson at TechnologyAdvice

Foursquare was one of the first juggernauts of gamification, and also one of the industry’s cautionary tales. While the check-in based platform ignited a social media revolution of sorts by using gamification to encourage users to share their location online, the service struggled to maintain engagement through just leaderboards and badges.

Less than a year after it launched, Foursquare’s unique visitor count began to drop sharply as users tired of the simplistic back and forth of maintaining a mayorship. Earning digital badges, without additional value, wasn’t a strong enough incentive for continued use.

Soon after, Foursquare began hinting that a large redesign was underway. By the summer of 2012 the app’s interface was significantly different than the check-in service that had accumulated seven million users in just two years. In the redesign, Foursquare focused on discovering new locations based on reviews by users’ friends. The new interface also coincided with the company’s pivot away from gamification, though many elements did remain part of the app.

The changes were heavily influenced by user feedback, which signals that Foursquare customers had grown tired of the system’s simple gamification mechanics. That means that although Foursquare found tremendous initial success with gamification, it’s come to rely on other tactics for long-term engagement.

With organizations investing heavily in both consumer facing and enterprise gamification, how can you make sure your gamification efforts are built to last?

How to Make Engagement Last

Foursquare failed because users, for lack of a better phrase, simply grew bored. The grind of becoming the mayor of a certain location became just that: a grind. The actual activity that Foursquare chose to gamify wasn’t built for the long term, and the badges the platform awarded users didn’t carry enough value.

To avoid the same fate, make sure your gamification strategy takes these factors into consideration:

1.  Choose a Behavior Built for the Long Term

Progress remains one of the strongest motivating factors gamification has in its arsenal. To prevent users from becoming fatigued with your gamification efforts, choose activities that tend to have a linear progressions or structure. You should be thinking about gamification as a method for amplifying a specific behavior, so tracking a user’s completion of a goal makes sense.

For example, utilizing gamification to track an employee’s progress through a training course is a sustainable tactic. The reward at the end of the training signals an actual accomplishment (completing the course or certification), and a gamified system can keep employees engaged by showing them their colleagues scores or progress. When new training modules are added, the leaderboards can be reset, so no employee has a permanent advantage, and the competition is always fresh.

2.  Use Variable Interval Rewards

Gamification works best when multiple elements are in play, and rewards make an effective supplement to visualizing your users’ progress. For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider two forms of rewards: fixed interval, and variable interval.

Fixed interval rewards work best for immediate action, because it’s clear what the user must do to receive the reward. For example, “complete five training modules and qualify for a gift card from the retailer of your choosing.” Fixed interval rewards are transactional though, and users can lose interest if the rewards don’t increase in value. This often makes fixed interval rewards expensive to maintain.

Variable interval rewards are more difficult to predict, which introduces an element of chance into a gamified program. Users appreciate this because the incentives seem less automated. If users receive (seemingly) random rewards throughout the lifecycle of a project, they’ll feel that their sustained contributions are being recognized.

Beginning with fixed interval rewards can increase the adoption rate of gamification software. However, companies should then transition to variable interval rewards in order to encourage consistent engagement.

3.  Add New Elements over Time

Any activity can become boring if its parameters are too limited, or it doesn’t offer the promise of new functionality in the future. Even with a well-structured rewards system and detailed progress visualization in place, the possibility always exists that users could start feeling bored when using your gamification platform.

To prevent this, businesses must observe their users and innovate. This can be as simple as brainstorming new functions or accomplishments to add to the program. Adding new features or content will show users they aren’t in a static system. It will also keep them engaged with the prospect of new challenges.

For example, you could start your on-boarding program as an independent activity that tracks a users’ progress as they familiarize themselves with your businesses process and marketplace. Once new hires have completed the initial training, a social element can be added that introduces them to the rest of the office. Widening your training program into a social sphere adds an entirely new dimension for trainees to explore.

Engagement can be an elusive resource to sustain, but using these tactics will help fortify your gamification efforts against user fatigue, which will keep your employees engaged and productive.

Zach Watson is a content writer at TechnologyAdvice. He covers gamification news, business intelligence, and more. Connect with him on Google+.

Zach Watson

photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc

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