Sunday 7 November 2010

What is gamification?

With the risk of sounding like a broken record - do I write another blog post about gamification.

Well in the last 6 months alone there has been an almost 300% increase in the number of blogs written about gamification and when you look at the twitter stats around the term gamification it's clear that the last 6 months have seen a significant uplift in chatter.

There was also a buzz around gamification at the Virtual Goods Summit and now it has it's own conference coming up, the Gamficiation Summit. The summit will feature authors such as Gabe Zicherman who co-authored the book Game-Based Marketing, released earlier this year that looks at how gaming mechanics can be applied within marketing programmes.

So far be it from me to buck a trend - this is obviously a topic which is both increasing in interest and dividing opinion.

People can't seem to talk about gamification without somehow linking in virtual gaming platforms like World of Warcraft or explicit real world gaming platforms like SCVNGR.

For me though this confuses the whole topic.

Gamification is not the linking of marketing efforts into games. It is not the evolution of marketing programmes into games. Instead it is the inclusion of gaming recognition mechanics into marketing programmes.

This is a subtle difference but it doesn't stop it from courting controversy.

Arguing that the term gamification is wrong, game designer Margaret Robertson from game design studio Hide&Seek says adeptly in her blog post

"Points and badges have no closer a relationship to games than they do to websites and fitness apps and loyalty cards. They’re great tools for communicating progress and acknowledging effort, but neither points nor badges in any way constitute a game".

Going on to say 

"games set their players goals and then make attaining those goals interestingly hard", contrasting this with loyalty programmes such as My Coke Rewards where she says "collecting enough My Coke Rewards for a Coca-Cola Telenovela Club Beauty Rest Eye Relaxation Mask is hard, but it isn’t interestingly hard."

This is very true. A loyalty programme such as a frequently flyer programme is not a game in the true sense. It does not have what Margaret describes as the "rich cognitive, emotional and social drivers".

However, whilst there are obviously people who love playing games for the games themselves and are drawn into the virtual worlds they create, if you took out the "points and badges" from these games so that there was no progress indicated, no achievements collected, no way to measure your performance against previous plays or your peers, you can bet the game play wouldn't last long.

These "great tools for communicating progress and acknowledging effort" do more than just communicate it - they positively encourage and motivate it.

It's these recognition and motivation mechanics that gamification is trying borrow and develop and not the ability to replicate the actual game play such as being able to "dump my sniper rifle for an energy sword"

The collection of points for rewards isn't gamification - it's simply one behaviour which is being encouraged and recognised. Instead, gamification is how this behaviour is integrated with other interactions, how these are orchestrated together and how overall goals are set, progress measured and achievement recognised.

It is possible to make attaining goals "interestingly hard" within the context of a marketing programme, and it doesn't need a virtual world or special powers to acheive it. Instead it simply needs to be interactive, responsive, timely and relevant to the participant.

Caution is still required here though. Just as I'd argue that a loyalty programme is not simply the provision of points for transactions which can be exchanged for rewards; gamification of a marketing programme is also not simply the awarding of badges and achievements for given behaviours.

Instead, the overall customer journey needs to be taken into account including how it is presented, communicated and shared. Awarding points or badges is the easy bit - making people actually want them, that takes great programme design.

As Margaret said, games should "make attaining those goals interestingly hard", and whilst the game play might be different, the sentiment should be the same.

Maybe there isn't so much difference between designing games and marketing programmes after all.


Anonymous said...

htttp:// contais a great list of open-source game mechanics and public information about gamification.

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