And What is Your Opinion on Gamification?

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Two weeks ago Steve Bromley, an author on this blog, wrote an interesting article about Gamification, titled “Is this the End of Gamification?“. The article was picked up by a UX group on Linkedin, whose members had a discussion about the real benefits, objectives and focus of gamification and whether gamification still has a chance of survival. Because the discussion led to some interesting stories, thoughts and opinions, I decided to share this with you all.

I’m interested in your opinion as well, so drop me a line if you would like to share your thoughts.

Andy Marshall said:

Your article raises a good point, though the Kano model just clearly explains why game play mechanics used in gamification have to evolve – what is a delighter last year becomes ‘meh’ this year.

Those who employ game play mechanics have to be completely aware of this – the game play mechanics you’re engineering in to your design now will HAVE to be revisited in the near future, because people tire of the same game when played repeatedly.

So I would say as long as you evolve and continue to delight people with game play mechanics, then there will always be room for Gamification.

Paul Olyslager said:

Hi Andy, Thanks for the comment and I agree with you a 100%. It is true that gamificition, and other content strategies for that matter, needs to constantly evolve because of the ever changing field we work in. Unfortunatly, and this is a personal opinion, I don’t really see a lot of improvement or change lately. When people decide to integrate game mechanics into an application, their first choice would be “badges”. When game mechanics have already been introduced into an application, they stick with it.

Andy Marshall said:

Paul, that’s a good observation. There should be more thought around shaping in game mechanics, so the game play can evolve the more your interact with them.

And, to your point, those that opt for the ‘badges’ route will have usually missed a big opportunity to create something more meaningful and enjoyable. Any UX person worth their salt should know that simply sticking badges on it does not automatically make it an engaging experience.

Mariana García said:

I like the article very interesting! I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Gamification is a “dead end” for a user experience that will not scale. I don´t know how much of this is true but definitely I agree that gamification needs a UX person or a HCI to really define the motivation behind each user.

Corey Stern said:

Excellent article, Paul. Yes, magic gamification dust can’t be sprinkled on a platform and magically work. It is “lazy” to “cut and paste” these game mechanics into platforms without user research and clearly identifying the user and business goals.

Some companies are quick to sell their “platforms” or the technologies instead of focusing on the user. If the project doesn’t focus on the user goals, the project will ultimately fail. In order to really meet these goals we need to understand what users need to do and achieve. We need to empathize with users, understand their context and other factors that influence their decisions and behaviors.

Andy, you mentioned that “Any UX person worth their salt should know that simply sticking badges on it does not automatically make it an engaging experience.”

I’ve seen projects lead by so-called UX experts that carelessly add badges, fixate on animation effects or spend countless hours on the UI, which have little or no impact on the users. I’ve seen projects burn through money and dismally fail without a proper strategy, little or no user research and a total lack of focus on the user goals. Fortunately, there are more and more excellent examples of games that do impact real business objectives all while creating a greater user experience.

Here’s a shameless plug to a recent article I wrote on the topic: How Games Can Engage Users and Impact Real Business Objectives

Marc Resnick said:

One thing I find often is that gamification is confused with contestification. A contest is when you compete only for the sake of earning the points or the prize. Gamification is more than that. There has to be an aspect of play/fun involved. The activity has to have an inherent game value just by playing.

Why is this an important distinction? Because contestification is like price competition. Whoever offers the biggest prizes wins. It is a race to the bottom. But gamification is more like customer experience design. You can justify price premiums because of the great products/services you deliver, in this case the game product. I am using the term price loosely here – it could be the time users invest, the attention users invest, the personal information they give you, or whatever.

Piotr Kulaga said:

A great article Paul and very valid points in the above comments, I’ve always seen gamification as nothing more than a fad. A methodology which appeals to marketers and designers short of “design” substance and looking for gimmicks rather than durable solutions for all users.

A core shortcoming is that, on one hand, intrinsically motivated people (e.g. creative types) will not only fail to appreciate it, but find it frustrating and outright tedious. And on the other, extrinsic reward motivated people need to recognise the real “value” or “gain”, in order to partake in an activity that exposes a “score” or “measure” of their performance which is conditional on the extent of their engagement.

In terms of UX design objectives, in many cases, gamification implies superfluous interactions and embellishments. Adding noise to all too often overloaded content presentation, further detracts attention from the subject at hand. However, perhaps the key weakness of gamification in UX is the degradation of experience in the event of any problems encountered. Even the slightest difficulty in achieving user goals tends to turn into a total UX failure in a gamified theme.

BTW, some good references too.

Alan Wexelblat said:

“Gamification” could not disappear fast enough for me. I think we’re all in agreement in the comments here that some serious and valuable concepts have been turned into fads, gimmicks, and magic fairy dust that gets sprinkled around by people who don’t understand what they’re talking about. The study of motivation is as old as psychology itself and that understanding is constantly evolving. Cherry-picking one or two points from a poor undertanding of how to motivate people is unlikely to accomplish much.

