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Nine Ways Gamification Could Increase Blood Donations

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Do you give blood? If you do, give yourself a mental high-five.

If you don't, you're in the majority. Only 4% of people in the UK actually donate, and NHS Blood and Transplant reported that over the summer stocks dipped significantly.

That leaves a lot of the population depending on a relatively small number of donors. So how can we encourage more people to start giving a pint of the red stuff?

My suggestion is gamification.

Gamification is everywhere right now. What is it? It's basically a way of applying game dynamics to real-world scenarios.

That essentially means understanding the mechanics that compel us to keep playing games - like collecting coins, winning badges, topping leaderboards - and using them to make non-game situations more fun and engaging.

Sounds like a super modern concept, doesn't it? But the principles of 'gamifying' experiences has actually been around forever. And we encounter it every day. Whether we're collecting stamps to 'win' a free coffee or hitting shops on a specific day to 'unlock' a special deal, gamification is all around us. You can essentially gamify everything.

But how can it apply to the NHS, and boost blood donations?

Here are some ideas...

1. Create a game layer on top of the physical world

The current NHS attempts at gamification are basic, limited and low-tech.

Receiving a thank-you letter, donation certificate or reward key-ring is nice, but they don't compel you to donate again. And they don't encourage anyone else to donate, because these things end up forgotten in a drawer somewhere.

To properly gamify giving blood the NHS needs create a game platform where people can access an individual donation profile, engage with the game layer built on top of the donating world and share their activity with friends and family.

Social networks are where this all needs to play out. Donors need to be able to broadcast their donations online, interact with other donors and display the digital rewards they've earned.

We live in a mobile multi-media world, and donors need to access their gamified donation profiles across all kinds of channels and devices - which means the NHS needs to develop website plug-ins, iPad apps and Facebook game widgets that all sync up.

This concept incorporates the Companion Gaming dynamic - it can be motivating to play a game digitally, publically and with other people.

2. Award a new status for donation milestones

Once you've established a platform for a gamified experience, you need to incorporate game mechanics. So how can you reward people to keep them playing and donating blood?

Let's start by awarding a new status every time a donor reaches a new level in the game.

This concept incorporates the Status and Pride dynamics, and can be a powerful weapon in the game creator's arsenal. A new status is rewarding, and compels us to keep playing to reach the next level.

I recently made my fifth blood donation, and as a reward I received a milestone reward - the "5-9 donations" card. It's a nice idea, but as a game mechanic it's flawed. That's too long to wait before anything else happens.

The solution is that blood donation status should be awarded for collecting in-game points, not just donating pints.

Why? Because there's only one of you. You can only donate three or four times a year. And games are more compelling if you can work harder to gain a better status quicker.

So we need to develop an in-game points system. Maybe we could call them Donation Points, or DP for short. For example, each donation could earn you 100 DP, with 100 DP making you a "Bloody Newbie" and 1,000 DP making you a "Red Blooded Ninja".

This way a donor's all-round activity within the gamified system can increase their status - which makes for a far more engaging and compelling experience.

3. Incentivise donating when it's urgent

So we've introduced our game platforms and basic scoring system. What else can we do with Donation Points?

Using the Appointment dynamic, we could offer double points to players who donate at specific times of the year when there are typically fewer donations, or when stocks are generally running low.

The Appointment dynamic has a simple hook: turn up at a certain time and you get a better deal. It's used in the form of Happy Hours by bars and pubs, and the same mechanic could be used for giving blood. Lapsing donors could feel encouraged to stay in the game if they know that their next donation could receive a higher-than-usual reward.

We could also extend the mechanic and offer triple points (300 DP!) for donors when their specific blood type stock is low, or for donating further away when their usual haunt is busy.

The basic idea here is to encourage donors to stay engaged with the game to find out all the bonus points they could earn towards their next status.

4. Reward referrals with badges and trophies

You could also reward referrals with extra points, e.g. gain 50 DP for every pint of blood donated by a friend that you referred.

But to keep things interesting, you need to mix up the rewards. Outside of the main points collecting, you could receive a badge or trophy within the game world for every five new pints donated by people you referred.

Receiving rewards for referring new customers or staff is something companies have been doing forever, and the same principle could easily apply to giving blood.

These rewards would populate your giving blood game profile, be seen by others and show your influence within the donating world. The urge to amass these rewards is known as the Influence dynamic.

5. 'Fine' donors points for missing appointments

What goes up can also come down.

As well as earning in-game Donation Points, people could lose them for missing scheduled appointments. And they could receive a double points fine for missing a donation when blood stocks are running low - and maybe a triple fine if their own blood type stocks are down.

This idea incorporates the Disincentive dynamic. It works like this: Within any game players respond to positive reinforcement (rewards for good behaviour, like regular play), but they also respond to negative reinforcement (punishments for bad behaviour, like taking long breaks from the game).

In most games a healthy mixture of reward and punishment dynamics will help to retain players keep them playing.

So the use of points fines for blood donors could be effective - the threat of losing your hard-earned 1,500 DP "White Cell Wizard" status could be a powerful motivator to stick to your next appointment.

6. Use progress bars to motivate donors

A progress bar on their publicly visible donation profile could help donors track their progress towards their next status upgrade.

This idea utilises the Achievement dynamic, but it's mainly a manifestation of the Progression dynamic. It's a visual representation of progress towards completing a task or goal, and it's often wheeled out whenever you complete a new profile online - LinkedIn is a good example.

Even if you don't want to offer any more information about yourself, it can be pretty annoying seeing a 90% complete progress bar. So we keep adding stuff.

With giving blood, you could also use the progress bar for profile information completion, as well as measuring progress toward any other bespoke goals - like making 30 donations before you're 30, or referring 10 friends within year.

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Image by Andrew Tipp

7. Let donors redeem virtual items in the real world

All this sounding too digital for you? Isn't there still a place for good old-fashioned tangible rewards?

Yes, there is.

What about redeeming virtual items for physical ones? Virtual Items is a game mechanic where players collect things like weapons, tools and spells to help their character in a game.

So how about collecting virtual snack items which you can then cash in on your next donation? Or redeeming items for nicer tea?

It's all very well saving a life, but we all know that the best thing about donating blood is the unlimited supply of free tea and biscuits. So why not take advantage of that, and reward people with tastier post-donation refreshments the higher up the giving blood ladder they climb?

Donation Points could even be used to purchase virtual items, turning them into a digital currency within the giving blood game world.

8. Facilitate a feeling of community and competition

The dynamics of league tables and game leaderboards can be highly effective.

So within the social framework that allows donors to share their donation activity, the NHS could create blood donation leagues. These could be organised by age, gender or region, allowing everyone to be competitive.

People could enter these leagues as work or friend 'teams', either competing for DP in a local/national league or fighting it out head-to-head against single opponents.

These ideas incorporate the Loyalty dynamic - players become part of the game, and get attached to it. They become invested. Which keeps them playing.

9. Communicate the impact of collective donating

Finally, many games become compelling when players feel like they're all working together to achieve an important objective.

The dynamic underpinning in-game communal collaboration for the greater good is called Epic Meaning - the compulsion to keep playing because you know that you are contributing to a meaningful Big Picture.

How could this work with giving blood? Effectively communicating targets of blood donations for the year, and explaining how many lives that will save. By doing this the NHS could activate the Epic Meaning dynamic and encourage donations from people who might otherwise lapse into apathy.

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