Sunday 6 January 2013

Games and Gamification

'Gamification will change the world as we know it'. Famous game designers, such as Jesse Schell, want to make us believe that in the next few decades, each and every part of our life will be 'gamified'. On paper this does sound good; who wouldn't like to get regular achievements for being a good human being (especially if others could see them in big bold letters on our Facebook page)? For many people working in big companies, gamification sounded like the answer to all their problems. After all, it could mean that they wouldn't have to spend billions on promotional or educational activities. While there is a lot of enthusiasm about gamification, there is still a lot of unclarity about what it is, and how it works. This time we'll be going a bit deeper into these two issues. 

Gamepocalypse Jesse Schell - Soon our entire life will be a game, let's hope that it won't be like The Game of Life.

Most game designers try to make their game as entertaining as possible; the more entertaining a game is, the better it will sell (this is not always the case, but that is a story for another day). This is different for gamification, as entertainment comes second. There is usually another goal that is more important, such as education, product advertisement, increasing customer loyalty and so on. Game designers see entertainment as a goal; gamification designers see entertainment as a means. 

So what's the big deal with all this entertainment stuff? The answer lies in the way people play video games: people don't play them because they need to, they don't play them because they have to, they play them because they want to. This type of motivation is called intrinsic motivation (want to), and is clearly different from its opposite, extrinsic motivation (need to / have to). If people were intrinsically motivated they would become more productive and satisfied, even if they had to do boring and repetitive tasks. 

KwizNET Time Tables - Most of us know how boring and repetitive certain subjects can be...

Operation Math Pocket - ... but by adding game-like elements, even those can be made fun.

So, how exactly does this gamification work? By giving users clear goals, by showing their progression and by giving praise when they've completed a goal, users can get a sense of achievement (you're halfway there; you've been doing so well this week). By challenging users to make a better effort than last week, by adding a sense of urgency, such as a time-limit, and by comparing their progress to others, users can get a sense of challenge (you're performing better than last time; you’re better than everybody else). By adding a narrative structure and by giving the user a special role within that narration, users can feel like they're part of an adventure, instead of doing the same old boring tasks (only you can do this; by completing these assignments, you will save the world). 

EA Active Sports 2 - While arguably still quite boring and repetitive, it is more interesting than going to the fitness school a few times a week. This is because it focuses on achievements; users are able to see the amount of calories they've burnt, how much lower their heart rate is this week, and how far they've gone through the training at any time.

Because the entire goal of gamification is to increase user motivation, there is little room for risks and challenge. In a video game, if you are unable to progress, you might be tempted to quit the game. If you are invested in this game, you will probably try again another day. However, with gamified products, this might not be the case. The user might stop, and never come back. This is why most gamified products spoon feed the user with rewards. In that sense, most casual games, such as those on Facebook, are generally quite gamified as well.

Farmville - Try as you will, there is little you can do wrong in Farmville... And if you do something wrong, you can likely purchase some kind of solution from the developers.

There is one big caveat to gamification. If the game-like elements and the goal of your game are not aligned, the game-like elements can distract from the message you’re trying to get across. This is what happens a lot with educational games; the users have a fun time going through the game, but at the end they don't know anything more about the subject matter. Just because it's entertaining, doesn't mean that it's more successful. 

Zombie Division - An educational game showing that by integrating the educational message into the core-game mechanics, students learn more than by putting the educational message between levels within the game. 

In two weeks I aim to post a longer blog post on the concept of ‘Challenge’, which I will send to the Critical Distance Blog of the Round Table. If you have any suggestions for a specific topic, or you have something to say about the gamification, let me know by posting a comment below!


  1. What do you actually think of the whole gamificating-the-world idea? Is it likely going to happen? Do some companies already do these kinds of things with their employees?

    Something I thought about whas that this entertainment-wise-learning is something of the last 10 years. The whole world is more about entertainment, even today's students and middle-school pupils are said to be less intrinsically motivated and that a lot of graduated students look for jobs that are more about fun and less about serious issues and making money.

    I can't say I feel much different, but I wonder how it became like that. Is it because of a growing welfare and more free time to spend? Or is it because we actually became more aware of the boring aspects of straight-structured learning and how it doesn't align with the many ways kids and people actually are able to learn (like visual thinkers, or with music or play). might make it more 'fun' but not necessarily a better way to learn, since it's still sort-of a generalistic approach.

  2. Thanks for your comment :)

    I think the emphasis on 'entertainment-wise-learning' has become an issue because there are more things to compete for people's attention. Now, students come home to a wealth of entertainment possibilities: tv shows, movies, video games, board games, and so on. This has led to a generation of kids that are quick to jump from one thing to the other (Generation X). They're used to more input than those that came before, and if things aren't interesting within a matter of seconds, they will move on to the next thing. This problem has only become worse because of the massive amounts of information and products that are currently available. There's so much to do, that it is becoming more difficult than ever to become bored. So, for big companies, it is a question of how they make their product stand out in the mass, for education it is a question of how they make their products interesting enough that the student doesn't easily move on to the next thing.

    With regards to the gamification of the world, I do feel that this is not going to happen soon. The issue with gamification is that it brings social consequences. You might enjoy that big achievement on your Facebook, saying that you've been a good human being, but others might not feel the same. They might feel jealous, and start lying, or trying to beat the system. This might cause people to become unhappy with the product, and that in turn might cause them to leave the product in search of another. There is a reason why there is a like button on Facebook, but not a dislike button. This ties into what I said in the blog post, as there is little room for risk and challenge in gamified products.

    And you're right. Fun might not necessarily cause people to learn better. However, I do believe that there are certain elements, relating to the integration of educational goals and the actions that the user can take, that will cause it to be both fun, and engaging! :)

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