Dr. Kam Star (PLAYGEN)

To gamify or not to gamify, that is sometimes the question.

So – whilst proponents of hard-gamification claim universal appeal of competitive zero-sum game mechanics, waxing lyrical about the propensity for human beings to engage in hypercompetitive activity to prove their worth by accumulating digital badges and virtual points to beat everyone else in a version of broken-reality far from the realities of ‘the human condition’ – the social scientists watch, mouth half open!

Seems like the answer is always ‘gamification fixes engagement’.

As an experienced practitioner and scientist, I don’t share such blind faith in the power of one-up-man-ship to motivate ‘everyone’. There are plenty of cases where gamification is not the cure but a hindrance. And so it’s important to view gamification with the same critical eye as any other ‘intervention’.

Without doubt, the general purpose of gamification is to increase user engagement. Good gamification, like service design approach, support users in doing more than they would do otherwise. It flag-posts what needs attention, helps users help others and generally increases the usability and enjoyment of using an online system. In short, good gamification provides tangible utility without detracting from the real task at hand. And it is this good gamification that we need more than any other kind.

Whilst gamification is still in it’s first decade, a relatively new and emerging field that is not yet fully understood (will it ever be?) in terms of theories and its underlying concepts, e.g. motivation, acceptance, flow, competition, social rewards, etcetera. Successfully gamified online platforms are the result of an evolutionary approach to pragmatic incremental improvement, using elements of games as useful and sometime playful functionalities that deliver real benefits to users.

It is thus with acknowledgement to a wide range of both academic research and industrial success stories such as Reddit, StackOverFlow and Ebay that we provide the following pragmatic considerations for the any gamification:

Any gamification must aim to:

  • Support users in interacting more efficiently with the system,
  • Increase Collaboration,
  • When possible be playful

Conversely gamification must not:

  • Be superficial to the point of serving no functional purpose,
  • Increase complexity of interacting with the system,
  • Cause undue anxiety or negative competition stress

And whilst gamification of any system ought to be designed such that it serves to increase overall system utility (what the system does), usability (how easily it is to interact with) and pleasurability (that it’s enjoyable to interact with), its use must remain optional and voluntary, such that users can switch the functionality off if they wish to do so. Forcing a user to dance to a tune they don’t like, without the ability for them to turn it off, is a sure way of reducing engagement.

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