Why does Gamification Fail?

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A question I get asked a lot is, “Why does gamification fail?”. Gartner said that by 2014, 80% of gamified systems will fail due to poor design. My question is, what is poor design? I had thought that it was really just implementing “thin layer” points, badges and leader boards to a system that was already not working. Whilst that is true, it actually misses out on some important extra factors.

So, with that in mind, here are some reasons that I feel will contribute to gamification not working.

Sticking Plasters

Of course I have to start with thin layer gamification. I’ve said it many times, you can’t polish a turd. If you stick a thin layer of gamification on a broken system, it will have no long term effect. If your expenses system is so hard to use that people are often late, or don’t bother using it – consider why before you consider gamification. Is it because you need 40 video tutorials to understand how it works? If that is the case, the system probably needs to be simplified. If that is not possible, how about gamifiying the tutorials, so at least people watch them and know how to use the system!

Bad Game, Bad Game

Another big reason gamification doesn’t work, no matter how well thought out the technicalities of it are, is that it just isn’t engaging. I’m not a rocket scientist. I can read up on the subject and understand the principles, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to try and build a space rocket in my back garden. That being the case, why are so many non game designers trying to build games? Often the things being built that in the designers own words are “meant to be fun”, just aren’t It is hard to make a good game, it is also hard to take game elements and make an engaging experience.

No Rules

Sometimes it can all go wrong because you don’t set the boundaries clearly enough. If there is a way to cheat in a system, someone will find it. You either have to include that “emergent” game play into your system – or you have to make sure that it is not possible. Clearly define the rules up front and if possible enforce them automatically so that there can be no question in peoples mind of what the rules are!

The Wrong Type of Gamification

If you design a system that really encourages a structured learning process, where people have to achieve certain levels of expertise before moving on, then achievers will love it (using my user types), but other users such as free spirits and philanthropists will be far less interested. You have to cover more bases than that, unless you are trying to get only one type of user to use the system. If it is a learning system, allow the philanthropists to answer peoples questions, give the socialisers a way to communicate. Let the free spirits create their own modules and explore the content in their own way. Finally, let the players (remembering that players are a group of users in their own right in my user types) earn points and badges.

The Wrong Type of User

The final one I want to look at is the actual user. You may have a wonderful system that is designed to cover every user type there is. You may have perfectly balanced your user journey and your reward systems with intrinsic motivation. So why is it not working? Possibly because you are trying to gamify someone who just isn’t interested? You have to consider the people involved. Are they disengaged because there is a bit of their role that is not very interesting. For instance, do they not bother to enter sales calls, even though the system is easy to use? Then maybe you can gamify that. However, what if there is a person who just isn’t into sales. What if they are the wrong person in the wrong job? Gamification is never going to engage them in a role they just plain don’t like. It could actually make it worse. But, game thinking still has the answer. Allow them to evolve beyond their current role. A boss rules people, a leader encourages and nurtures them. They are not afraid to help people achieve everything they can. Gamification may not be the way, but a simple understanding of what makes people tick can.

Contrary to popular belief, gamification and game thinking is not bullshit. Sadly, many of the implementations we have seen and some of the people who are talking about it, do have the faint odour of manure about them.

Gamification is not always the answer. Sometimes it is much easier than that. Look really hard at why you want to gamify something in the first place. You may be able to solve your engagement problem far more quickly and cost effectively if you just improve the foundations of what you are building first. You have to have good foundations and a solid structure before you start painting the walls.

 


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19 Responses

  1. Jone Aliri Lazcano Jone Aliri Lazcano says:

    Very interesting post!!

    The point in my case is “why is it not working? Possibly because you are trying to gamify someone who just isn’t interested” I want to apply gamification in a course, and I’m afraid some of my students will not be interested… anyway I will try to engage them someway.

  2. yudashkai yudashkai says:

    Haha, why would you give Mr Bogost a link for his stunt-driven post? 🙂

  3. Nicole I Rivers Nicole I. Rivers says:

    This has been a great read! We happen to write a blog about Gamification too that might be of interest to your readers as well. It’s right here. 🙂

  4. Jesse Lahey Jesse Lahey says:

    Thoughtful post on a problem that many people oversimplify. I had never heard of the British term “Sticking Plaster,” but it was fun to see that you use the metaphor to describe the same phenomenon as the US practice of “putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”

  5. Nils Davis Nils Davis says:

    Great article, and those of us trying to gamify enterprise apps have to consider all of these. But I’d also say that, given the Pareto Principle, part of the reason 80% of gamification efforts fail is that 80% of everything fails. Think of how many *actual* games fail to be fun or successful or engaging! It’s darn hard to make a fun experience, whether it’s a gamification effort or just a game.

    And I really agree with your final point about the user – I think the users of our enterprise apps need to have intrinsic motivation to use them, *before* gamification, if the apps are going to be successful. Gamification can make the experience better or more engaging or easier or less error prone or more creative, but we really shouldn’t expect it to do much for motivation, for all the familiar reasons.

  6. Victor Manrique Victor Manrique says:

    Content is king! Also in games! ; )

    Totally agree about the bad games are just bad games, that´s probably one of the most important insights, wrong value proposition, not that much gamification can do

    Can´t wait for your GWC talk! 😀

  7. yudashkai yudashkai says:

    Great post. Thanks for the share! Learning a lot from you 😉

  8. Suso Mart nez Suso Martínez says:

    I agree with your point “Bad game, bad game”, but how can someone become a (good) game designer? And do you think it could happen the other way around? Maybe it is also possible to start learning about gamification, become a “gamification designer” and from there lead towards game design.

    Sometimes it looks easier to design a simple gamified system than to design a real game. But maybe it is actually more difficult as you have to use the same elements and mechanics but in a non-familiar context. I would like to know your opinion about it.

    • Oo, tough. They are very different things – generally. Putting bits of games together doesn’t make a game. Like having all the bits of a car in a room, it isn’t a car.

      I think you can definitely be both, but not sure it is all that easy to go from gamification designer to game designer. It certainly can go the other way though!

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Andrzej Marczewski
About Andrzej Marczewski twitter facebook    
Gamification Solution Consultant at G2G3. Gamification thought leader and evangelist, I love to write about it, talk about it and bore people to death with it! If you really want to get to know me, check out the About page.

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