My dissertation proposal

by Chris F

Game design elements in gamified geographic data collection applications



In my dissertation, I propose to explore the different types of mechanics and motivations of crowd-sourced games and apply my findings in creating a non-digital prototype of a game for collecting geographic data.


I have been inspired to undertake this project by my summer internship at ITO World Ltd. I have been introduced to the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project by ITO and while there I have had valuable insights into the crowd-sourced world, including the biggest challenges that it is currently facing: low user retention and a user base that has low diversity. By participating in various community events (OSM London 7th Birthday, State of the Map 2013, Geomob London), and through individual research (AddressHunter, MapRoulette), I have come to understand that game design is rapidly becoming a desired skill in this sector. By the end of my summer internship, I have successfully identified an emerging game design market with problems that could hopefully be resolved by implementing my 3-year course experience to the newly-found practical knowledge. I had also found a problem that I find interesting and want to research: motivating new user groups to join an existing project with an already-established user base.

Throughout the two years that I have already spent at university, I tried to focus as much as I can on being a good game designer, with a lot of focus in my work going towards different types of non-digital games and level design. I have created board games, card games, pervasive games and Dungeons and Dragons adventures, all in the quest of becoming a good game designer. I believe that this project will help me achieve my goal and take me through all the steps towards becoming better at my craft: I will start by researching the work people have done before me in this field so as not to do something that someone else has done before, I will then play similar games and find the unique and common elements of each, in order to then work on applying all these in my own, original and fun game.

This project will help me, as a game designer, better understand my limits and hopefully go beyond them. I am excited to create a non-digital game with contribution to OSM in mind, as well as coming up with something that will help a community which aims to, overarchingly, improve the world. I believe I will improve my non-digital design skills as well as gain a much better understanding of the human motivation behind joining crowd-sourcing projects and how the participants understand the concept of fun. Overall, I believe that my dissertation will improve the academia by creating a foothold into crowd-sourced gaming and gamified applications and how fun is perceived here. My work should be able to be used as a base for creating any future crowd-sourced games or high gamification applications.

Initial research

There have already been several attempts at gamifying this procedure, the most notable ones being and MapRoulette, and while both of these have interesting mechanics at work, they do not have a game designer behind them and are designed to be used by a very narrow segment of the population. In Alyssa Wright’s State of the Map 2013 keynote presentation, it has been demonstrated that only 7% of OpenStreetMap users are female, while about 80% of the total users come from a technical background. With these in mind, the potential user-base of OSM is almost completely untapped in terms of diversity. Judging from the success of gamified applications such as Foursquare and Ingress, proper design of such an application might be the key to improving the OSM database and help create a comprehensive, free, map of the world.

 In order to understand what would be necessary for this project  I have researched papers in the field of gamified crowd-sourced applications and have found that most of them cover only the bare essentials of game design theory(Castellote et al., 2013; Garcia-Marti et al., 2013), focusing much more on the object of their crowd-sourcing efforts (i.e. Deconstructing the game post on my blog,  ). I have come to the conclusion that there is a niche that has not been properly explored yet, which is research into the game design elements that make a crowd-sourced game fun. These elements are slightly different than those you would encounter in a typical game, due to the nature of the crowd-sourcing element. Crowd-sourcing efforts have, by definition(Estellés-Arolas et al., 2012), many users and a central set of rules set by a client. I will focus on studying diverse crowd-sourcing citizen science efforts, deconstructing the gamified systems that have been put in place and analysing the elements of game theory and game design that go into them, in an effort to understand why some of the games are successful while others are not. At the same time, I will study human motivation, a key element in citizen science, in order to understand how I could combine the game design elements in a way that reaches key target audiences.


The deliverable part of my project will be a non-digital game that I have created using informed decisions from my research. Throughout this project, I will be working closely with ITO World and the OSM community in order to find specialist testers for my game and have discussions based on my theories.

 I want to be marked on my ability to create a game and how fun it is. Fun, being a vast concept, cannot be rated easily, so I would like to focus on engaging diverse target audiences and create one game which appeals to a minimum of two different target audiences. My dissertation will focus on implementing a simple set of mechanics and then creating different incentive systems for different target audiences. As such, I would like to be marked on the engagement ability of the game for my chosen audiences.


Since 2007, more and more companies have started using both gamification and crowd-sourcing in their marketing campaigns. Companies like Heineken, Coca Cola and Toyota have extensive campaigns in which they use elements of either gamification, crowd-sourcing, or both, so either of those companies or the rest of the 70% of the Global 2000 organizations that will use gamification by 2014(Van Grove, 2011) could hire me as a consultant/designer.

At the same time, since this project will focus on volunteered geographical information, the companies which have an active interest in having a lot of accurate data in OSM could be a more inspired solution. Companies such as Humanitarian OSM, a charity which aims to bring OSM to developing countries, Skobbler, a company which creates routing algorithms based on OSM data, mySociety, a social enterprise that builds websites giving the public simple, tangible ways to connect with and improve their society and rely heavily on OSM data, or ITO World, the company which introduced me to the OpenStreetMap project would benefit from the results of my dissertation and could use my expertise to improve their own projects and businesses.

