Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What is Gamification? On This The Experts Disagree

Not everyone agrees on what gamification is (and this is not even considering alternative approaches that are not gamification). It is not simply a matter of definition; people talk about gamification while meaning different concepts.

I wrote a brief introduction to the three types of gamification. Now let's go a little deeper into what gamification is.

There are two main approaches:

1. Gamification is a feedback system that fosters engagement

Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game contexts. This either means adding fun and play to boring or unmotivating tasks – making the world a better place - or manipulating people into doing things that they might otherwise not want to do – making the world a worse place (take your pick).

People spend a massive amount of time playing multi-player online games doing what superficially seem to be unfun tasks: repetitively killing, jumping, farming, building complex virtual properties and characters, and so on. Considering the “Tom Sawyer” principle, gamification people figure that they can take the feedback systems from these games - points, badges, leaderboards, trophies, game currency, and missions - and apply them (with some customization) to many work, health, charity, etc tasks to achieve the same motivating results. The reasoning is that any boring activity becomes engaging if the context feels like a game, feedback is immediate and progressive, and competition or collaboration is leveraged.

These proponents see gamification as this:

For these proponents, the play mechanics are not that relevant. The gamification elements are all you need to make an engaging and fun system. The quest for points, or badges, or a high ranking on a leaderboard is fun, in and of itself. Play elements are just icing.

Let’s call this “straight gamification” (the term I used in my original post).

2: Gamification is a play system that includes video game elements

Gamification is a thin veneer of video game elements added onto playification. Playification is adding fun and play to boring or unmotivating tasks; gamification is adding points, badges, leaderboards, trophies, game currency, and missions as part of playification.

Adding rewards and making boring tasks more playful to motivate people is an old idea. Loyalty programs, recess, team building games, and vacation time have existed for centuries. Philosophies about reforming education and work processes to be more fun have existed for just as long. This is called playification.
Gamification systems do a lot more than just take the feedback systems from video games; they include elements that make the process more playful.

Challenging and interesting tasks make games fun, not feedback systems. Points, badges, etc, are not rewards; the fulfillment of a challenge, the ability to freely choose an activity, and relationships (to people or to a higher purpose) are the rewards. Points and badges track or reflect these rewards in some instances, but they do not motivate people. Assigning points and offering badges to non-challenging tasks is insulting and ultimately empty, and leaderboards applied haphazardly only motivate the top few people who are winning.

Gamification repackages the old idea (make work/school more playful) with a new name and a set of cookie cutter interfaces that orients people raised on video games.

Let’s call this “play gamification”.


Neither of these two are to be confused with gameful design or playification.

Gameful design is the application of either of these two gamification philosophies to user-centered tasks. In other words, tasks that a person wants to do or has to do, but wants to make more fun - making the world a better place. This is opposed to a gamification system created by companies in order to get you to do something you were not necessarily going to do, and for no real long-term benefit to you - making the world a worse place.

Playification does not require the presence or absence of game mechanics. Play gamification is one form of playification.

To be continued ...

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