The Truth About Gamification: The Ugly, the Bad and the Good
Gamification is a little over 10 years old now, but has much really changed since its wild days of infancy?
I remember when I first started getting involved in 2011, it was a time of excitement, learning and playing. There were meetups, webinars, conferences, knowledge sharing and all sorts going in. It was liberal, free and fun!
But, as with all these things, over time that changed. Empires were built and lost, big corporates started to take ownership of ideas, the sharing and excitement gave way to to proprietary information and closely guarded secrets.
Some tried to continue to carry the torch, and still do, but many fell to the side – either jumping to the next exciting technology in the hype cycle, or moving on to other interests naturally.
But, in 2021, what is the real truth of gamification now? Well, let’s see if I can’t get some discussion going by offering a few of my truths!
The worst thing about gamification in 2021, is that people still don’t understand what it actually is. With many experts (holding my hands up here) disagreeing amongst themselves what it should be – so of course the wider public have no idea!
Hot on the heals of that, is the number of people still selling “quick win” solutions and “magic bullets” off the back of the word gamification. Promising to solve any and all problems a client may have with a simple plugin offering points and badges. This dovetails with the lack of understanding people still have, as it makes them easy targets which many are happy to take advantage of. “Oh isn’t it shiny and it’s a bit like a game, so people will love it!” “Follow the shiny shiny”
Even amongst those that do get gamification, there is still an awful lot of bad proactive and overpromising being done. The amount of time I see statistics used to demonstrate “400% increases in engagement” with no information on how many people that might include is astonishing. More often than not, when you scratch the surface you discover that what that really meant was when they had no users engaged, they now had 4 engaged!
Another issue is that there is still so little hard evidence of what works and what doesn’t work. We all still work off case studies from 2013 with very few new public case studies getting quoted in presentations. I watch presentations now that are using the same information, same data, same key messages that we were using back in 2011 from up and coming experts in the field. What’s worse is, there is plenty of data if you are willing to look for it.
Which brings us to
Whilst there may not be much data on what does and doesn’t work from a mechanics and implementation perspective, there is plenty of data that proves gamification and serious games work in everything from employee engagement to healthcare and beyond. Just spend 5 minutes on Research Gate and you will find hundreds of great research papers saying just that. Validated tools, frameworks, research projects, methodologies, case studies and more are all there for the finding.
Gamification is being used for great purposes. My proudest moment in recent years was seeing some of my work being used in a paper titled “Gamification Design Elements to Enhance Adolescent Motivation in Diagnosing Depression”. Seeing my work being used to help with such serious topics, rather than just to make companies more money, made me smile for days!
Gamification is still here, this is good, it means that it is still in with a chance of maturing, with the pretenders and gold rushers dropping off and the real experts still slogging away. It is likely to evolve and to morph, probably into an arm of User Experience Design, but it is still here.
This may seem like a bit of a downer, but it is anything but that! This is my mental reset button, laying waste to the crap that is out there whilst laying foundations of hope for the future, like a Room 101 for gamification.
So with that in mind – what would you throw in my Room 101 of Gamification and what would you want to promote to those up and coming into our world?
Also published on Medium.