Turn Your Life into a Gamified Experience with Unity

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In this article for by Lauren S. Ferro from the book Gamification with Unity 5.x we will look into a Gamified experience with Unity. In a world full of work, chores, and dull things, we all must find the time to play. We must allow ourselves to be immersed in enchanted world of fantasy and to explore faraway and uncharted exotic islands that form the mysterious worlds. We may also find hidden treasure while confronting and overcoming some of our worst fears. As we enter these utopian and dystopian worlds, mesmerized by the magic of games, we realize anything and everything is possible and all that we have to do is imagine. Have you ever wondered what Gamification is? Join us as we dive into the weird and wonderful world of gamifying real-life experiences, where you will learn all about game design, motivation, prototyping, and bringing all your knowledge together to create an awesome application. Each chapter in this book is designed to guide you through the process of developing your own gamified application, from the initial idea to getting it ready and then published. The following is just a taste of what to expect from the journey that this book will take you on.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Not just pixels and programming

The origins of gaming have an interesting and ancient history. It stems as far back as the ancient Egyptians with the game Sennet; and long since the reign of great Egyptian Kings, we have seen games as a way to demonstrate our strength and stamina, with the ancient Greeks and Romans. However, as time elapsed, games have not only developed from the marble pieces of Sennet or the glittering swords of battles, they have also adapted to changes in the medium: from stone to paper, and from paper to technology. We saw the rise and development of physical games (such as table top and card games) to games that require us to physically move our characters using our bodies and peripherals (Playstaton Move and WiiMote), in order to interact with the gaming environment (Wii Sports and Heavy Rain). So, now we not only have the ability to create 3D virtual worlds with virtual reality, but also can enter these worlds and have them enter ours with augmented reality. Therefore, it is important to remember that, just as the following image, (Dungeons and Dragons), games don’t have to take on a digital form, they can also be physical:

Dungeons and Dragons board with figurines and dice


Getting contextual

At the beginning of designing a game or game-like experience, designers need to consider the context for which the experience is to take place. Context is an important consideration for how it may influence the design and development of the game (such as hardware, resources, and target group). The way in which a designer may create a game-like experience varies. For example, a game-like experience aimed to encourage students to submit assessments on time will be designed differently from the one promoting customer loyalty. In this way, the designer should be more context aware, and as a result, it may be more likely to keep it in view during the design process.

  • Education: Games can be educational, and they may be designed specifically to teach or to have elements of learning entwined into them to support learning materials. Depending on the type of learning game, it may include formal (educational institutions) or informal educational environments (learning a language for a business trip). Therefore, if you are thinking about creating an educational game, you might need to think about these considerations in more detail.
  • Business: Maybe your intention is get your employees to arrive on time or to finish reports in the afternoon rather than right before they go home. Designing content for use within a business context targets situations that occur within the workplace. It can include objectives such as increasing employee productivity (individual/group).
  • Personal: Getting personal with game-like applications can relate specifically to creating experiences to achieve personal objectives. These may include personal development, personal productivity, organization, and so on. Ultimately, only one person maintains these experiences; however, other social elements, such as leaderboards and group challenges, can bring others into the personal experience as well.
  • Game: If it is not just educational, business, or personal development, chances are that you probably want to create a game to be a portal into lustrous worlds of wonder or to pass time on the evening commute home. Pure gaming contexts have no personal objectives (other than to overcome challenges of course).

Who is our application targeting and where do they come from?

Understanding the user is one of the most important considerations for any approach to be successful. User considerations not only include the demographics of the user (for example, who they are and where they are from), but also the aim of the experience, the objectives that you aim to achieve, and outcomes that the objectives lead to.

In this book, this section considers the real-life consequences that your application/game will have on its audience. For example, will a loyalty application encourage people to engage with your products/store in the areas that you’re targeting it toward. Therefore, we will explore ways that your application can obtain demographic data in Unity.

