Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup Album and Gamification

As you probably guessed, this post is about the lightbulb moments of gamification I had while collecting the stickers for the album of the football (soccer) World Cup. Yes, I did collect it and, even better, just completed it recently (more on that here or at the bottom of this post). What is this album collecting thing you might ask? Glad you did because here I’ll briefly introduce what it’s about, then identify many gamification strategies you can find in the experience and wrap up each of them with some possible applications for your classroom, learning experiences or other areas. I also do this in the Professor Game Podcast, you can check it out also on most podcasting apps.

As with any game, to win you need to reach an objective, and the objective is to complete your collection with the 682 different stickers (or 670 in certain countries) that have a selection of players of the teams that will participate in the World Cup and other things like cities and stadiums. What you first get is the album itself, which onboards you (first gamification strategy!) with your first five packs of stickers (which contain five stickers each). Here’s the thing, you have no way of knowing which stickers are in those packs and the possibility of getting repeats (stickers that you already had) is near enough to 100% to say that it’s basically impossible to complete the album if you only purchase 137 packs (times 5 = 685, so only three repeats) and don’t exchange with others. This eases you into the dynamic that draws the crowds: swapping stickers. There is even a digital version but I won’t get into that one here, for more info go to their web.

Even just reading that, I’m sure that many gamification strategies come to mind, I’ll start with the most obvious one for me, that is also present in most frameworks and has to do with social interactions. Let’s break this up into different parts, the first social element is swapping your repeats. For me, it was about keeping my pile of repeats regularly low. I wasn’t fully able to achieve this all the time, but most of my collecting period included having less than 50 repeats, which was acceptable for me even though I did reach up to 150 in the highest peak. Some might have a different strategy to approach this, and this is another lesson from good games in which there are many ways to win, and say that they want to optimize their spending and swapping, and thus buy 137 packs (or a bit more) until they have enough stickers to, assuming they can swap all those repeats, fill the album. This has strategic advantages but makes it, for me, a lot less fun. I really enjoyed going to “El Rastro,” which is the iconic place for swaps here in Madrid, and exchanging swaps every now and then. I also had a small group at work that is collecting (which was also very nice to share advances and helping each other out directly, game strategy as well) but the gain of having dozens and dozens of people with different needs and swaps is what really makes a difference in the collection achievements. I must say that at the start I thought I might be one of the very few adults there but was happily surprised when I realized that I was probably below the average age. I saw many parents and few kids. I even ran into quite a few grandpas and grandmas. This interaction with, mostly, complete strangers, with a mission and a purpose, was actually a lot of fun and erased the awkwardness many people feel when approaching a stranger to talk. I could see there a lot of collaboration, during the first swap I found 20 of the other person’s repeats that I was missing in my collection but the other person only found 16 in my pile. What happened there (and I decided to reciprocate with others, like in games) was that this other person just picked 4 more within my repeats so we were able to exchange 20 each, even though I was getting 20 new for my collection whereas my exchange buddy was getting 16 and 4 repeats. This happened many more times and was certainly something that enabled me to reach my goals a lot faster. Here comes something that I’ve seen criticized a lot about gamification and games, it has to do with competition. In this context, you could decide that another objective is to finish the album before others and compete, which is what many people think is the only way to interact in games. If you follow that path, those collaboration opportunities could be reduced as you want to defeat others but that goes against your main goal which is to complete your collection. The game is providing the incentives for you to collaborate, sounds amazing for the class, right? Think about this, it is not that they put people in groups and tell them that they have to collaborate (sound familiar?) Instead, the objective and setup leads into collaboration. Think of opportunities where you could apply this to your learners, with initiatives like peer-to-peer mentoring, for example.

Other interesting social elements I found were the preferences for completing your favorite team, this acts like a proxy to your final goal of the complete collection but looks a lot easier to achieve in the short term. Living in Spain, and I think this was intentional by the game masters A.K.A. the distributors of stickers, it was a lot harder to find the players from the Spanish team (this would certainly encourage people to buy even if a little more, which is the objective of the creators 😉 ).

More gamification elements were things like the strategy I mentioned before, which also included, in some cases, that people only swapped the “shiny stickers” for other “shiny stickers.” The way you devise your strategy which may or may not be different from others means that you have a level of autonomy to design your path to success. Digging deeper, you might even decide when to start your collection, whether that is very early to extend the amount of time you can spend on this, or very late to ripe benefits like receiving leftovers from those who have finished their collections already. Again, just like the album itself, this strategy itself creates a sense of ownership, like when they ask your name in a game, now you feel a little bit closer to the main character, the character is yours or is even you. Think how allowing choice and different ways to win the game of learning can impact your teaching strategy. If the objective is to learn a series of things, is it possible to choose how, in what order, with what activities and/or when to learn? Once the learner has a choice, which at least feels meaningful (more on this subject in Andrzej Marczewski’s article), the choice is theirs and we humans like to own (things, choices, destiny, etc.) It is a very powerful way to encourage students to go deep.

Like with many games, there are ways to cheat. In this case, the obvious choice was to, in the same plaza where we swapped stickers, you could go to the resellers (I’m not sure if it’s legal or not but hey they were there!) and, instead of buying a pack where you don’t know what will come, purchase individual stickers that you are missing, for a higher cost of course. I’m not going to delve much into this, my main point is that when you design a strategy, gameful, gamified or not, there are many times paths to “cheating.” Consider that those are there or will be figured out by someone, so you can even think of ways in which something that might be considered cheating in a certain context, could even improve the learning. An example is a simulation which you use to evaluate student’s performance, but they are allowed to try it indefinitely. If someone goes through it 100 times and get’s 100% of the grade, some people might say it’s cheating but I’m sure the learner who went through all the possibilities and has a huge chance of having learned A LOT!

My intention with this post is to bring to your attention that gamification strategies can certainly be found in video games, board games and card games but can also come up in other contexts. If you’re going to apply some of this in your classroom take a step back and consider three things, of the first and second we have talked about on many of Professor Game Podcast‘s episodes, so start with what is your objective in using gamification, be as specific and detailed as possible. Second, consider who your players will be and what motivates them (by all means test your assumptions) and the third element is to also consider what motivates you as an educator. Are you a football fan? Consider what options of including ideas from such a sport you could implement, but if you dislike Harry Potter (for whatever reason, like me) for god’s sake don’t force yourself into having a theme of Hogwarts!

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