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

16 thoughts on “Why The Gamification Of Everything Is A Bad Thing

  1. Chris,

    Good post. I’d love to see more of these kinds of insights derived from your involvement in the gaming space. Gaming is a very fundamental way of interacting and deriving pleasure and I think a lot can be learned about interaction design from gaming concepts. But, it must be done right. A gaming veneer, like a social veneer, applied to an application is likely to be a failure.

  2. Hi Saeed –

    Thanks. I agree with you — there are a lot of mechanics from games that could be useful in making a product feel more interactive and enjoyable. But it does need to be more than a surface characteristic. Otherwise, the experience falls flat (at best).


  3. Hi Rob –

    I liked your presentation. Using games to make people’s lives better sounds awesome to me 🙂


  4. Chris, I like your perspective on this and I agree that the gamification of everything is not answer to how to make every experience better. However, I do think the gamification of SOME things is a sign of progress. I work in the loyalty marketing space, a discipline that (some might say unwittingly) adopted a handful of game mechanics (points, tiers, rewards) decades ago. So essentially, loyalty programs are already gamified — its just that they are really lousy games. Fully embracing the notion that these programs could be much better games — more interactive, more social, more intrinsically rewarding — and using a broader set of game mechanics in more creative ways — is an idea which I believe has merit.

  5. Hi Barry –

    That sounds like the right approach. If someone just shotguns game mechanics at their product or service because that’s the “In” thing to do right now, it’s rushing toward failure. But if those mechanics are applied in a way that products or services are turned into meaningful, sustainable engagements between the consumer/player and the product/service/brand that’s where it gets interesting!

  6. Christopher,

    Great article. I agree with you fully that you can’t just throw game mechanics on everything without consideration of the overall user experience. We’ve started a wiki at http://gamification.org to open discussion around this topic and to enable collaboration on the topic.

  7. Hi Nathan –

    Thanks for the wiki reference. Looks like a great resource. Can’t wait to see how it develops.

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