Motivation and the accompanying engagement are valuable traits that are worth pursuing. I’m glad your article emphasized the need to do real research to find out what actual motivation is relevant for a given site/app/audience. In my experience you can’t shortcut the hard work.

Hemant Nagwekar said:

Gamification has roots in user engagement to achieve a certain motive.

What I don’t get, is the fascination with badges, levels and points for achieving ‘gamification’ in your product or service. They are not everything.

I see gamification scope being very subtle and stealth in getting a lot more out of user without him/her noticing it. Here are few -

  1. Learning the application
  2. Highlighting specific features of an application
  3. Motivating users though a flow which might have a learning curve
  4. Making task a lot more fun
  5. Enthusiasm enabler for a group/social activity
  6. Self actuation

There are many more one could thing of … but I hope you get my point here.

Gamification scope is broad and it would be incorrect to attempt to standardize it too soon. I don’t think it will kill the approach but would probably make it less significant as a design approach. That would be unfortunate.

Paul Olyslager said:

Some interesting thoughts over here. Does someone have a good example of a game mechanic implemented app?

Corey Stern said:

Paul, here are a few apps that use game mechanics:

  • Nike +
  • Pizza Hero (Domino’s Pizza)
  • EpicWinApp.com
  • DueProps
  • Mint.com

Piotr Kulaga said:

@Hemant, you make very valid observations regarding the scope of gamification methodology. However, as you noted yourself, there is very little of this broader and deeper academic approach in practice. Instead, what is evident is a trend towards dumbing down design problems to fit Zinga style solutions.

The key problem we face here is that the genre which actually evolved didn’t explore the true potential of theory. The “jump onboard” with least effort path, so common these days, unfortunately now defines and in turn informs practice in this domain.

Ryan Gossen said:

I think Andy’s Kano approach makes a lot of sense. Games rely on “delighters” by their nature, and what will delight changes quickly. I think we are seeing the first large wave of stale gamifications. There is nothing wrong with the principle of gamification, other than the fact that it might be harder to pull off than it looks. It just might need to evolve faster than other more straightforward interactions.

Steve Dickman said:

I agree with @Hemant. There is much more to game mechanics than Badges, Level and Points.

I can’t remember where I got this description from, but for me it describes it perfectly “Gamification techniques leverage people’s natural desires for competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, and closure”.

It is a very broad topic and is based on many years of study in the gaming industry. Students who choose an education path that takes them into the gaming industry learn all this stuff but it has started to move out into non-gaming web apps and mobile app.

Mariana García said:

For those who are interested in gamification there is a course at coursera given for the university of Pennsylvania and it’s online free so It really looks good.

Corey Stern said:

Mariana, thanks for posting this. I already signed up. I can’t wait for it to begin!

Your turn:

And what is your take on gamification?

I'm the creator and editor of paulolyslager.com, a blog about on Web Design, User Experience and Usability. Currently I'm working as UX Manager for a leading supplier of nutrients and supplements to the European market based in Berlin, Germany. Follow me @paulolyslager or google+.
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4 responses to “And What is Your Opinion on Gamification?”

  1. Tony says

    I hate to say it but most beginners in UX are full of themselves and really don’t know what they are talking about


  2. Hi Tony,
    care to enlighten us on your critique and on Gamification?


  3. Some great insights here. Personally I feel that gamification is on a razor edge right now. Everyone who has been preeching badges for so long are about to be last weeks news. The future is understanding the phsychology, not the gimmicks and widgets!

  4. albert says

    Interestingly, it seems as though we are talking about Gamification as a consumer facing user experience, where the need for constantly changing the parameters of the reward system do indeed need to change constantly. And while I disagree with Piotr Kulaga’s assessment that Gamification is a “A methodology which appeals to marketers and designers”; I do agree that too many designers and UX professionals take a “shortcut” approach to Gamification.

    This shortcut approach however, isn’t necessarily unique to Gamification, many designers (and others) take short cuts all the time, from utilizing web templates to downloading icons. It still doesn’t negate the value of web or icon design, it actually makes those that put in the time and professionalism MORE valuable.

    As Hemant has said, “Gamification has roots in user engagement to achieve a certain motive.” I believe that the key to realizing the true value of Gamification’s is understanding the potential of turning it into an ORGANIC and sustainable motivational eco-system that is aligned with the goals of whomever (or whatever) is implementing it. I have found that when you take this holistic approach and combine it with a tangible, “real world” reward (like a sales bonus for achieving level x) it becomes a powerful, systematic way to engage people.

    I too am enrolled in the Gamification course on Coursera. Maybe we can get a study group together.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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