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Gaming the System: How Gamification Offers a Better Learning Experience

A well-designed gamified trial means learning new tools and complex features doesn't have to be daunting.

Game or education? An image from the Autodesk 3ds Max trial

The explosive growth of gamers has not been lost on those outside the games industry. In 2012 alone, we saw the global smartphone and tablet apps reach a market of approximately $12 billion. Popular social and mobile games like FarmVille 2 or Angry Birds drove that growth and exposed more and more people to gaming, helping more people understand and appreciate basic game mechanics of how to advance to the next level, score the most points, or find a hidden level. And if Nvidia’s predictions are right and the next generation of smartphones and tablets will out-perform this generation of consoles, better titles and with more immersive experiences will lure additional potential gamers.

Gamification takes advantage of the growing familiarity with game mechanics to make technology training, customer retention trials, or even a math lesson, more impactful and entertaining with exciting, interactive content. Creating a gamified experience also takes the intimidation factor away from complex concepts by introducing them in familiar and enjoyable ways. For example, the U.S. Department of State is using gamification to educate teens on American culture and English language skills via their first game, Trace Effects.

But just like any AAA or mobile game, not all gamified experiences are created equal. Done well, gamification can be one of the most effective tools for education or training, but a stale experience will turn off even the most ardent customer.

Autodesk recently tested this theory with a 30-day gamified trial for Autodesk 3ds Max, 3D animation software used in games, film and similar industries. We previously approached product trials with a functional and basic design that met our business needs, but did not offer a tailored experience for our key audience; a highly creative user base, mostly comprised of artists and designers. We based our new trial on gamification to create a compelling product experience to introduce the software features to new artists and reinvigorate inactive users to rediscover the latest capabilities and advantages of the technology.


Autodesk 3ds Max previous trial screen (prices not accurate)

New Autodesk 3ds Max trial screen

The updated Autodesk 3ds Max featured an eight-step guided tutorial where artists took the in-game data pad from a sketch to a fully textured 3D asset. The tutorial purposefully mimicked real-world asset creation to show how Autodesk 3ds Max fits into the art creation workflow and to allow artists to envision using this tool in their projects.

At the same time, we created an intriguing storyline and offered a healthy reward system to incentivize users to finish the trial and understand 3ds Max fully. We coupled in-game benefits with real world prizing and had a grand prize of a license to the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate Edition 2013, which includes our top 3D animation tools Autodesk 3ds Max, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk Mudbox, Autodesk MotionBuilder, Autodesk Softimage and Autodesk SketchBook Designer.

The trial demonstrated that prospective customers were twice as likely to purchase an Autodesk product if they had used the software at least three times during the trial period. We observed a:

  • 54% increase in trial usage,
  • 15% increase in buy clicks, and a
  • 29% increase in channel revenue per trial start.

Great results don’t come from poorly planned trials. To create truly meaningful content, we followed some ground rules:

  1. Decide who your audience is and make sure your development team understands who the trial should reach. This helps keep all the subsequent development decisions targeted.
  2. Identify the type of behavior you want to drive from that target audience. Then cater the content accordingly. In our case, it was a tutorial to match a game asset developer’s daily workflow so it was interesting and relevant to the target audience.
  3. Look at the experience from the player’s perspective. For example: we wanted players to register for the trial, log in, download starter materials, view a video, and start working in the product. We had some great game mechanic ideas that ultimately did not make it into the final trial because it either negatively impacted the player’s experience or did not fit with the overall trial goals.
  4. Pace your content by breaking into sections to keep gamers engaged and to easily keep track of goals or trophies earned throughout the trial.
  5. Have some fun and outline any Easter egg achievements you’re going to give away – these should be fun and things that people will stumble on with little effort
  6. Find the right technology to fit your story. This is both the final and most important step. It is very important to do this at the end and not the beginning; otherwise your gamification platform vendor may tell you “this is what we can do” and you start planning with limits, restrictions and boundaries. Write the experience first the way you want players to experience it and then find technology that fits your vision – not the other way around!

We learned that to reach a busy and knowledgeable group of artists, the trial needed to be well-designed and tailored for the audience. If our trial felt staid or was poorly designed, no one would finish the trial, subsequently missing the opportunity to learn about its features and benefits. The trial allowed us to earn new business, but also helped customers trying the product become more familiar with it. Through gamification, we uncovered an enjoyable and easily accessible way to educate our customers about intricate new software features and at the same time drive revenues and technology adoption.


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