This case study describes the major research project for my Masters in User Experience Design, for which I received a first-class honour. The project looked at ways to increase intrinsic motivation towards pro-environmental behaviour through the use of alternative reward-based gamification strategies that tailor to specific user types.

Project outputs:

  • Quantitative and qualitative survey
  • Stakeholder / expert interviews
  • Personas and journey maps
  • Paper prototype
  • Digital prototype created in Figma
  • User testing
  • Statistical analysis of quantitative results
  • Qualitative analysis using in vivo coding
  • Synthesis of results

An evaluation of the impact of a collectables reward strategy on intrinsic motivation towards pro-environmental behaviour

Problem statement

The impact of human economic and population growth since the industrial era has led to unprecedented increases in greenhouse gas emission or CO2e, which is seen as the main cause of climate change affecting human and natural habitats. The IPCC states that increasing education and changes to consumption habits through social and technological innovations can contribute to a reduction of negative impact. Gamification is one such technological innovation, being a persuasive tool that attempts to utilise the intrinsic quality of games in order to achieve a functional purpose such as increased engagement or learning. However, studies have found that the current popular approach to gamification, through the use of points, badges and leaderboards (PBL) has not been consistently effective, and that a more tailored, user-centred approach needs to be taken. This study draws on research conducted around personalising gamification towards user types and domains.

Venn diagram of 3 intersecting circles. The large circles contain reward strategies, intrinsic motivation, pro-environmental behaviour. the smaller intersections contain SDT, hexad philanthropist, and habit tracking.

If you would like to read the full academic paper attached to this study, you can view it here.

Methodology

The study used the Stanford d.School design thinking approach which separates the research in five key phases – emphasis, define, ideate, prototype, test.

diagram showing five stages of design thinking in green hexagon shapes - empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test.

Empathise

This first stage involved a quantitative and qualitative survey which was sent out over social media, and assessed participant’s current attitude towards pro-environmental behaviour and their current sustainable habits. A total of 70 participants completed the survey. The key qualitative insights were visualised in the following hierarchy map.

Pink = barriers, Green = motivators, Purple = types of impact,
Brown = changes of habit since COVID, Yellow = technologies used to track habits.

This stage also involved looking at what already exists around pro-environmental habit tracking applications. To achieve this, two stakeholder interviews were conducted with owners of gamified pro-environmental systems, as well as a competitor analysis of 9 direct and indirect competitor applications.

Define

Head user type model redrawn from Marczewski (2016)

Included in the user survey was the Hexad User Type questionnaire. This user type model is unique in that it describes specifically the different types of players of gamification (rather than of games). Several studies to date have validated the use of the Hexad scale, but very few studies exist that explore Hexad user types within gamification for sustainability. Studies have identified Philanthropists as a dominant user type, and also one that is particularly inclined towards pro-environmental behaviour. This is due to their inherent motivation towards activities that provide purpose. This posed a unique opportunity to investigate whether gamified pro-environmental systems that tailor to philanthropist’s needs might increase intrinsic motivation.

Personas

A primary persona was synthesised from the responses provided by philanthropist user types in the exploratory questionnaire. A second persona was also created from the the player user type responses – who are most likely to motivated by traditional reward strategies like badges and points. Jobs to be Done statements were then formulated using the synthesis model from Alan Klement.

Finally, ‘As is’ and ‘to be’ journey maps were then created in order to define how we might solve for the persona’s needs.

Ideate

Once the users were defined and ideal journeys mapped out, I looked at several ways to ideate towards a solution. This included conducting research into game design principles, especially around game economies, which are the way game currencies or rewards are earned and spent. The game principles for two comparative applications were defined – one that would used the collectables reward strategy for philanthropist user-type goals, and the second that would use a badges reward strategy for player user-type goals.

Game design principles for the two prototype applications, as outlined by Jess Schell (2015)

User flows were then defined for each application, ensuring that both included comparative elements in order to minimise any external influence when measuring for intrinsic motivation during user testing.

Prototype 1: Paper

Finally, the design of the screens were ideated upon with quick sketches and then a paper prototype was created. This paper prototype was guerilla tested with one user and the results were used to inform a digital medium fidelity prototype.

Prototype 2: Medium fidelity

A medium fidelity prototype was then created in Figma for both versions of the application. This was again user tested and the results helped informed the final high fidelity prototypes for the pilot test and final user tests.

Medium fidelity prototype screens with highlights from user testing.

Prototype 3: High Fidelity

The final prototypes were created in Figma and then pilot tested with three participants. The results of these pilot tests can be found in the full academic paper attached to this study, which can be read here.

Below is a walkthrough video of both applications, the collectables strategy app, Forest, and the badges strategy app, Habiba.

User test and results

A remote, unmoderated user test was completed by 83 participants, which was reduced to 79 during review for statistical outliers. It was conducted using Maze using testing software and Microsoft Forms. It involved a between groups user test, where each participant interacted with only one of the two applications and the intrinsic motivation levels of each were compared statistically using IBM SPSS software. Intrinsic motivation was measured using four subscales from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory.

The test also included qualitative questions in order to identify why users may or may not feel motivation towards certain game elements. The results of theses questions were analysed using in vivo coding, which is where the codes are draw directly from the participant responses. They were then themed according to the quantitative subscales as well as for general usability.

Quantitative Results

Results from the four independent samples t-tests conducted for the study, where significance is achieved at p-0.0125 due to a Bonferroni correction.

No statistical significance was detected when measuring for intrinsic motivation between each application in the general population. This indicates that a collectables strategy may be just as effective as a badges strategy within the context of pro-environmental gamified systems.

When comparing the impact on intrinsic motivation in philanthropist user types, the study found a positive statistical difference in means in favour of the collectable rewards strategy. As philanthropists appear to be a dominant user type, identifying game elements that meet their needs provide an alternative resource for creators of gamified pro-environmental systems.

Qualitative Results

Analysis of the qualitative responses complimented the quantitative results. A large proportion of participants felt positively towards the collectables elements as well as the idea of using those elements to grow and nourish a forest. Similar to the results of the exploratory survey, participants were concerned and motivated by seeing the impact of their actions, and found the app helped them learn new ways to be more sustainable.

Conclusion

Both the quantitative and qualitative results of this research study indicate that an alternative gamification strategy that uses collectables may be of value to designers of gamified pro-environmental systems. With no negative difference in means, the results imply that collectable rewards may be just as intrinsically motivating as badge rewards. The added benefit of collectables is their ability to exist beyond representation of an achievement. Collectables can facilitate more meaning for the user by contributing to customisation of a virtual environment such as the forest in this case, or other features such as an avatar.

Quantitative feedback indicated that choice of habit and level of interaction with the gamified elements is important to the user. At the same time, collectables also enriched choice by allowing participants to customise their game experience and the visualisation of their progress through the growth of their forest. It is important to note that a balance between the game elements and the original functional intention of the application should be considered to ensure the focus remains on real pro-environmental impact.

Contribution to existing research

This study contributes to existing research on tailoring gamified systems to user types and domains, specifically investigating Hexad user type preferences within the domain of sustainability. Drawing on previous research, it identifies philanthropists as a dominant user type for systems that encourage pro-environmental behaviour. A positive statistical relationship between philanthropists and collectable rewards strategy was identified. No negative impact to intrinsic motivation was detected, providing an alternative game strategy that designers of gamified pro-environmental systems can utilise and explore further.

Additional resources