Understanding and applying the in-game compulsion loop

Further to a great talk by Stephanie Morgan (Gamification Sucks) I want to focus on the compulsion loop game mechanic.

The Compulsion Loop is core to many game designs. It explains an in-game virtuous circle that keeps players engaged.

The loop comprises  three stages each enhancing the next stage, like Escher’s never ending staircase, players keep on improving.

Here’s a classic game compulsion loop:

 

Classic in game compulsion loop. (from: Stephanie Morgan)
Classic in game compulsion loop. (from: Stephanie Morgan)

 

Players start by killing a monster, this enables them to win gold which allows them to buy stuff which allows them to kill more (and bigger) monsters and so on.

The compulsion loop is core to most games, and the best ones have multiple compulsion loops.  For example Elite provided different loops depending on how you wanted to play the game – as a trader your loop was to buy goods, sell them at a profit and then use the profit to upgrade your ship. While if you chose to play as a pirate, you were more concerned with stealing from others rather than buying.

How can we include a compulsion loop in our classic management leaderboard?

In our imaginary management leaderboard we have leaderboarded the team across several variables. Let’s take the customer support use case and imagine we track total resolutions, number of quick resolutions and resolution feedback rating to contribute to the final leaderboard score.

If we release this leaderboard weekly to the customer support team, what is the compulsion loop we are in effect implementing?

A typical compulsion loop in the workplace

A typical compulsion loop in the workplace

I think the recognition gained by resolving cases well and doing well on the leaderboard leads to promotion opportunities. When the time comes to promote  someone to be a manager – the leaderboard is a natural place to look to find the best performers.

Just as in the monsters-gold-stuff in-game compulsion loop, the promotion offers the opportunity to do more of the core activity – in this case resolving more cases (rather than killing bigger monsters) by managing a team.

So we can see, the compulsion loop is available to be  used in the gamification of work but it is likely to be already enshrined in existing HR practice – it just won’t be called the compulsion loop!

For gamifiers at work this might mean ultimate responsibility for your gamification initiatives must sit with HR.  We avoid consulting our HR team with our employee gamification initiative at our peril.

Toby Beresford

Toby is CEO of the scoreboard platform to track, compare and share scores Rise. He was the 2013 founding chair of Gamfed.com - the International Gamification Confederation and organises the UK Gamifiers meetup. As a gamification thought leader, he speaks at conferences and hosts workshops. Follow him on twitter @tobyberesford and Subscribe to this blog at Gamification Of Work blog feed

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10 thoughts on “Understanding and applying the in-game compulsion loop

  1. This is very interesting. A couple comments:
    In HR, the promotion reward is a fixed commodity. Unlike in gaming, where stuff (goods) is virtually limitless. Also, recognition doesn’t provide immediate gratification for all as some people are motivated by a pat on the back but others want things like money.

    So the application of the theory needs to be modified so that the immediate reward is tangible to the employee and the application of the reward is a commodity that has endless supply. If a company can nail it and scale it – that would result in a very competitive and positive culture!

  2. What your article fails to mention is that the loops have to be fairly short. Your game example is good. The work one is less so. In the game, this loop happens in a period of minutes. Your work example could take months, which means the “player”‘doesn’t see the cause/effect quickly enough for the loop to be motivating.

    Loops require thought to ensure they are designed to maximize motivation.

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