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Gamification is Bullshit
My position statement at the Wharton Gamification Symposium
August 8, 2011
short url:
(Also available in Portuguese, Japanese, and reprinted at The Atlantic and Kotaku)

In his short treatise On Bullshit, the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt gives us a useful theory of bullshit. We normally think of bullshit as a synonym—albeit a somewhat vulgar one—for lies or deceit. But Frankfurt argues that bullshit has nothing to do with truth.

Rather, bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit.

Gamification is bullshit.

I'm not being flip or glib or provocative. I'm speaking philosophically.

More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.

Bullshitters are many things, but they are not stupid. The rhetorical power of the word "gamification" is enormous, and it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games—a mysterious, magical, powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people—and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business.

Gamification is reassuring. It gives Vice Presidents and Brand Managers comfort: they're doing everything right, and they can do even better by adding "a games strategy" to their existing products, slathering on "gaminess" like aioli on ciabatta at the consultant's indulgent sales lunch.

Gamification is easy. It offers simple, repeatable approaches in which benefit, honor, and aesthetics are less important than facility. For the consultants and the startups, that means selling the same bullshit in book, workshop, platform, or API form over and over again, at limited incremental cost. It ticks a box. Social media strategy? Check. Games strategy? Check.

The title of this symposium shorthands these points for me: the slogan "For the Win," accompanied by a turgid budgetary arrow and a tumescent rocket, suggesting the inevitable priapism this powerful pill will bring about—a Viagra for engagement dysfunction, engorgement guaranteed for up to one fiscal quarter.

This rhetorical power derives from the "-ification" rather than from the "game". -ification involves simple, repeatable, proven techniques or devices: you can purify, beautify, falsify, terrify, and so forth. -ification is always easy and repeatable, and it's usually bullshit. Just add points.

Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity. That may be true, but truth doesn't matter for bullshitters. Indeed, the very point of gamification is to make the sale as easy as possible.

I've suggested the term "exploitationware" as a more accurate name for gamification's true purpose, for those of us still interested in truth. Exploitationware captures gamifiers' real intentions: a grifter's game, pursued to capitalize on a cultural moment, through services about which they have questionable expertise, to bring about results meant to last only long enough to pad their bank accounts before the next bullshit trend comes along.

I am not naive and I am not a fool. I realize that gamification is the easy answer for deploying a perversion of games as a mod marketing miracle. I realize that using games earnestly would mean changing the very operation of most businesses. For those whose goal is to clock out at 5pm having matched the strategy and performance of your competitors, I understand that mediocrity's lips are seductive because they are willing. For the rest, those of you who would consider that games can offer something different and greater than an affirmation of existing corporate practices, the business world has another name for you: they call you "leaders."

Comments (149)
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Seemed over the top until i heard some gamification proponents speak. i still think creating participant structures that correspond to real world actions 1) will be done, and 2) can be done in more humane, just, and pleasurable ways. As an educator, I do this all the time (of course, as do you).

However, I'm kind of surprised how much of this is happening and the amount of cultural currency it's gaining.

Thank you so much for this.

Jeffrey Crenshaw on August 8, 2011 3:26 PM

Thanks for this. Just checking: do you think SCVNGR (http://www.scvngr.com) appropriates the gamification trickstering?

Great point and sane argument, but I'd like to know how can we assess game structures (or any structure at all): what make games games? The medium? The history/player interaction? The level/points paradigm? How much game is in marketing, how much marketing is in game? As a PhD student, I am always trying to caracterize things and dodge the theories' hypes (or marketing ones if you may), but I always got stuck on these issues of boundaries and hues.

Thanks for this. You can say what I think much better than I do. I wrote about gamification a while ago, but I was nowhere as awesome as this piece.
Rock on!

Even though gamification is bullshit in the primary way the term is being utilized, and businesses are being exploited by it, if even a few companies develop more delightful and enjoyable experiences without compromising the core value of their offering, it could be good. There needs to more "play" in the world.

Also, P.T. Barnum would be proud.

I knew reputation systems had jumped-the-shark when I saw the announcement for the first "Gamification Conference."

If the only reason people are using your application is your gamification (badges, karma, etc.) you're screwed.

:) Really cool stuff

Like the way you write in general, the chapter in facebook and philosophy was also really cool.

>bookmark

@Ernesto: I can tell exactly how much marketing is in games. None.

Games are rule sets and settings that are used by humans for pleasure. Marketing almost inevitably diminishes pleasure.

The biggest problem I have with gamification is that its output - like with video games in general - can be cognitively reduced to its basic mechanics by its participants, and whatever aesthetic or meaningful purpose the game might have held dissipates. It becomes nihilistic.

And on the topic of marketing using gamification, I am reminded of Frontline's documentary "Merchants of Cool", depicting the methods marketers use to sell their products to teenagers in the late-nineties.

