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Misunderstanding Gamification

Last month, Brent Simmons wrote this on the gamification of software…

“Gamification” treats people like children — children who need to be manipulated, who need to be tricked into doing what’s good for them. And it makes bad software.

I think Brent’s perspective stems from a misunderstanding of what gamification actually is - both by Brent and by other software makers whose products he may have interacted with.

Gamification is an attempt to identify what makes games so fun and engaging to use, and apply some of those elements to other things. It’s a bit of an overhyped buzzword right now, and I generally dislike the term. But I don’t dislike the concept.

Some elements of games that clearly have a place in software applications include…

  • Difficulty of use that varies based on experience and previous success.
  • The inclusion of a progress bar so users can always tell where they are in the software.
  • Clear and immediate feedback in response to user actions.

The Caveat

As I mentioned, gamification is the buzzword de jour. That means there’s a lot of people doing it wrong. Just throwing things like badges and scoreboards into an application doesn’t mean you’ve “gamified it.” It means you’ve taken the lazy way out to keep up with current trends.

Unless, of course, badges and scoreboards help users accomplish their goal. A scoreboard on a fitness app - even if it’s just a personal scoreboard - might make sense.

Want to learn more about gamification? Check out this awesome TED Talks video by Tom Chatfield on 7 ways games reward the brain.