Gamification requires a careful design
Posted on December 30, 2011 by Jeroen van Bree
Last year saw gamification go mainstream. A term for applying elements from computer games in a business context. But as is the case with any buzzword, it is always a good idea to take a step back first. In this case to focus on a solid design process.
Gartner’s analysts have placed gamification at the top of their hype cycle this summer. So we can expect it to be the topic of quite a few conferences, articles and zealous suppliers in the coming months. It all stems from the success of Foursquare, which makes a game of checking in with your smartphone at locations you visit. You can earn points, badges and coupons, and battle your friends for the virtual mayorship of your favorite hangout. That causes competition as well as users who put their activity pattern in line with the goals of the companies that are behind this. The successful template of Foursquare has since been adopted by many other organizations. There you have it: the power of games.
No, gamification in its current form has very little to do with the power of games. It does have a remarkable number of things in common with Taylorism, from the start of the last century: optimizing the productivity of employees by motivating them extrinsically. Because collecting badges as well as beating your friends are extrinsic motivators. Which is a shame because if there is one thing games are good at, it is motivating players intrinsically: playing a game in itself can be a fun activity.
How then can we put that power of games to use? For starters by preventing an important error in thinking that characterizes many current attempts at gamification: the illusion that an ingredient that works in a game will also work in a different context. Games are complex systems with an unpredictable nature. The designer of a game always wants to see that system in action to determine whether the ingredients that were used have the desired effect. Therefore, the key to good gamification is the same as the key to good games: a solid design process.
Fighting against the gamification label is no use anymore. But let’s resist shortsighted rubbish. Let us put the beautiful potential of games to use in stimulating sustainable behavior on a personal level (a healthier lifestyle), organizational level (contributing to an organization’s goals) and societal level (reducing carbon emissions). With that interpretation, an appealing future awaits for gamification.