Gamification without Exploitation?

Nicholas Lovell has written a well informed and balanced piece on the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Europe blog covering the Digital Shoreditch Gamification Day.

But what is gamification? At the Digital Shoreditch Gamification Day today, the audience seemed to be confused about the distinction between making games, gamification and transmedia.

At this gamification conference, the room is divided by a total lack of a common language. For some, gamification is making an iPhone app that entertains, like Barclaycards Waterslide Extreme. (I would call that making an “adver-game”). For others, it is about brand extension (taking Coronation Street onto Facebook, for example). For yet another group, it’s about adding points and levels and badges to a website. To my mind, the latter is a basic example of gamification, but even then, not everyone would agree with me.

My definition of gamification is “using game-like mechanics to improve a business process, or customer experience, or profits”. You could add “to change behaviors or outcomes” to that list.

It is fundamentally different from the art and craft of making a game. Games are about fun, and finding fun is hard. It combines effort with serendipity, technical knowledge with whimsical experimentation, art style with core game mechanics.

Nicholas goes on to flesh out his deinition of gamification and highlights some important differences between games development and gamification.

It seems to me the majority of gamification detractors are people who fail to understand the distinction. Ian Bogost, Assistant Professor of Literature Communication and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology is not one of them. Ian demonstrates both a thorough understanding and a well reasoned dislike of gamification, in his recent article Persuasive Games: Exploitationware on the Gamasutra website.

For gamification detractors, the best move is to distance games from the concept entirely, by showing its connection to the more insidious activities that really comprise it.

In particular, gamification proposes to replace real incentives with fictional ones. Real incentives come at a cost but provide value for both parties based on a relationship of trust. By contrast, pretend incentives reduce or eliminate costs, but in so doing they strip away both value and trust.

When companies and organizations provide incentives to help orient the goals of the organization against the desires of its constituency, they facilitate functional relationships, one in which both parties have come to an understanding about how they will relate to one another. Subsequent loyalty might exist between an organization and its customers, an organization and its employees, or a government and its citizens.

Ian’s article stands as a warning to all that gamification has to be approached with care and consultation; attempting to add game dynamics where it is not beneficial or even implementing ill-conceived and badly thought out gamified campaigns does not now and can never work. Gamification can only work where game mechanics and dynamics are used solely in support of the customers personal goals.

In the very first post on this website, Corporate ICU, I talked about the changing face of the corporate world

We firmly believe the hierarchical nature of business in the 20th century and the structures this created will become relics of the old empire. The historical leaders are already losing ground and are ultimately at risk of extinction. The new breed of organisations taking their place are fundamentally more transparent and more agile. They create inclusive ecosystems founded on trust enabling them to transparently engage  with their customers. This engagement creates an environment which encourages collaborative innovation and through innovating in conjunction with their clients they are able to be dynamic and extremely agile without a high level of risk.

This “new breed of organisation”, companies socially connected and integrated at all levels provides the perfect environment for gamification without exploitation.

I am interested to see your comments. Do you think gamification is exploitation? Or are you more inclined to think that gamification is an effective way to elicit engagement, but should be used cautiously, carefully and only ever in support of a customers own goals?

On a final note, in my opinion, if a business is trying to exploit their customers then surely their efforts would be better used keeping an eye out for the next innovative start-up hungrily eyeing them as low hanging fruit.

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