I came across a great article that takes a look at motivation in alternate reality games (ARGs) designed as learning experiences (Moseley, Whitton, Culver, & Piatt, 2009). The authors analyzed four different ARGs to learn what worked well and less well when it came to learner engagement.
The take homes for me:
Competition can be motivating or demotivating so making leaderboards optional viewing is a consideration. Regardless of where a learner falls on the spectrum of game player style, a definite and clear rationale for participation is necessary.
Games where participation is an optional part of a learning program tend to have low participation with highly engaged members. Where participation is compulsory, there can be high participation with players who, on average, are not all that engaged. Attention to motivating factors, such as clear relevance and engaging challenges may balance this out.
ARG games should provide problem-solving challenges that have the potential for independent, autonomous investigation as well as peer-learning. Designers can use the community features of these games for enrichment.
The authors conclude:
One observation that can be made from an analysis of these four case studies is that creating a motivating, engaging game may be less about providing a range of motivating factors (although this is still important) and more about ensuring that there is a clear rationale for students to engage with the game (be it intrinsic or extrinsic) plus – crucially – a lack of demotivating factors. By ensuring that games have a range of elements, including (but not necessarily all of) competition, something to complete, puzzles, narrative, creativity and community; are designed in a way that allows easy initial take-up and participation; include ways to avoid getting stuck; and are seen as being fair, then the chances of creating an environment in which students will be engaged and autonomous will be greatest.
You can read the full article here:
Moseley A., Whitton N., Culver J., & Piatt K, 2009 Motivation in alternate reality gaming environments and implications for learning. Proceedings of ECGBL 2009, the 3rd European Conference on Games Based Learning, Graz, Austria, 12-13 October 2009, pp. 279-286