Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gamification, Gameful Design, and Playification

Note: This post assumes that you have already read an introductory article on gamification: you know the definition of gamification and the basic theories of motivation (such as self-determination theory and its derivatives).

The prospect of increased interest, brand awareness, understanding, desired behavior, or loyalty for your process or message is tempting, and within the reach of a properly designed gamification system.

There are three main approaches to gamification: straight "gamification", "gameful design", and "playification".

Straight gamification is importing video game trappings into non-game contexts. Gamification nearly always uses some combination of points (or some other name for points, like "bucks"), badges, leader boards, levels, missions, and so on. This direct approach is based on the fact that a great number of millennials play and enjoy video games. These game elements provide opportunities for mastery, achievement, social comparison, and so on. in non-game contexts, as well.

Opponents of straight gamification argue that most of the fun in games does not come from these elements, so the result is not going to be truly motivating. These kinds of imaginary rewards are only meaningful when they are the result of challenging game play, so they won't hold a player's long term attention. Furthermore, people focused on gaining points are not focused on the message (for example, gamification that promotes recycling may result in a temporary increase in recycling, but won't truly change people's behavior once they get bored with the game.

While these criticisms are valid, proponents of straight gamification are not unaware of the need to make gamification fun and challenging; it's the CEOs and clueless marketers who ask for meaningless point systems who are to blame for poor implementations. Also, the interface is simple to produce, instantly recognizable to many people, and has a proven track record of providing motivation, especially when the content is enjoyable anyway or the players already know each other.

Gameful design, a term popularized by Jane McGonigal, is about adding rewards selectively to challenges that are important and intrinsically rewarding. For example, you know you have to diet, and you feel great when you do, but it's hard; adding gameful design – badges, levels, and so on - to the process of dieting provides an added incentive to make you feel proud and accomplished.

The proponents of gameful design stress achievement and purpose, and believe in adding game elements to important tasks that will help guide us to do what is best for us and the world.

Essentially, gameful design restricts applying gamification to tasks that are purely beneficial to the player (or others), as opposed to straight gamficiation that is used primarily to benefit the designer. Gameful design uses many of the same trappings as gamification; there is no fine line between the two approaches, except with regards to who is designing the system and why.

Playification focuses on bringing the other aspects of play into non-game activities: competition (but not necessarily scores), cooperation, puzzles, physical activity, and so on. Points and badges might be used, but they are not the focus. Instead, the aim is to make non-game activities more fun, in general.

Playification asserts that the play elements contain most of the fun - the most universally enjoyed fun. Even if no one assigns ranks at the end of a 100 meter dash, the play elements (physical challenge, excerise, and competition) contain all of the motivation necessary for people to participate. Even animals enjoy play activities; play spans the entire animal kingdom. It is biological, and the fun is intrinsic to the activity.

In contrast, points elements make no sense without play elements. "You win!" and other imaginary rewards add an additional layer of fun to play, but only to some people, some of the time. "Winning" is a title added to an already achieved success, and a seemingly irrelevant one, unless your enjoyment of success is incomplete without this title.

Play elements are the intrinsic elements that involve autonomy, mastery, and connectedness, whereas points are focused on achievement and rankings (the latter of which is of no motivation to anybody but the winner).

All of the above philosophies have some validity, more or less, and represent different paths that can be taken to add motivation and benefit to everyday tasks.


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