by Jon on February 16, 2011

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Sometime in 2010, the term “gamification” entered the techno-vernacular. Here’s the basic idea: by incorporating game mechanics into everyday activities, you can make them more fun–and therefore more engaging. It’s like using neural hacks to get people to engage more. Typically, gamification involves:

  • Adding a point system to some sort of activity
  • Providing visual measures of progress during the activity
  • Adding rewards like badges, titles, etc. at certain point thresholds

No doubt, you’ve seen this showing up all over the place–not just in your favorite for-entertainment-only games.

I’m passionate about games. And I think these features can often be helpful. But aren’t most of these gamification techniques missing half (or more!) of what really makes a game fun?

Games are experiences!  They are about involving you in an activity that is fundamentally fun (with or without point systems) and taking you through some sort of transformational journey–whether it’s about a character transforming from the mundane to the heroic, or simply teaching you a new skill that changes you in some way.

I first started thinking about gamification after hearing a GDC talk by Gabe Zicherman at GDC back in 2008 (back when he was calling it funware). At the time, the conversation was more about adding the immersive, fun character of games to other experiences; it was about engaging more of the brain to make things fun in novel ways.

I have to admit that I’m not in love with either the term funware or gamification. The former seems to trivialize the potential impact of a game’s experience; the latter sounds too technical. I’d like to see games make their way into more of our culture, because I think they have the power to change us for the better (see also: Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World”). But consider this my plea to anyone thinking about bringing games into their lives or business: it isn’t the game mechanics of games that are most important.  It’s the experience of games–the story of the player.

Thank you for reading this article. Please follow me on Twitter to hear more from me on innovation, games and entrepreneurship. If you'd like to learn how games can transform your business, also check out my book, Game On: Energize Your Business with Social Media Games.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather StarkNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 8:39 am

I ran into a really interesting talk on gamification recently, from
Sebastian Deterding’s talk at Playful London 2010 Pawned: Gamification and its Discontents which provides really good overview as well as a critique of over-narrow and overly ambitious extensions of the concept. Recommended. Hope you enjoy it.

Nicolas WardNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 10:20 am

I wonder if a term like “wowification” might be more apropos… as you mention, a lot of the social games I’ve tried or currently play are more or less Progress Quest with very little in the way of “winning” or even clear goals along the way beyond filling up points bars or getting bigger numbers. (That said, WoW does at least have some semblance of plot, even if it’s mostly criticized as cliche.)

For example, with the checkin games, I think I’ve gotten more discounts and such by interacting with local businesses’ social reps on Twitter than I have by going there a lot.

I’d be more interested in the potential for MMARGs, beyond what little competitive jolt I get from stealing some stranger’s mayorship.

David HodgkinsonNo Gravatar December 19, 2011 at 9:19 am

I have to say I think you’re slightly missing the point here. Gamification is not the same as creating a game – so if I want to optimise customer channel usage in a bank to save money and drive adoption of new services, I can use gamification techniques to do that, without any attempt to turn banking into a ‘game’ per se.

JonNo Gravatar December 23, 2011 at 6:16 am

@David, at the point you take the “game” out of gamification, you’re just left with with behavioral psychology and optimization. At this point, there are terms better than gamification that would have much more clarity.

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