The legacy of Gamification we want to forget

When those that care talk about gamification, we speak of engagement through play, games, well designed activity loops, game mechanics and elements, narratives and more.

However, even though we’ve been banging that drum for over a decade, it’s still thought of as nothing more than points, badges and leaderboards being used to bribe people into activity.

When you look back at the history of gamification, should we really expect anything else?

Pre 2010, gamification was used by few people. Nick Pelling is often cited as being the first person to officially use the word in writing way back in 2002, using it to describe the process of making non game based interfaces more like games. But if you speak with game designers, such as Richard Bartle, they will tell you the word in some form was used long before that, to literally mean making games out of experiences that were not games previously.

However, it wasn’t until 2010 that the world really came into the collective consciousness of the world, when companies like Badgeville and Bunchball started to describe their engagement platforms as gamified. They offered SAAS platforms that could be layered on top of existing software and experiences to add the unholy trinity of Points, Badges and Leaderboards.

These voices were loud and proud and, a key point, wanting to make a lot of money very quickly. These platforms were quick and easy to implement, had impressive stats and looked pretty. People could get points for doing mundane tasks and would all enjoy it as they completed to be the top point earner in the company etc etc etc.

They did some cool things, but ultimately they muddied the water for those that came after, those that wanted to speak of gamification in terms of play, behavioural psychology, long term engagement and more. The world had been programmed to associate gamification with mindless point collecting, short term bursts of activity and ultimately – disinterest and disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, for a while there we all spoke like that, but many of us quickly learned we were wrong and changed. We went deeper into game design and understanding motivation. We tried hard to shift the focus.

I am still constantly frustrated by how deeply this legacy has damaged what could be such a great idea. Every time I hear a well known game designer talk down about gamification whilst describing the most trivial of point collecting experiences a piece of me dies inside. For years I have asked the games industry for help improving our understanding and ability to create great things and for years the majority has continued to look at us with disdain. Ian Bogost once described my request to be part of the solution rather than a critic of the problem as “a gentle form of terrorism”.

So, once again I send a plea out to all. If you are not going to be part of the solution and try to do great things with gamification, don’t be a critic of its legacy and make our lives harder!

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2 thoughts on “The legacy of Gamification we want to forget”

  1. Hello Andrzej,
    I’m a big fan of your Hexaed Player Types! 🙂
    I understand your plea but I believe great projects speak louder than any plea. I’m involved in some very cool projects where gamification is the core of the experience. The more projects like that we have, the more respect we’ll earn in the industry as something more than points, badges and leaderboards.


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