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Gamification Done Well

Hey friends! It’s been a long time since I’ve rapped at ya, but today I thought I’d revisit the wild, wild world of gamification. I mentioned in my previous blogoblag about gamification that it was a thing that isn’t hard to do badly. But I didn’t really get into much detail.

Behold, gentle readers: this post contains that very detail that the prior post lacked!

Bad Gamification Rule #1: The extrinsic undermines the intrinsic.

I’ve mentioned it here before: people do what they want. Game design, as a discipline, can be oversimplified as designing systems to persuade people to want to do something. But when you specifically tie a reward to taking an action, it automatically places a cloud of suspicion around that action- the suggestion of “perhaps this thing is only worth doing because of the reward.”

For example, let’s say I paid you twenty dollars every evening to eat a bowl of ice cream. Pretty nice, eh? But I bet a week in, there’s going to be an evening where you don’t FEEL like eating some ice cream because you had some at lunch but you eat it anyway. Grudgingly.

Fast forward two months later, where I announce that you are now only going to get five dollars per bowl of ice cream. You. Are. Pissed!

The reward has turned something you found intrinsically worth doing (ice cream), into a task. And an adjustment to the reward turns a task you perform into a task you resent.

Now imagine this was not money for ice cream, but smile-bucks for good dental hygiene. These smile-bucks are a super-fun digital currency, and can be used to acquire different dental avatars for use in our hygiene discussion forums, and all you have to do is film and post yourself brushing your teeth!

I can hear your eyes narrowing from here.

Bad Gamification Rule #2: Gameplay is not a good reward. Good gameplay is rewarding.

I think one of the common ideas for gamification is “let’s give players some currency that they can spend on their avatar or spaceship upgrades, to let them play a game.”

The problem here is not only have you smacked your forehead directly into rule #1 above, but you’re also establishing the premise that “this game is fun, and worth putting non-fun effort into.” But that means your game is now competing with Other Games For Fun. Games that they can play without logging their laundry usage patterns or how many times they gave a high quality hug that day. Games that have swords, explosions, great dialogue…whatever it is that players find super intrinsically engaging.

So don’t spend your time figuring out a system of bribes that feed into a game in a non-optimal way- all you’re doing is crafting a game that is, by design, inferior to other games. Spend your time instead figuring out how to make the game itself rewarding, and tied to your learning objectives in a meaningful way.

Bad Gamification Rule #3: If You Build It, That Doesn’t Mean They Will Come.

Possibly slightly external thinking to gamification, but I still think a dangerous assumption worth talking about. Gamification is not marketing, advertising, community building or outreach. Just because you’ve crafted a set of badges, points, updoots or what have you, that doesn’t mean you will instantly generate a community to use those tools. You still need to do all the hard, serious work that goes into finding, building and maintaining a community if you want those badges, points and updoots to mean anything at all.

So hopefully that helps a bit if you’re considering some gamification strategies for your own positive impact project. If you think this was helpful, go ahead and award yourself one Fila-point, and drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter.


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