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Grants:IEG/The Wikipedia Adventure/Midpoint

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Welcome to this project's midpoint report! This report shares progress and learnings from the Individual Engagement Grantee's first 3 months.


Instead of frustrating and difficult, could learning to edit Wikipedia be engaging and fun? This project set out to answer that question in the affirmative, or at least experiment with one approach to doing so. The method is 'gamified onboarding' through an interactive guided tour.

The game, The Wikipedia Adventure, has gone from an idea without a prototype to a usable, playable version on its way to completion. Background research in game dynamics influenced the script, which was refined and usability tested, while artwork was conceptualized from scratch and added to Wikipedia pages. Guided Tours were built to be the engine of the game and the remaining pieces of the game, including an editing gadget, were set in motion.

The process has benefitted tremendously from early and regular lightweight prototyping, continual feedback from testers and consultants (non-experts as well as experts), and constant iteration on design and implementation.


How have you setup your project so far?

Describe the different parts of your experimental or pilot process, anything you decided was extra important to focus on, and any key concepts that are useful for understanding your work. Please also use this space to point to any background research or past learnings that have guided you in your decision-making process.

The methodology of the project has been to brainstorm, research, prototype, draft, and usability-test, and refine through each phase of the project.

The first area of focus was the major pain points which new editors face, those obstacles which cause frustration and hurt retention. Building on years of working with new editors in various help forums, we then conducted specific usability 'needfinding' interviews to focus on skills new editors often struggle to complete.

The second major focus of research was understanding gamification, game dynamics, motivation and engagement. We had piloted a badge program in the Teahouse, which inspired a lot of the conceptual thinking. Further research involved reading the most influential books and watching the most meaningful presentations about these issues.

The script which had been written in 2011 went through several revisions until it was effective and stable. It was built into an interactive text demo with a program called Twine and then usability tested.

Artwork went from a moodboard with 40 inspiring but disparate images to a coherent theme focusing on a journey through Wikipedia as a 'galactic carnival of humanity'.

Guided Tours were studied and prototyped, gradually expanding their functionality from a basic way to guide editors around pages to a more robust engine for the game.


TWA was inspired by hundreds of hours of work at the live irc help channel #wikipedian-en-help, the Wikipedia Help Desk, the Teahouse, the Plain and Simple Guide for new editors, and other introductory tutorials.

Study and experimentation

Principles of game design were explored through articles, videos, presentations, slidesets, online courses, and books.


Books in areas related to game design, instructional design, gamification, narrative fiction, and coding were purchased and read.

Video games and narrative
Game dynamics

To distill learnings from the readings, summary notes on each book were taken.

notes, notes, notes, notes, notes,notes

Creative prototyping and usability

The script was refined into an interactive text prototype and usability tested with needfinding and semi-structured feedback interviews.

Design iteration

The theme was brainstormed, collaged, sketched, built, and polished.

Early mockup
A screenshot of The Wikipedia Adventure
A Challenge page from the game
TWA Avatar
TWA Avatar 2


What work has been completed so far?

Please list all activities you’ve undertaken as part of your project to this point, and provide a description for each activity.

Outreach and documentation

Progress in building the game was documented both on Wikipedia and on Facebook.

  • Updated English Wikipedia project page: Link
  • Created Facebook page: Link (300+ people Like the page)
  • Created Twitter account: Link

A designer was hired and the theme of the game was created and built.

  • Contracted a graphic designer with experience in Mediawiki
  • Brainstormed designs, building off the image moodboard
  • Explored the creative approach through iterations on feel, vibe, and tone
  • Designed background pages, avatars, logos and branding, navigation elements, mission map, challenge graphics, badges, and answer icons.
Tech guidance

Ties were built with technical resources related to Guided Tours.

  • Connected with Editor engagement experiments (E3) team which had developed the Guided Tours, and clarified the appropriate role for E3 guidance
  • Engaged on E3 mailing list, and in E3 IRC channel
  • Met with WMF Tech lead Erik Möller
  • Met and corresponded with Guided Tours developer Matt Flaschen

Conducted a broad overview of work on game dynamics, interactive fiction, motivation, and online engagement

  • Researched literature on game dynamics
  • Created project bibliography
  • Read all ordered books
  • Completed summary notes on majority of books

Iterated through several versions of the script, with usability interviews and continual refinement

  • Script review and refinement, from initial 12 mission version down to 7 missions
  • Needfinding interview done and published on Facebook and Wikipedia (3 interviews)
  • Twine interactive text version usability interviews done and published on Facebook and Wikipedia (3 interviews)

Attended 3 conferences and visited the Wikimedia Foundation twice

API Edit Gadget

Began building a userscript which will allow for simulated interactions with other editors during the game

  • Connected with Wikimedia coders through IRC and Amsterdam Hackathon
  • Adapted code from Teahouse Question Button
  • Currently consulting with Mediawiki coder to complete gadget during July
Game Construction

Laid out all 7 missions and updated missions 1-5 with artwork and guided tours functionality

  • Compiled Game Index – Link
  • Integrated artwork
  • Created Game Portal – Link
  • Made 3 game backgrounds (Portal background, Mission background, Article Background)
  • Made game navigation bar – Link
  • Designed Mission Challenges page – Example
  • Built customizable skill meters to track editing, policy, and social learning through the game
  • Designed Guide Avatar
  • Designed 12 Skill Badges
  • Created all subpages for the game
  • Guided Tours: completed working Guided Tours for missions 1–5

Midpoint outcomes

What are the results of your project or any experiments you’ve worked on so far?