Are you creating a game to teach Spanish to children, teenagers, or adults? This will change the way that you will need to think about your audience. For example, children tend to be users who are encouraged to play by their parents, teenagers tend to be a bit more autonomous but may still be influenced by their parents, and adults are usually completely autonomous. Therefore, this can influence the amount and the type of feedback that you can give and how often.

Where are your audience from? For example, are you creating an application for a global reward program or a local one? This will have an effect on whether or not you will incorporate things like localization features so that the application adapts to your audience automatically or whether it’s embedded into the design.

What kind of devices does your audience use? Do they live in an area where they have access to a stable Internet connection? Do they need to have a powerful system to run your game or application? Chances are if the answer is yes for the latter question then you should probably take a look at how you will optimize your application.

What is game design?

Many types of games exist and so do design approaches. There are different ways that you can design and implement games. Now, let’s take a brief look at how games are made, and more importantly, what they are made of:

  • Generating ideas: This involves thinking about the story that we want to tell, or a trip that we may want the player to go on. At this stage, we’re just getting everything out of our head and onto the paper. Everything and anything should be written; the stranger and abstract the idea, the better. It’s important at this stage not to feel trapped that an idea may not be suitable. Often, the first few ideas that we create are the worst, and the great stuff comes from iterating all the ideas that we put down in this stage. Talk about your ideas with friends and family, and even online forums are a great place to get feedback on your initial concepts. One of the first things that any aspiring game designer can begin with is to look at what is already out there. A lot is learned when we succeed—or fail—especially why and how. Therefore, at this stage, you will want to do a bit of research about what you are designing. For instance, if you’re designing an application to teach English, not only should you see other similar applications that are out there but also how English is actually taught, even in an educational environment.

    While you are generating ideas, it is also useful to think about the technology and materials that you will use along the way. What game engine is better for your game’s direction? Do you need to purchase licenses if you are intending to make your game commercial? Answering these kinds of questions earlier can save many headaches later on when you have your concept ready to go. Especially, if you will need to learn how to use the software, as some have steep learning curves.

  • Defining your idea: This is not just a beautiful piece of art that we see when a game is created; it can be rough, messy, and downright simple, but it communicates the idea. Not just this; it also communicates the design of the game’s space and how a player may interact and even traverse it. Concept design is an art in itself and includes concepts on environments, characters puzzles, and even the quest itself. We will take the ideas that we had during the idea generation and flesh them out. We begin to refine it, to see what works and what doesn’t. Again, get feedback. The importance of feedback is vital. When you design games, you often get caught up; you are so immersed in your ideas, and they make sense to you. You have sorted out every details (at least for the most part, it feels like that). However, you aren’t designing for you, you are designing for your audience, and getting an outsiders opinion can be crucial and even offer a perspective that you may not necessarily would have thought of. This stage also includes the story. A game without a story is like a life without existence. What kind of story do you want your player to be a part of? Can they control it, or is it set in stone? Who are the characters? The answers to these questions will breathe soul into your ideas. While you design your story, keep referring to the concept that you created, the atmosphere, the characters, and the type of environment that you envision. Some other aspects of your game that you will need to consider at this stage are as follows:
    • How will your players learn how to play your game?
    • How will the game progress? This may include introducing different abilities, challenges, levels, and so on. Here is where you will need to observe the flow of the game. Too much happening and you will have a recipe for chaos, not enough and your player will get bored.
    • What is the number of players that you envision playing your game, even if you intend for a co-op or online mode?
    • What are the main features that will be in your game?
    • How will you market your game? Will there be an online blog that documents the stages of development? Will it include interviews with different members of the team? Will there be different content that is tailored for each network (for example, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on).
  • Bringing it together: This involves thinking about how all your ideas will come together and how they will work, or won’t. Think of this stage as creating a painting. You may have all pieces, but you need to know how to use them to create the piece of art. Some brushes (for example, story, characters) work better with some paints (for example, game elements, mechanics), and so on. This stage is about bringing your ideas and concepts into reality. This stage features design processes, such as the following:
    • Storyboards that will give an overview of how the story and the gameplay evolve throughout the game.
    • Character design sheets that will outline characteristics about your characters and how they fit into the story.
    • Game User Interfaces (GUIs) that will provide information to the player during gameplay. This may include elements, such as progress bars, points, and items that they will collect along the way.
  • Prototyping: This is where things get real…well, relatively. It may be something as simple as a piece of paper or something more complex as a 3D model. You then begin to create the environments or the levels that your player will explore. As you develop your world, you will take your content and populate the levels. Prototyping is where we take what was in our head and sketched out on paper and use it to sculpt the gameful beast. The main purpose of this stage is to see how everything works, or doesn’t. For example, the fantastic idea of a huge mech-warrior with flames shooting out of an enormous gun on its back was perhaps not the fantastic idea that was on paper, at least not in the intended part of the game.

