Gamification in your business: don’t try and force things


The idea of using the human drive for amusement in something other than entertainment is not so new. As early as the 1980s, Thomas W. Malone of MIT published the classic work Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: Lessons from computer games, in which he sought answers to the questions of why computer games are so appealing, and how to use them to make other types of interfaces more attractive. Since then, issues such as pleasure, fun, and motivation have become important research topics in the field of user experience (UX).

Everything can be a game

Since at least 2012, the web industry has been enjoying a new slogan – gamification. Its premise is easy to explain: let’s use game design elements in non-game products and services to motivate users to behave in the way we want.

Gamification in the modern sense of this world has become possible due to the convergence of the three previously absent factors:

  1. the emergence of modern smartphones, enabling permanent interaction with users,
  2. the improvement of analytical mechanisms, now capable of effectively tracking individuals and their behaviors,
  3. the entry into the consumer market of a generation of so-called Millenials, who have been familiar with computer games and their poetics since their earliest years of life.

As a result, gamification became fashionable in the fields of education, e-commerce, healthcare, environmental protection, task and project management. In all these areas, scoring systems, badges and trophies, scoreboards and other forms of gamified competition have been introduced, sometimes by force. Usually, all that is interesting in games was forgotten. Too often it was assumed that it was enough to motivate people by giving them what was just the least important in games – as long as they would be rewarded with some form of virtual tokens.

However, such an approach can only work if it is combined with activities that are valuable in their own right. Examples include websites developed collaboratively through the wiki community, where the addition of gaming mechanisms can effectively support users’ drive for group identification, social recognition, and pride in their achievements. Issuing badges or trophies here is a confirmation of important activities, basically not different from e.g. scouting badges – because scouting itself is considered important by scouts.

Not everything should be a game

Meanwhile, in most cases, the issue of significance is absent from the advertised gamification mechanisms. In these games, an attempt is made to replace financial incentives with points hoping that the social status itself within players community can be a substitute for money. In this way, “game” itself within the gamified activity is transformed into a kind of Skinner’s cage, where the players’ reward system is controlled as if they were rats.

For this reason, most of the current gamification mechanisms are not able to realize the potential of this concept. The complexity of a well-designed game becomes reduced to its basic components. One could say that this forced gamification may not only be ignored but may even be detrimental to existing products or services. It can be boring for existing users or even frighten them off when they feel that boasting about points or levels is inappropriate in a given case.

A properly gamified product or service must take into account the social context, types of players’ psyche and the meaning of the game itself. In other words, it must include the game design and not just the game elements. So understood gamification becomes what it should be from the very beginning: a user-focused project of behavioral motivation.

This does not mean that gamification is supposed to ignore the business perspective. On the contrary, understanding your business goals is just as important to us as understanding the motives of the end user. However, we always explain to our clients that the system that is to be enhanced by playing must already have some value for the user, just as scouting even without badges has a value for scouts. If the online store does not have an interesting offer, attractive prices, and a user-friendly interface, then adding mechanisms borrowed from games will not help it. However, if the client’s system is already attractive in itself, then the gamification will quickly increase the users’ rate of engagement.

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