Is Gamification A Bad Word?

Social Gaming Week

Earlier tonight I appeared on a Social Media Week panel about gamification and social media. The panel was moderated by International Game Developers Association member Anne Toole, and my fellow panelists were Garick Chan of Satya Solutions, Sophia Viklund of BackCode, and Matthew Arevalo Loot Crate.

Here are some of my answers to the questions I was asked.

What is gamification? What’s the difference between that and serious games?

Gamification is simply the use of game mechanics in non-game settings such as education, training, and marketing. Serious games are games that are full games with a purpose besides entertainment — again, such as education, training and marketing.

Gamification Chart

Imagine a chart where one axis is whether the activity was “fun or purposeful” and the other axis as “game or not game”. In the “fun” and “not game” quadrant would be playful design (a term coined by game designer Jane McGonigal) which are fun elements, such as graphics, that make a non-game experience fun. An example would be the “Fail Whale” screen on Twitter that appears when the system can’t accept your tweet. In the “purposeful” and “not game” quadrant would be gamification. Serious games would fall in the “purposeful” and “game” quadrant, while games would be in the “fun” and “game” quadrant.

Gamification is sometimes considered a bad word in the game industry. Why is that?

I’ll give you three reasons. First, the game industry has always looked down on anything related to gaming that is considered to be too simple. I remember the second Game Developers Conference — which was back then called the Computer Game Developers Conference — and the big debate then was whether console game developers should be allowed to attend, because at the time console games weren’t considered to be too simple to be taken seriously.

Second, because we are a creative industry, we tend to have a more liberal political outlook. As a consequence, we tend to be suspicious of Big Business and the use of gaming elements to promote consumerism.

Third, the fact is, most gamification is poorly implemented. It relies too much on points, badges and leaderboards. There is a lack of the use of narrative, randomness, exploration and other game mechanics that professional game designers bring to the table.

What are the tools used in gamifying social media — examples might be on Linkedin or OKCupid.

I think the Progress Bar on LinkedIn is an excellent use of gamification. If the Progress Bar isn’t full, I want to fill in my profile with any missing sections so that I feel that my profile is competitive. And when it is full, I feel good about my profile. It appeals both to my drive for accomplishment and my sense of competitiveness.

Gamification Chart

Badges, progress bars, contests, etc. are what usually come to mind when thinking of gamification. What are the drawbacks about using them without a full game design behind it?

You don’t need to use a full game design, but those aren’t the only items in the gamification tool kit. The game mechanics you mentioned appeal to the users who are interested in accomplishment, but that’s not necessarily the only user you need to appeal to.

Andrzej Marczewski came up with a good system of classifying player types for gamification. Some players will be interested in the specific activity or product just for its own sake. Otherwise, you need to use the mechanics appropriate to the type of player. Achievers are interested in the challenge of achieving difficult goals, so points and badges work well for them. However, Socializers are more interested in interacting with other people and engaging in cooperative and competitive activities. Free Spirit types want activities in which they can engage in exploration and activities, while Philanthropists seek to engage in activities that fulfill a sense of purpose, such as contributing to a charity or expanding their horizons. It’s important for the gamification designer to understand their users and choose the game mechanics that best work for them.

When it comes to social media, is gamification a bad word, or a good word? You get the final word!

Gamfication is certainly an ugly-sounding word, but there’s nothing wrong with the idea. Although the word itself was coined only about ten years ago, the concept has been around forever. I remember my mom collecting S&H Green Stamps at the market so that we had enough to pay for a trip to Disneyland. Boy Scouts have been using badges for one hundred years, combining the sense of achievement with the public recognition of the awards ceremony and the intrinsic reward of the value of the skill learned when obtaining the merit badge. Even taxes have been successfully gamified — have you ever played the lottery?

And for my fellow game designers who look down on this — I say, “Shame on them!” What’s wrong with making the world more fun?

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About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, 3DO and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, Lead Faculty, Game Production Program at The Los Angeles Film School, co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge, and answer kid’s questions about game design on the Boy’s Life website. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on September 23, 2013, in Gamification. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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