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Why The Gamification Of Everything Is A Bad Thing

“Gameification” is a hot topic right now. From business to health care to life itself, the idea of using the techniques of game design (especially meta game design) to get consumers more interested in non-game products and services has taken on a life of its own.


Image source: Gameify

It’s easy to see why. Good games are highly engaging, with the potential of helping you connect with players in meaningful and lucrative ways.

But the gamification of everything is a bad thing.

Let’s be honest

Some people in the gaming community have dismissed certain kinds of popular games (particularly the Facebook games popularized by Zynga) as Skinner boxes that are essentially playing the consumer rather than the consumer playing a fun game.

I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with that sentiment. I mean, one could argue that pretty much every game employs rewards for repeating certain actions or engaging in certain activities.

However, in the conversations around “gameification”, you could substitute the word “reward” with “trick” and get a much truer sense of what’s really grabbed hold of every marketer’s attention.

When people are talking about making their product or service into a game, or more game-like, they’re usually not really talking about making their product or service into a game or even more game-like.

The statement they’re really making is, “I want to crassly exploit human psychology for profit! What’s the best way to do that?” The answer right now is, “Games!” Which, as one of my friends recently put it, cheapens the idea of what a game is much like reality TV can water down our understanding of what a real TV drama is supposed to be.

I’ll argue that gameification, done poorly, diminishes your product, too.

Where’s the value?

Daily Burn is a good example of modern gameification done right: They use game mechanics and social networking to help motivate people to lose weight. Mint.com is another company often cited as using game mechanics to help people manage their personal finances.

However games and meta games are not a cure-all, and not all game mechanics are appropriate to every situation. For example, even programs designed to reduce health care costs by paying sick people to take their medication can’t always convince sick people to take their medication.

Games are more than just a collection of points, leaderboards, and levels. If you’re just checking game functionality off a list, if all you’re implementing are rote concepts that don’t mesh well with your actual product or service, or deliver actual value, then you’re not doing yourself, your customers, or your business any favors.

If you’re considering implementing game mechanics in your non-game product or service, please take a moment to evaluate your reasons why.

Will the game mechanics you’re considering bring more value to users of your product? If so, great! Otherwise, hit “Restart Level” and try again.

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Bonus Content

For a usability-driven slant to this topic, please see Just add points? What UX designers can (and cannot) learn from games by Sebastian Deterding


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