To Gamify or Not to Gamify

To Gamify or Not to Gamify

That is the question.

Gamification is a hot topic nowadays.  In conversation I’m seeing people reaching blindly towards gamification the same way they stumbled towards social media five years ago.  To many, gamification is something that they’ve heard about people doing successfully and so they want it.

Pint the Tail on the DonkeyThe surge in interest in games reminds me of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  A little silly to watch, but everyone genuinely wants to succeed.  The other interesting dynamic is that I’m not sure anyone can see the donkey yet.  While we are working closer and closer to understanding how to do this, it seems to be a field that includes elements connecting game designers, educators, and marketing professionals and thus one which our incongruous education system of silo-ed study has not created an environment conducive to cross disciplinary understanding and action.  Some might disagree on this point, but I’d point out that in order to design effective games you need to understand systems theory, game design, psychology, math, sociology, etc.

But back to the topic at hand.  In the past years candy, and other ‘junk food’ companies offered games to their consumers on their websites.  I expect that they were seeking to get traffic to their websites.  The games that I’ve seen often have little to do with the brand, but there in the background was the logo.  M&M’s does this with a shuffleboard game, for example.  The point is obviously engagement since you don’t need to play a game to open a bag of M&M’s.  Connecting your product to an enjoyable experience is a good idea and one that came naturally and early to that sector.

That leads us to the present and the question not of whether or not to gamify your content and message, but how.  The how is an excellent question, and one that depends on who you are engaging.  Unlike with social media where early adopters saw dramatic leaps in engagement until the noise of everyone clamoring onto the wagon brought it to a standstill, with games there’s more to developing a fun experience than putting up a social media page.  Another difference is that the social media takes a lot of continuous dedication while a game takes more initial input of thought and time but then can mostly run itself.

But, what makes something a game?

That’s like asking what makes something art? Fun is subjective and what one person laughs at and enjoys another walks away from bored.  This is where I see the trouble with the current understanding of gamification.  Too often I’m hearing gamification described as adding levels and points to basic website action.  For example, X wants people to share videos on their site so they are thinking about give individuals points for every share.  First, I’m sure that there are people out there who need levels and point in order to engage, but I’m not one of them.   I just don’t find that to be a fun experience, or one that can hold my attention. Second, and possibly most importantly, there’s more to games than that.  If all you had to do to solve all your marketing needs was add levels and points to action taken then the market would quickly end up in the mess that social media has already put it in – one in which you ended up with less of a voice than you had to begin with.  On top of that, there is a loss of outreach with the sector of your market that does not engage with that type of game.

But back to what makes it a game.  This connects to the purpose of gamification – to make something fun and engaging in a way that people want to come back and interact with it.  Elements of this can be creating community, making fun interactions, competition, cooperation, basically it involves making a game and designing an experience.

Gamification is really about what kind of experience are you seeking to create.  Success is your organization’s outreach, technical, and leadership department all collaborating on the vision.  Please for the sake of your brand, ask for help and be open enough to understand that what is going to make your product, service, or ideas fun may not include points, or levels.  Given freedom and creative space the resulting ideas could garner the type of interaction that you are looking for; deeply engaged, evangelical supporters.

But back to the initial question: To Gamify or Not to Gamify?
Perhaps you now have an inkling of an answer of whether it would work for your organization.  If you don’t, feel free to be in touch if you’d like to discuss this more.  I’m always happy to play.

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