In the May 17, 2012 issue of iMedia Connection Chloe Della Costa wrote an interesting piece called 7 Potential Pitfalls of Gamification. The adjective “potential” softens the critique somewhat, but the article has received a lot of attention in the gamification community and I’d like to respond to each “pitfall” in turn.
1. The motivations might be superficial
Of course motivational tools might be superficial. They might not work, they might even backfire. But there are many instances where superficial motivational tools are highly effective such in recreational sports, so that in itself should not be a criticism. There are also many gamification applications where customers are already motivated and don’t need rewards, such as giving to charity or complimenting a helpful employee. In those cases gamified UX is more important than motivational tools.
2. You’re rewarding them too soon
The author argues for awards that build over time to encourage long-term commitment, and there’s certainly a place for that. But there’s also a place for rapid rewards for a generation raised on first-person shooters and short games like Tetris and Angry Birds. In fact the trend in gaming is for mobile games or mini-games that can be played while standing in line or waiting for the bus. Two of my favorites at the moment are Where’s My Water by Disney and Coin Catcher by PlayMoolah. If games can succeed with rapid rewards, why not gamification?
3. You aren’t providing a true game
This is, prima facie, an unfair criticism. If it were a true game it would be called a game and not gamification.
4. It feels like bribery
Earlier the author criticized gamification for providing meaningless rather than real rewards. But bribery denotes a desired reward. She states, “…gamification always has an agenda, which makes it difficult for users to want in.”
This simply isn’t true. The first part, about having an agenda, is true. But you could say that of anything. She certainly had an agenda in writing her article, but so what? As for that fact deterring users, I think like many critics she’s failing to distinguish good gamification from bad. Users aren’t going to want in to a poorly gamified customer service portal. But they aren’t going to want it to a poorly written article either. It’s unfair to take the worst examples of gamification and apply them to the entire industry.
5. They are finding ways to cheat
Cheating is not unique to gamification and I haven’t seen any data that show cheating is easier or more prevalent in gamified systems than elsewhere. For instance, in university exams or taxes.
6. Social elements are forced
Again, this is hardly unique to gamification. Most social elements are forced. Match.com, family reunions, bowling leagues. A least with digital gamification we can log-out.
7. It’s treated like an easy fix
I agree with her final point because I believe good gamification is hard and will not always be successful, just as all games are not successful. In fact most aren’t. Maybe her critique should be about marketing departments, and I can think of more than seven pitfalls there.
This post was contributed by Mark Schreiber, guest writer
Mark Schreiber is a full time novelist since graduating high school at the age of 15. He also engineered his sister’s bestselling writing career and started and run several businesses, including a solo medical practice. He’s currently interested in technological entrepreneurship in Singapore and Silicon Valley.