Anyone who has read a few of my blogs will, by now, be under the impression that I am not the biggest fan of rewards. Well, that is not entirely how I feel. Those that have read earlier blogs may remember something I said – “Rewards should recognise achievement, not be the achievement”. I also found myself saying in an email “Gamification at the moment is often nothing more than an attempt to illicit Pavlovian responses to external stimuli”. I know, how up myself does that sound – but it’s true. The way many people are using rewards are as a way to encourage people to do things – like giving a dog a biscuit for rolling over on command
When I was a kid a school (long before Harry Potter had been thought of – and gamification for that matter…), teaching methods generally sucked. A teach stood at the front of the class, dictated out ancient notes and you had to write them down in your exercise book. If you didn’t pay attention or did something the teacher did not like, you got a board rubber thrown at your head. There was no intrinsic enjoyment to be had from the learning process; it was all drained by the way we were taught. This was not unique to my school years; it had been this way for decades.
I have written about this whole thing quite a lot already, but I have some new insights based on things I have witnessed recently.
We know that extrinsic rewards are meant to demotivate people when doing anything that is even slightly creative. So why do we keep seeing them being used in gamification and marketing. On the face of it, that kind of thing works well. Offer a reward and ask people to do something simple. Like this, follow that, +1 the other and you can win a book. Low and behold you can get hundreds or thousands of these clicks – great. The question is, how many of these are valuable? What is the goal? If you are trying to develop new and worthwhile interactions and relationships. Does the same person liking everything you have ever written, just to win the prize, have any actual value long term?
Another quick one, prompted by an interesting behaviour exhibited by my daughter today that taught me rather a lot about extrinsic rewards.
I have mentioned before the research that has been done on motivation in the past by the likes of Edward Deci and the writing of Dan Pink and more. All of them point to the same thing, extrinsic rewards are bad for intrinsic motivation. The basic reasoning is that at some point, no matter how careful you are, the reward will become the reason to do the task. The extrinsic reward replaces the original intrinsic motivation.
Let me expand on this.
A discussion started on twitter when I mentioned in passing to a couple of gamification people, that really gamification is often a benign form of manipulation. It became an interesting chat, fast. I suppose I expected that! However, when you look at the definition of manipulation in the Oxford English Dictionary you get these two definitions
- handle or control (a tool, mechanism, information, etc.) in a skilful manner
- control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously
Of course, we take notice of the second normally – focusing on the more negative connotations, but it is the first that I am interested in. As gamification people, we understand behaviour and how to use game mechanics and the like to influence this behaviour. We use this information to set up systems that promote certain actions. Sometimes this is for the benefit of the end user, other times it may be for the interest of the company (or brand or whatever). Either way, it is done in a way that is meant to engage the end user (god forbid let them have a little fun as well).