    Rapid prototyping is fast and rough. Remember when you were in school and you had things, such as glue, scissors, pens, and pencils; well, that is what you will need for this. It gets the game to a functioning point before you spend tireless hours in a game engine trying to create your game. A few bad rapid prototypes early on can save a lot of time instead of a single digital one. Lastly, rapid prototyping isn’t just for the preliminary prototyping phase. It can be used before you add in any new features to your game once it’s already set up.

  • Iteration: This is to the game what an iron is to a creased shirt. You want your game to be on point and iterating it gets it to that stage. For instance, that awesome mech-warrior that you created for the first level was perhaps better as the final boss. Iteration is about fine-tuning the game, that is, to tweak it so that it not only flows better overall, but also improves the gameplay.
  • Playtesting: This is the most important part of the whole process once you have your game to a relatively functioning level. The main concept here is to playtest, playtest, and playtest. The importance of this stage cannot be emphasized enough. More often than not, games are buggy when finally released, with problems and issues that could be avoided during this stage. As a result, players lose interest and reviews contain frustration and disappointment, which—let’s face it—we don’t want after hours and hours of blood, sweat, and tears. The key here is not only to playtest your game but also to do it in multiple ways and on multiple devices with a range of different people. If you release your game on PC, test it on a high performance one and a low performance one. The same process should be applied for mobile devices (phones, tablets) and operating systems.
  • Evaluate: Evaluateyour game based on the playtesting.

    Iterating, playtesting, and evaluating are three steps that you will go through on a regular basis, more so as you implement a new feature or tweak an existing one. This cycle is important. You wouldn’t buy a car that has parts added without being tested first so why should a player buy a game with untested features?

  • Build: Build your game and get it ready for distribution, albeit on CD or online as a digital download
  • Publish: Publish your game! Your baby has come of age and is ready to be released out into the wild where it will be a portal for players around the world to enter the world that you (and your team) created from scratch.

Getting gamified

When we merge everyday objectives with games, we create gamified experiences. The aim of these experiences is to improve something about ourselves in ways that are ideally more motivating than how we perceive them in real life. For example, think of something that you find difficult to stay motivated with. This may be anything from managing your finances, to learning a new language, or even exercising. Now, if you make a deal with yourself to buy a new dress once you finish managing your finances or to go on a trip once you have learned a new language, you are turning the experience into a game. The rules are simply to finish the task; the condition of finishing it results in a reward—in the preceding example, either a dress or the trip. The fundamental thing to remember is that gamified experiences aim to make ordinary tasks extraordinary and enjoyable for the player.