Chris Pioli on August 8, 2011 8:34 PM

With all the gamification consultants, "experts", thought-leaders, gamification platform companies, I'm fascinated by the fact that very few use even a shred of gamification in their own products or marketing. The near-total lack of "eating their own dog food" is perhaps the clearest proof of BS... if it works as they claim, why would they not use it themselves?

But then, critical thinking seems to go missing whenever greed is involved.

Kathy sierra on August 8, 2011 9:29 PM

Nice one.

Fortunately I still don't know enough about the subject to comment.

Mr. Seacrudge on August 8, 2011 9:39 PM

Ian, the only thing inherently 'bullshit' about gamification is perhaps the name. Where games are rich and challenging experiences, gamification simply aims to add a layer of behavior-tracking and accomplishment to otherwise dry experiences. If 'gamification' were sold as 'turning your website into Warcraft' or even 'Farmville' it *would* be bullshit. But nobody's actually selling it that way.
Gamification adds measures for competition, milestones for solitary pursuits, and builds player profiles that give richer context to social interactions.
To claim that there is no value in adding additional interaction and engagement to customer-facing experiences is rather reactionary. Yes gamfication is new and, for a while, early implementations may seem unfocused or 'tacked-on', but it really shouldn't be hard to imagine where gamification is going.


Tony Ventrice on August 9, 2011 12:00 AM

In this comments thread: "games’ value as speech turns out not to be a conflict between support and detraction but rather a conflict between the games themselves and the games as cogs in someone’s favorite discourse machine."

@Tony "but nobody's actually selling it that way..."
They *are* selling it, explicitly, as "using the key elements that make games compelling", which is even worse.
I disagree with: "it is not hard to imagine where gamification is going." I can easily imagine a dozen wildly different paths depending on who is leading the practice. A marketer's approach to "increased engagement using game thinking" may be profoundly different from that of, well, almost anyone else.

kathy Sierra on August 9, 2011 1:31 AM

Business scholarship is always bullshit. That goes with the territory of being cheerleaders for marketing hacks who, as we all know, are bullshit incarnate.

Gamification in critical studies, however, is serious shit, and not to be trifled with lightly. In that field, gamification becomes the digital decedent of the audience commodity and Frankfurt School ideas of leisure as work. That you would present "exploitationware" as new term suggests maybe a wider literature review is in order.

It helps if you stop reading bullshit journals.

Anonymous Coward on August 9, 2011 3:13 AM

Yes gamfication is new...

I think my biggest problem with it is that it isn't, and pretending it is makes people blind to all the information we already have about reward/achievement systems. There's education-research literature dating back to the 1960s on how well gold-star-type systems work, and psychologists have experimented with a whole slew of schemes for behavior change via reward systems.

Ian, I respect your writing and think you make some valid points, but believe it's erroneous to say that the entire trend of Gamification is being controlled by marketers.

Our Gamification Wiki and other community sites, which get more traffic than any other gamification sites in the world, are all completely open for anyone to use and edit and were originally created by my co-founder and myself -- both of us lifelong gamers with backgrounds in the game industry. Many other leaders involved in gamification have great intentions as well and are building good products that are getting better and better.

Gamification is a natural evolution for the game industry. People of my generation grew up with games being a primary part of our childhood and life. I personally grew up imagining what it'd be like if more parts of life were fun like games and still to this day am devoting my life to see that dream realized. Are marketers involved in gamification? Of course they are, no differently than they are involved in the traditional game industry or any industry.

All of the talk about marketers(great title for your post by the way!) is for the most part irrelevant really because the best products will continue to rise to the top and gamification will evolve based on consumer reactions to the experiences. No amount of marketing dollars or prowess will change that long-term.

What gamification should be seen as is an opportunity to open our minds to change what reality can possibly be by re-imagining experiences with fun in mind. RecycleBank made recycling cool. Turntable.fm is revolutionizing how people discover music and socially interact with it. I think the best has yet to come.

I hope you'll open your mind to the possibility that not all Gamification is inherently bad and if anything should be considered as a positive for the game industry, an amazing opportunity to experiment with creating a more fun world.

-Nathan Lands
CEO & Co-founder, Gamify

@Kuja
SCVNGR is a very bare-bones location-based app that purports to be a game... its connection to gamification is as a platform for business applications, mostly marketing applications. In that sense, it's bullshit too, but from the startup/VC side rather than the marketing consulting side.

@Ernesto Diniz
Sorry to do this, but fully 1/3 of my book Persuasive Games is about games in marketing and advertising. That's where I'd point you for my position on your question.

@Jake
There needs to be more embracing of complexity in the world, not just more empty play with meaningless, manipulative incentives.

@Kathy Sierra
Right, bullshit is not about belief or truth, but about bringing about an impression of oneself.

