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Every year, digital marketers are delivered a fresh collection of new buzzwords, and one of the hottest in recent memory is 'gamification.'

Gamification, defined simply, is the addition of 'game mechanics' to a service. The rationale behind gamification is equally simple: by adding gaming components to a service, its operator can make the service as addictive as, say, Farmville.

But is gamification little more than a steaming pile of you-know-what?

According to Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech professor who focuses on video games and who founded a video game studio, the answer is 'yes.' In a blunt blog post, Bogost writes:

...gamification is marketing bullsh!*t, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullsh!*t already reigns anyway.

He goes on:

Gamification is reassuring. It gives Vice Presidents and Brand Managers comfort: they're doing everything right, and they can do even better by adding "a games strategy" to their existing products, slathering on "gaminess" like aioli on ciabatta at the consultant's indulgent sales lunch.

Bogost's conclusion:

I've suggested the term "exploitationware" as a more accurate name for gamification's true purpose, for those of us still interested in truth. Exploitationware captures gamifiers' real intentions: a grifter's game, pursued to capitalize on a cultural moment, through services about which they have questionable expertise, to bring about results meant to last only long enough to pad their bank accounts before the next bullsh!*t trend comes along.

In my opinion, something rings true in Bogost's no holds barred critique of gamification. There is a lot of hype and fluff around 'gamification.' As we saw with social media, which has created the social media guru, gamification is a juicy buzzword for those interested in cashing in on the latest hot trend before others can easily discern that they don't know what they're talking about.

But writing 'gamification' (the buzzword) off doesn't mean that businesses shouldn't reflect on the central notion behind it: that services can become more engaging and enjoyable to use. If you're hoping your SaaS platform is going to become the enterprise equivalent of Mafia Wars, you're probably going to be disappointed. But that doesn't mean that there aren't ways to make the use of a SaaS platform more pleasurable.

That may not entail trying to slap a points system and badges on a service for which points and badges are inappropriate, but it's hard to argue that companies shouldn't consider ways they can incentivize their users and lead them down paths that can promote greater, more productive use of the their services.

From this perspective, the more sophisticated approach to 'gamification' is to consider that gamification really isn't just about game mechanics but rather user experience. The former can be a part of a great user experience, in some circumstances, but it hardly constitutes the only toolkit for making sure your service is not the modern-day equivalent of MS-DOS.

There are plenty of ways to do that, and the sooner businesses shift their focus from semantics to substance, the better off they'll be.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 August, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Michael

If you increase the number of links or conversions or whatever the objective is via gamification of a widget, survey etc then i dont see how its BS. Sorry disagree

about 5 years ago

Chris Clapham

Chris Clapham, Account Director EMEA at Silverpop, an IBM Company

Interesting post. I'd agree that Gamification is in danger of becoming a hyped marketing buzzword, but more because people are yet to embrace of fully understand the potential impact of game mechanics within business. It's definitely not something to be taken lightly and certainly can have a place in business/marketing in my opinion.

I also agree that gamification has a direct impact on user experience, but the reality is that game mechanics (beyond just badges and points) can massively impact on the success of a business application.

A couple of things worth reading around the subject, that I've found useful in the past are:

> Econsultancy's recent gamification innovation briefing slides: http://econsultancy.com/uk/reports/social-gaming-and-gamification-innovation-briefing

> Overview of different game mechanics shared by SCVNGR http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/25/scvngr-game-mechanics/

about 5 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Gamification, done right, will increase a user's level of interaction with a brand and/or marketing campaign. The user data speaks for itself. It's not BS until it's used in the wrong way or misunderstood.

Even in gaming itself it's being over-used with every bloody game now having some kind of rank progression, collecting meta-game and unlockable content. It's getting used lazily and is making games less fun and more like a chore.

There's already signs of over use in marketing - badges for reading Google News articles!?

about 5 years ago

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Andy Hewitt

‘Gamification’ is one of those buzz-terms being bandied around by marketers, keen to jump onto the latest digital bandwagon. Today, it seems that customer engagement is all about gold stars and virtual badges.

But without the journey, these rewards are worthless – like winning a football trophy without playing a game. Without the satisfaction of taking part and progressing, gamification is worthless. So many misunderstand this and that is why gamification is so often done badly.

about 5 years ago

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Adam Purkiss

Ironically, when heated remarks denouncing the very existence of new trends as nothing more than marketing hype arise, often real change is already happening:

Web 2.0, Cloud Computing, Social, ..., Gamification

Sure, there's plenty of snake oil sprinkled in all of these, at varying levels depending on where you're looking. But "gamification" is nothing new at all and has been effective for centuries in one form or another. We're just forming a relatively new classification describing related techniques and leveraging the latest tools to employ them, imho.

almost 5 years ago

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