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5 key design decisions and gamification in higher education

This week our Lead Gamification Designer Kerstin Oberprieler worked with Charles Darwin University (CDU) to present the PentaQuest gamification design methodology and develop concepts to address engagement and behavioural outcomes in universities.

This included lectures and gamification workshops to take participants through the gamification design process and key design decisions. There are 5 key design decisions that need to be made when designing a gamification experience. When you can articulate these clearly at a high level, you have the beginnings of a gamification concept.

Who and what

Understanding your users is the first and most important step because that is who we are creating the experience for. This includes having a deep understanding of their context, their motivations, and their preferred engagement styles. The second component is crystalizing the intent into gamifiable behaviours. This can often be challenging but is critical to designing a fun and fair game.


The second design decision is how playful you want the experience to be. It can feel very traditional and non-playful (think frequent flyer programs which don't feel like a game at all), to something somewhat playful in its aesthetics and language (like, to something very game-like (think World of Warcraft or Candy Crush).

Gameplay pattern

A critical decision is how the game actually works. How do you win at it? What are the rules? What are the mechanics? And which of the mechanics are core, important, and peripheral?

During our design sessions and workshops at CDU we used our popular gamification cards to quickly and easily develop gamification concepts, which participants really enjoyed.


Another key decisions is the scale of the gamification experience, including the number of people and time duration. A small-scale gamification experience is single-player for a short amount of time, and a large-scale one is hundreds or thousands of people in different teams, organisations, and countries over many months and years.

See Kerstin's TEDx talk about the 4 Orders of Gamification for more detail about gamification at scale.


And of course the gamification experience needs an interface to interact with. This can be physical or analogue, it can be a digital platform or app, or a hybrid of the two.

All 5 decisions are connected and influence each other, and making the right decision comes down to the intent of the gamification and the users we are designing for.

During our design sessions and workshops with CDU, we had some great gamification concepts being developed for:

- New staff orientation and induction

- A wizard-themed professional development game

- A game to teach safety of scientific equipment

- Gamified assessment for mature age students

- A game for getting back to work after a holiday!

Educators have long been at the forefront of developing teaching experiences to boost engagement, because they inherently understand the importance of engagement for learning, development, and innovation. It's fantastic to see higher education institutions like CDU continually seeking ways to innovate and provide great student and staff experiences.

If you'd like to learn more about gamification or work with one of our gamification experts, get in touch at

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