  • Games, gaming, and game-like experiences can give rise to many types of opportunities for us to play or even escape reality. To finish this brief exploration into the design of games, we must realize that games are not solely about sitting in front of the TV, playing on the computer, or being glued to the seat transfixed on a digital character dodging bullets. The game mechanics that make a task more engaging and fun is defined as “Gamification.” Gamification relates to games, and not play; while the term has become popular, the concept is not entirely new. Think about loyalty cards, not just frequent flyer mile programs, but maybe even at your local butcher or café. Do you get a discount after a certain amount of purchases? For example, maybe, the tenth coffee is free. It’s been a while since various reward schemes have already been in place; giving children a reward for completing household chores or for good behavior and rewarding “gold stars” for academic excellence is gamification. If you consider some social activities, such as Scouts, they utilize “gamification” as part of their procedures. Scouts learn new skills and cooperate and through doing so, they achieve status and receive badges of honor that demonstrate levels of competency. Gamification has become a favorable approach to “engaging” clients with new and exciting design schemes to maintain interest and promote a more enjoyable and ideally “fun” product. The product in question does not have to be “digital.” Therefore, “gamification” can exist both in a physical realm (as mentioned before with the rewarding of gold stars) as well as in a more prominent digital sense (for example, badge and point reward systems) as an effective way to motivate and engage users. Some common examples of gamification include the following:
  • Loyalty programs: Each time you engage with the company in a particular way, such as buying certain products or amount of, you are rewarded. These rewards can include additional products, points toward items, discounts, and even free items.
  • School House points: A pastime that some of us may remember, especially fans of Harry Potter is that each time you do the right thing, such as follow the school rules, you get some points. Alternatively, you do the wrong thing, and you lose points.
  • Scouts: It rewards levels of competency with badges and ranks. The more skilled you are, the more badges you collect, wear, and ultimately, the faster you work your way up the hierarchy.
  • Rewarding in general: This will often be associated with some rules, and these rules determine whether or not you will get a reward. Eat your vegetables, you will get dessert; do your math homework, you will get to play. Both have winning conditions.
  • Tests: As horrifying as it might sound, tests can be considered as a game. For example, we’re on a quest to learn about history. Each assignment you get is like a task, preparing you for the final battle—the exam. At the end of all these assessments, you get a score or a grade that indicates to you your progress as you pass from one concept to the next. Ultimately, your final exam will determine your rank among your peers and whether or not you made it to the next level (that being anywhere from your year level to a university). It may be also worth noting that just as in games, you also have those trying to work the system, searching for glitches in the system that they can exploit. However, just as in games, they too eventually are kicked.
  • One last thing to remember when you design anything targeted toward kids is that they can be a lot more perceptive than what we sometimes give them credit for. Therefore, if you “disguise” educational content with gameplay, it is likely that they will see through it. It’s the same with adults; they know that they are monitoring their health or spending habits, it’s your job to make it a little less painful. Therefore, be upfront, transparent, and cut through the “disguise.” Of course, kids don’t want to be asked to “play a game about maths” but they will be more interested in “going on adventures to beat the evil dragon with trigonometry.” The same goes for adults; creating an awesome character that can be upgraded to a level-80 warrior for remembering to take out the trash, keep hydrated, and eat healthier is a lot better than telling them this is a “fun” application to become a better person.

There is no I in Team

Working on our own can be good, sometimes working with others can be better! However, the problem with working in a team is that we’re all not equal. Some of us are driven by the project, with the aim to get the best possible outcome, whereas, others are driven by fame, reward, money, and the list goes on. If you ever worked on a group project in school, then you know exactly what it’s like. Agile gamification is, to put simply, getting teams to work better together.

Often, large complex projects encounter a wide range of problems from keeping on top of schedules, different perspectives, undefined roles, and a lack of overall motivation. Agile frameworks in this context are associated with the term Scrum. This describes an overall framework used to formalize software development projects. The Scrum process works as follows:

  1. The owner of the product will create a wish list known as the product backlog.
  2. Once the sprint planning begins, members of the team (between 3-9 people) will take sections from the top of the product backlog. Sprint planning involves the following:
    • It involves listing all of the items that are needed to be completed for the project (in a story format—who, what, and why). This list needs to be prioritized.
    • It includes estimating each task relatively (using the Fibonacci system).
    • It involves planning the work sprint (1-2 week long, but less than 1 month long) and working toward a demo.
    • It also involves making the work visible using a storyboard that contains the following sections: To do, Doing, and Done. Items begin in the To do section; once they have begun, they move to the Doing section; and once they are completed, they are then put in the Done section. The idea is that the team works through tasks in the burn down chart. Ideally, the amount of points that the sprint began with (in terms of tasks to be done) decreases in value each day you get closer to finishing the sprint.
    • The team engages with daily meetings (preferably standing up) run by the Sprint/Scrum master. These meetings discuss what was done, what is planned to be done during the day, any issues that come up or might come up, and how can improvements be made.
    • It provides a demonstration of the product’s basic (working) features. During this stage, feedback is provided by the product owner as to whether or not they are happy with what has been done, the direction that it is going, and how it will relate to the remaining parts of the project. At this stage, the owner may ask you to improve it, iterate it, and so forth, for the next sprint.
    • Lastly, the idea is to get the team together and to review the development of the project as a whole: what went well and what didn’t go so well and what are the areas of improvement that can then be used to make the next Scrum better?
  3. Next, they will decide on how to implement each section. They will meet each day to not only assess the overall progress made for the development of each section but also to ensure that the work will be achieved within the time frame.
  4. Throughout the process, the team leader known as the Scrum/Sprint Master has the job of ensuring that the team stays focused and completes sections of the product backlog on time.
  5. Once the sprint is finished, the work should be at a level to be shipped, sold to the customer, or to at least show to a stakeholder.
  6. At the end of the sprint, the team and Scrum/Sprint Master assess the completed work and determine whether it is at an acceptable level.
  7. If the work is approved, the next sprint begins. Just as the first sprint, the team chooses another chunk of the product backlog and begins the process again.An overview of the Scrum process

However, in the modern world, Scrum is adopted and applied to a range of different contexts outside of software development. As a result, it has gone through some iterations, including gamification. Agile Gamification, as it is more commonly known as, takes the concept of Scrum and turns it into a playful experience.

Adding an element of fun to agile frameworks

To turn the concept of Scrum into something a bit more interesting and at the same time to boost the overall motivation of your team, certain parts of it can be transformed with game elements. For example, implementing leaderboards based on the amount of tasks that each team member is able to complete (and on time) results in a certain number of points. By the end of the spring, the team member with the most number of points may be able to obtain a reward, such as a bonus in their next pay or an extended lunch break. It is also possible to make the burn down chart a bit more exciting by placing various bonuses if certain objectives are met within certain time frame or at a certain point during the burn down;as a result, giving added incentive to team members to get things delivered on time. In addition, to ensure that quality standards are also maintained, Scrum/Sprint Masters can also provide additional rewards if there is few or no feedback regarding things, such as quality or the overall cohesiveness of the output from the sprint. An example of a gamified framework can be seen in the image below. While setting up a DuoLingo Classroom account, users are presented with various game elements (for example, progress bar) and a checklist to ensure that everything that needs to be completed is done.

Playtesting

This is one of the most important parts of your game design. In fact, you cannot expect to have a great game without it. Playtesting is not just about checking whether your game works, or if there are bugs, it is also about finding out what people really think about it before you put it out in the world to see. In some cases, playtesting can make the difference between succeeding of failing epically. Consider this scenario: you have spent the last year, your blood, sweat and tears, and even your soul to create something fantastic. You probably think it’s the best thing out there. Then, after you release it, you realize that only half the game was balanced, or worst, half interesting. At this stage, you will feel pretty down, but all these could have been avoided if you had taken the time to get some feedback. As humans, we don’t necessarily like to hear our greatest love being criticized, especially if we have committed so much of our lives to it. However, the thing to keep in mind is, this stage shapes the final details.

Playtesting is not meant for the final stages, when your game is close to being finished. At each stage, even when you begin to get a basic prototype completed, it should be play tested. During these stages, it does not have to be a large-scale testing, it can be done by a few colleagues, friends, or even family who can give you an idea of whether or not you’re heading in the right direction. Of course, the other important thing to keep in mind is that the people who are testing your game are as close, if not the target audience. For instance, image that you’re creating for your gamified application to encourage people to take medication on a regular basis is not ideal to test with people who do not take medication. Sure, they may be able to cover general feedback, such as user interface elements or even interaction, but in terms of its effectiveness, you’re better off taking the time to recruit more specific people.

