There is a lot of hype around gamification right now. Some people take issue with my enthusiasm. The debates are nothing new really. It’s the usual debates, rants, diatribe, and guru posturing we saw around blogging, Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 (and every other 2.0), crowdsourcing, virtual worlds, microblogging, augmented reality, geolocation and every other digital development we’ve seen over the last 5-7 years. And gamification won’t be the last to cause a ruckus.
So I thought I would try to add a little bit of clarity around gamification by covering what is gamification, what it isn’t, what gamification is good for and what it isn’t and finally what I see as the real promise of gamification. First I always like to start looking forward by looking backwards.
Some Historical Perspective:
When people talk about gamification people usually think about points, badges or turning crowdsourced tasks into games. Gamification is not really new. We’ve been “gamifying” things as long as there were tasks to be done or metrics to be gamed.
The big sign you see in manufacturing plants that reads something like: “This facility has been accident free for 75 days.” is a form of gamification. Points: 75 days. Badges: The big sign. There are other examples like when grocery stores used to give out stamps with your purchases and when you collected enough stamps you could trade them in for dishes. Credit card points are another example. More modern examples like Foursquare, Get Glue, Klout and Fold.it the folding DNA game are the ones most commonly thought of.
But I remember the first time I saw gamification in action and thought, “I’m being gamed.” It was 5+ years ago when I first signed up for LinkedIn and after filling in just the basic information was told that my profile was only 45% complete (or some low-grade number). My initial reaction was that I was being told I was incomplete, “I can do better than that!” of course I instantly realized I was being gamed, but it worked. This kind of profile completion status is very common now.
Gamification: What is it?
When people talk about gamification, there are usually talking about one of two things:
- Using game mechanics in user experience (UX) design.
- Turning some kind of task into actual gameplay.
Game mechanics is what we most commonly think of when we think of adding points and badges to something. LinkedIn’s profile completion status is another example. Game mechanics draws on our innate desire to earn points, collect things and all those other behaviors that makes playing games so much fun. For more on this read this excellent post on how scvngr uses game mechanics.
Gameplay, is just that; its turning something into a game. The fold.it example is a good one. Personally I think contests also fall into this category. Gameplay by default deploys game mechanics but it’s more obvious a game. An example of the difference would be Foursquare vs. scvngr. Foursquare has a competitive element to it but it isn’t quite a full-fledged game (although there are apps that build on top of Foursquare to create games) while scvngr is meant for users to create challenges and then earn points and rewards based on completing those challenges.
The lines between the two aren’t perfectly cut and dry so don’t get too hung up on the differences.
Gamification: What it’s good for, and what it’s not?
I think the applications of gamification are vast, but for the purposes of this post I’ll try to stick to the areas where it has already been proven to work. (I’ll save the speculation for the last bit.)
Gamification and crowdsourcing are, in my mind, natural bedfellows. Gamification can unite leaderless groups around shared goals and objectives. It can turn a crowd into a movement. The rewards – in the case of game mechanics – and the rules - in the case of gameplay – provide direction often times much better than a real leader can. Gamification also (if done right) provides a clear objective with a self relevant strategy.
Gamification is also ideal for encouraging behavior, especially behaviors someone is already prone to do. In my LinkedIn example, I wanted to set up an account and I would have eventually filled out my full profile but it is in LinkedIn’s best interest if we fill out our profiles sooner than later. This is why the profile completion status prompt works. Additionally, many of will naturally share our location with our friends, there’s a lot of advantages to my friends knowing where I am. But giving me badges and putting me on a leaderboard with my friends definitely encourages me to check in more often. Fighting with my coworkers for the mayorship of my office is fun. The people who play the fold.it game are probably naturally interested in science and helping out a good cause, making it a game, encourages them to play even more.
What gamification won’t do is make boring tasks, I have no interest in, suddenly compelling. Gamification won’t compensate for your crappy user experience. Gamification is not a panacea for your boring marketing plan or you’re struggling business model.
The Hidden Promise of Gamification:
Enterprise Crowds: One really potential, powerful use of gamification is in empowering crowds. It’s already proven effective here, but I think we have yet to see it work in the enterprise. In a recent research paper, Beyond Social: The Crowd Based Enterprise, on GigaOm Pro (subscription required) @dcoleman100 tweaks the typical definition of what is a crowd:
A crowd is a connected group of people like a community or social network. However, the difference is that a crowd has a purpose, a goal or an outcome that is the reason for its existence.
This is definitely the case of all the great crowdsourcing or even gamification examples. The crowd formed together for a purpose, but being a crowd, they typically lack a leader. In today’s modern, ever flattening, enterprise, especially in the tech world, large enterprises, with their hundreds or thousands of employees, are starting to resemble more of a crowd, than a traditional organization. I still believe that gamification holds massive amounts of untapped potential in a management free (or at least management lite) company.
Better Design: One of the more powerful outcomes of social media is that it’s forcing companies to humanize, their behavior and language. It’s forcing decision-making down further into the front ranks and its empowering employees. These were all results of social media tools giving voice to and amplifying your average consumer.
Likewise, I believe that gamification will force better design on archaic enterprise systems and help create better collaboration tools. Companies won’t be able to slap badges onto their crappytime entrysoftware and expect better results. You won’t be able to add points and a leaderboard to your competition and expect more participants, if your product sucks and/or your targeting the wrong audience. Yes Foursquare heavily uses gamification, but they have a great mobile experience.
In order to fully realize the potential of gamification companies are going to have to first accept that their internal tools have to be as well designed and usable as the well designed Web tools and apps customers are flocking to.
- Some wild speculation about UX in 2012 #Gamification (wall-notes.com)
- Foursquare: Today’s best-executing startup (wall-notes.com)
- MTV EMA 2011 ratings reached new high, fuelled by multi-screen strategy (wall-notes.com)
- Gamification from a Company of Pro Gamers – Lithosphere Community (lithosphere.lithium.com)
- ‘Gamification’ engages otherwise uninterested customers (vator.tv)