Please discuss anything you have created or changed (organized, built, grown, etc) as a result of your project to date.

Links and examples are given above.

The script is finished and has been coded into the first 5 missions (out of 7) of the game. The artwork for the game is complete with the exception of minor elements.


Please take some time to update the table in your project finances page. Check that you’ve listed all approved and actual expenditures as instructed. If there are differences between the planned and actual use of funds, please use the column provided there to explain them.

Then, answer the following question here: Have you spent your funds according to plan so far? Please briefly describe any major changes to budget or expenditures that you anticipate for the second half of your project.

So far the budget is proceeding as planned. $5043.17 has been spent so far, but that includes up front travel costs to the conference. One unforseen expense is an expected $250 contracting fee to have a mediawiki coder implement the automatic edit gadget using the mediawiki API. Because of discounts arranged at the conference and unpaid consultation from experts, the grant is on course to be at or under budget.


The best thing about trying something new is that you learn from it. We want to follow in your footsteps and learn along with you, and we want to know that you are taking enough risks to learn something really interesting! Please use the below sections to describe what is working and what you plan to change for the second half of your project.

What is working well

What has been successful so far? What will you do more of? Please list these as short bullet points.

  • It was invaluable to ground the work of this project in respected literature on the topic of games, new forms of narrative fiction, and motivation. Pairing this theoretical background with hands-on interviews with new editors helped ground the game in practical knowledge.
  • The game was scoped too large at first and benefitted from very significant cuts and editing. The decision to cut down the game from 12 to 7 levels made the project manageable and ensured a scope that could be both built and played in a reasonable timeframe. The best decision made, upon a recommendation from Siko Bouterse, was to prototype the entire revised script in an interactive text program called Twine. This allowed usability testing and major script revision before having to deal with the technical complexities of javascript in Guided Tours.
  • Reaching out for help from experts has been encouraging. Speaking with folks from the gamification industry gave broader context to the purpose of gamification, as well as its pitfalls. Indeed, one of the most important learnings was to be very careful with gamification, to ensure that it always enhances intrinsic motivations of users and never trivializes or skews them.
  • Working directy with experienced designers made the creative brainstorming and implementation easy; it was well worth the expenditure to hire someone who was talented and able to communicate and iterate on designs.
  • Finding technical folks who can code, even paid contractors, who are also familiar with mediawiki is hard. Tapping into the WMF tech community liasons and grant staff so far much more practical than trying to use solely volunteers. It appears that if you need something technical done on any reliable timeframe, you should be prepared to pay someone to do it.
  • Lessons from experts in coding permitted complete aspects of the project in hours that otherwise would have taken days or weeks. The group of talented people that has helped or consulted on this project has made it far better than it would have been if approached alone.

What are the challenges

What challenges or obstacles have you encountered? What will you change to do differently going forward? Please list these as short bullet points.

  • The project has proceeded smoothly; the main obstacle has simply been working on so many different pieces at the same time. While one mission is being built, another is being refined, and bugs in code are discovered along the way, needing replacement throughout other levels.
  • While Guided Tours is an excellent feature, it does have the strict constraints of Javascript's coding language and can be 'broken' by any variety of minor errors.
  • Time-management is a puzzle. You both get more done than you think is possible, but it all takes longer than expected. Problems arise that you didn't forsee, both with creative and technical issues, and they don't resolve predictably. Keys to this have been to always keep working on something, even if it's not the exact piece you need. And if you're stuck on something for more than a few days, ask someone who knows more about it than you for help.
  • Working with a creative designer takes a little bit of feeling out at first. The best advice received early on was to not assume creative people can read your mind, and to clearly but kindly point out what you want, what you like, what you don't like as much, and what you need done by approximately when.
  • Making internally set deadlines doesn't always work out as planned. But deadlines have proved helpful even if they're flexible, and you miss them sometimes. They at least keep you tethered to a progressing timeline.
  • Building a real thing is more like a painting than an assembly line. You have a sketch. You erase and redraw. You lay down base colors. You get perspective, and then go back in and reshape. You add details to different parts of the canvas at different times. It comes together in series as much as in sequence and the sense that the final destination is reachable doesn't really come together until the majority of the work is already finished.
  • Going forward the plan is to keep momentum by advancing on all fronts simultaneously, knowing that the pieces will come together as they are ready.

Next steps and opportunities

What are the next steps and opportunities you’ll be focusing on for the second half of your project? Please list these as short bullet points.

  • Summarize learnings from last 3 books
  • Completing missions 6 and 7
  • Building and integrating the API:EDIT automatic edit gadget
  • Placing artwork for celebratory mission end pages, badges, and avatars throughout the game
  • Usability testing the full Guided Tours version
  • Bug-proofing for graceful failure throughout the game
  • Promotion of the beta version through Teahouse, new editor invites, banners, and help forums.
  • Event logging of a subset of game players to track usage and fall-off points
  • Measuring impact through editor activity and retention after game-play

Grantee reflection

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have on how the experience of being an IEGrantee has been so far. What is one thing that surprised you, or that you particularly enjoyed from the past 3 months?

It's been fun and challenging at the same time. Making something that other people can use is a very unique process with its own rhythm. Moral support from IE Grant staff has been invaluable and has given wise counsel, help getting unstuck, reminders of inspiration, and good humor to an involved process. And while I tend to dislike the reporting requirements in theory, in practice, they actually help frame the structure of what would otherwise be a somewhat nebulous 6 month process.