Iterating

After we have done all the playtesting is the time to re-plan another development cycle. In fact, the work of tuning your application doesn’t stop after the first tests. On the contrary, it goes through different iterations many times.

The iteration cycle starts with the planning stage, which include brainstorming, organizing the work (as we saw for instance in Scrum), and so on. In the next phase, development, we actually create the application, as we did in the previous chapter. Then, there is the playtesting, which we saw earlier in this chapter. In the latter stage, we tune and tweak values and fix bugs from our application.

Afterward, we iterate the whole cycle again, by entering in the planning stage again. Here, we will need to plan the next iteration: what should be left and what should be done better or what to remove. All these decisions should be based on what we have collected in the playtesting stage. The cycle is well represented in the following diagram as a spiral that goes on and on through the process:

The point of mentioning it now is because after you finish playtesting your game, you will need to repeat the stages that we have done previously, again. You will have to modify your design; you may need to even redesign things again. So, it is better to think of this as upgrading your design, rather than a tedious and repetitive process.

When to stop?

In theory, there is no stopping; the more the iteration, the better the application will be. Usually, the iterations stop when the application is well enough for your standards or when external constrains, such as the market or deadlines, don’t allow you to perform any more iteration.

The question when to stop? is tricky, and the answer really depends on many factors. You will need to take into account the resources needed to perform another iteration and time constraints. Of course, remember that your final goal is to deliver a quality product to your audience and each iteration is a step closer.

Taking in the view with dashboards

Overviews, summaries, and simplicity make life easier. Dashboards are a great way for keeping a lot of information relatively concise and contained, without being too overwhelming to a player. Of course, if the players want to obtain more detailed information, perhaps statistics about their accuracy since they began, they will have the ability to do so.

So, what exactly is a dashboard? A dashboard is a central hub to view all of your progress, achievements, points, and rewards. If we take a look at the following screenshot, we can get a rough idea about what kind of information that they display. The image on the left is the dashboard for Memrise and displays current language courses, in this case, German; the players’ achievements and streak; and the progress that they are making in the course. On the right is the dashboard for DuoLingo. Similar to Memrise, it also features information about daily streaks, amount of time committed, and the strength of each category learned for the new language, in this case, Italian. By just looking at these dashboards, the player can get a very quick idea about how well or bad they are doing.

  Different dashboards (left) Memrise (right) DuoLingo

Different approaches to dashboards can encourage different behaviors depending on the data displayed and how it is displayed. For example, you can have a dashboard that provides reflective information more dominantly, such as progress bars and points. Others can provide a more social approach by displaying the players rank among friends and comparing their statistics to others who are also engaged with the application. Some dashboards may even suggest friends that have similar elements in common, such as the language that is being learned. Ideally, the design of dashboards can be as simple or as complicated as the designer decides, but typically, the less is more approach is better.

Summary

Everything that we discussed in this chapter is just a taste of what this book offers. Each aspect of the design process is explained in more detail, giving you not only the information, but also the practical skills that you can use to build upon and develop any gamified application from start to finish. If you want to find out about gamification, how to use it, and more importantly how to implement it into Unity, then this book is a great foundation to get you going. In particular, you will learn how to apply all these concepts into Unity and create gamified experiences. Furthermore, the book will bring you to create a gamified application starting from the basic pieces, with a particular focus to your audience and your goals.

Learning about the uses of gamification does not have to stop with this book. In fact, there are many ways that you can develop the knowledge that you have gained and apply it to other tasks. Some other Packt books, such as the Unity UI Cookbook by Francesco Sapio, which you can obtain at https://www.packtpub.com/game-development/unity-ui-cookbook features a range of different recipes to implement a range of different UI elements that can even be featured in your dashboard. In fact, UIs are the key for the development of gamifed experiences and applications. The main thing is that you continue to learn, adapt, and to apply your knowledge in many different types of contexts.

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