 Timeline for this project:

 Before 20th of December 2013: Intensive focus on academic research and critical analysis of games and gamified applications that fit in my field of study. Create an initial game prototype and iterate towards a first rendition of the game, which will then be tested.

 20th of December 2013 – 13th of January 2014: Analyze feedback from play-testers and follow on with a second iteration of the product that includes elements from player feedback. Play tests and iterations will continue until a stable version of the game is achieved.

 14th of January 2014: Hold a talk at Geomob London about the dissertation project and get live feedback from the community. The latest game will be put up for play-testing during the event and player feedback recorded.

 15th of January 2014 – 1st of April 2014: Based on recent feedback, the game will be reiterated into a testable formula. It will be presented both to the OSM community and to new players and feedback will be gathered from both parties. The results will be analyzed and all the iterations and changes will be compiled into a document used for following the progress and evolution of the project, with possible annotations on divergent paths of development. As a side focus, I will concentrate on academic research in order to support my iterating theories and results.

 Before 31st of May 2014: Will be reaching the final iteration of the game prototype, polishing assets and formulating final findings and the conclusion for my dissertation in a document, alongside relevant player feedback that has influenced the iterative and development process. The evolution and changes to the game will also be attached to the document.


In order to support my dissertation, I have chosen the following key texts: 

 1. Bruno S. Frey. (2012). Crowding effects on intrinsic motivation. Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics. 20 (2/3), p91-98. Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2013] 

Article analyses effects of different types of systems on intrinsic motivation, either reducing it (crowding out) or enhancing it (crowding out). This has given me a lot of insights into why real life rewards might not be the best option for volunteering systems. Full review here:

2. Estellés-Arolas, Enrique; González-Ladrón-de-Guevara, Fernando (2012), “Towards an Integrated Crowdsourcing Definition”, Journal of Information Science 38 (2): 189–200 

Article discusses different types of crowd-sourcing and tries to give a comprehensive definition. It has helped me better understand the field that I am going into from an academic perspective. Full review here:

3. Finkelstien, M. . (2009). Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivational orientations and the volunteer process. Personality and Individual Differences. 46 (.), p653-658.  

Have not read article yet, but I expect it will allow me to understand how to motivate volunteers.

4. Flanagan, M. 2009. Critical play: radical game design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 

Have not read the whole book yet, but I believe it will help me get new ideas for game development, which will allow me to look at the game that I am trying to make from a different perspective.

5. Gear, A; Wizniak, R; Cameron, J. (2004). Rewards for Reading: A Review of Seven Programs. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research. 50 (2), 200-203. Available at: [Accessed: 20th Oct. 2013]  

Reading has offered me new ideas in the creation of reward systems for activities which rely heavily on intrinsic motivation, such as reading for children between kindergarden and grade 6 ages. Full review on:

6. Odobašić, D., Medak, D. and Miler, M., (2013). Gamification of Geographic Data Collection. [online] Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, pp.328–337. Available at: [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013] 

First article I have read for this dissertation. It has given me the basic information that I needed for understanding the GIS world and different concepts such as citizen science, volunteered geographic information. I will use it as an academic base for gamification of geographic data collection. Full review on:

7. Raymond, E.S. 2010. Cathedral and the bazaar. La Vergne, TN: [SnowBall Publishing]. 

Foundation reading for understanding open-source concepts and beliefs. It helps me grasp the underlying philosophies and thinking of OpenStreetMap and its users. Full review on:

8. Ruedy, N., Moore, C., Gino, F. and Schweitzer, M. (2013) ‘The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105 (4), pp. 531-548 DOI 10.1037/a0034231. [Available at: Last accessed 24th October 2013] 

Very interesting read which gave me new insights into why lax rules might make for a better game, allowing users meaningful choices in modifying and using the actual game that I am creating. Full review on:

9. Schell, J. 2008. The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses 1st ed. Morgan Kaufmann. 

This is a book that I have studied in my first year of the Computer Games Design course and that I believe contains chapters that will help me in this project by offering a design-focused perspective for it.


10. Zichermann, G. and Cunningham, C., (2011). Gamification by design: implementing game mechanics in web and mobile apps. Sebastopol, Calif.: O’Reilly Media. 

Zichermann is the person that “coined” the term “gamification”, and in this book he talks about intelligent gamification as well as the SAPS (Status Access Power Stuff) model which most of the gamification-related articles that I have read hold in high regard. Have not read the whole book yet, but I believe it will help me with ideas for rewrd systems and better understanding what I call high gamification.



Castellote, J.; Huerta, J.; Pescador, J.; Brown, M.. (2013). Towns Conquer:A Gamified application to collect geographical names (vernacular names/toponyms). AGILE 2013

 Garcia-Marti, I; Rodrituez-Pupo, L; Diaz, L; Huerta, J. (2013). Noise Battle: A Gamified application for Environmental Noise Monitoring in Urban Areas . AGILE 2013.

 Van Grove, J. (2011). Gamification: How Competition Is Reinventing Business, Marketing & Everyday Life. Available: Last accessed 1st Nov 2013.