@Tony Ventrice
I didn't claim there is no "value" -- I simply pointed out that the value that there is is all directed back toward the marketer's interest, with little remainder even for the corporation or government or other organization he or she would purportedly benefit. Please read the linked article on exploitationware for more. In that way, gamification is much more insidious than merely building feedback systems into products--things that have been around for a long time, as Mark N points out.

Also, yes, this is a reactionary reaction. It was meant to be!

@Taokryro, Federico, Jeffrey, kurt
Cheers.

@Anonymous
What the fuck?

@Nathan Lands
I'm embarrassed to have your shill comment on my blog, but I'll leave it in the spirit of open discourse. Did you just try to gamify my web traffic?

Absolutely agree. It seems that "gameification" is yet another flippant response to not having a real revenue model.
Games are fine, and games are fun, but not everything works as a game.
Wrote a post about this earlier this year:
http://blog.thansys.com/2011/01/04/game-dynamics-the-new-black/

Hey Ian, I think you are making a valid point about the use of gamification and the ongoing hype around the application of points and badges to make laborious actions more "fun".

On the other hand, I still believe that certain business processes such as career development can be made more transparent and accessible by using elaborate feedback loops which to date, have only been applied in games. I understand that this will not turn work into a game in any way, but it is still inspired by games.

Some ideas: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52824081/Gamification-Research-Peter-Lehmann

Peter Lehmann on August 9, 2011 9:14 AM

I think the problem isn't gamification per se, but a general belief in behaviorism over all the other elements that are important in game design. I posted my thoughts on this here: http://radoff.com/blog/2011/08/09/gamification-behaviorism-bullshit/

Your are right that it has less to do with marketeers and more with the comfort of simplistic people making investments believing in mainstream success. I do find quite playful the remark to @Nathan - does that mean we will find you discoursing openly on the gamification wiki?

I work in marketing, and I love games. I tend to work mostly in new technologies, with a focus on "How can small business benefit from all this new tech?".

Every industry has their embarrassments. For marketers, it's the snake-oil salesmen who parrot trending topics, learning only enough to make it sound good. Sometimes these people come in handy, but other times they promise things they have only the vaguest idea about which might not be delivered at the cost they quoted.

Gameification is not bullshit, but it's going through it's bullshit phase.

And just in case someone tries to call me out, here's what I'd consider gamification: A review system that uses experience points, levels and achievements to allow a reviewer to demonstrate that he/she has done their homework, making shilling and trolling that much more difficult. It uses game elements of reward and achievement but it uses it practically.

"slathering on "gaminess" like aioli on ciabatta at the consultant's indulgent sales lunch."

Love your use of imagery. Also, I really like the term 'Exploitationware,' which I think more fully captures what is going on. As one of the other commenters puts it:

"I hope you'll open your mind to the possibility that not all Gamification is inherently bad and if anything should be considered as a positive for the game industry, an amazing opportunity to experiment with creating a more fun world."

Total marketing BS.

Dear Ian,

"Gamification is bullshit. I'm not being flip or glib or provocative. I'm speaking philosophically."

Read it again and tell me I shouldn't chuckle ;) NHF

In the spirit of full disclosure, I started a gamification platform company.

With that said, I obviously disagree that gamification as a whole is bullshit. First off, ask 10 "gamification experts" what gamification IS and you'll probably get 10 different answers. It's such a young trend, it hasn't really settled into a solid definition yet. I agree that some people are using it as a panacea - and we get plenty of calls from people expecting it to cure all their ills. It's definitely in a hype phase and people are raking in the dough selling a garbage form of gamification.

The worst are those who are basically handing out rewards for doing anything. There are no quality checks, simply quantity. Leave a comment on a blog? That's a badge! Leave 5 comments on a blog? That's another badge! Leave 10 comments on a blog? You get the idea...

I can see why so many people think that gamification is preying upon people psychologically but I think this is actually milder than most advertising and marketing going on today. You can't point gamification out as exploitation without addressing the companies with big budgets on figuring out just the right shades of color, just the right choice of words and image placements to appeal to just the right demographic. I think gamification is at least not as subversive as that.

So what does good gamification look like? I think it's more about giving people proper feedback. It helps new people learn what is expected of them and that they are on the right track. It gives experienced people reasons to continue by quantifying their intrinsic motivation. It helps provide context to users so they can make better decisions. It helps individuals track personal growth and progress with measurable goals and a path to mastery.

It really has little to do with games or video games. It's really a new way to display old data. Wrapping a game-like interface around metrics that we've been tracking for years and exposing that to the end user. It's about better, faster feedback. Think of all the dashboards a manager has to measure success of a business unit - what dashboards does the user have? Often not much. Gamification is a fancy word that at it's most usefulness really means "better feedback for end users displayed in an interesting way".

@Peter
I'll bookmark your article to read later, thanks.

@Kirill
The new black motif does capture the trendiness, which is really what's most important to gamification proponents.

@Ivan
Oh, I never said you shouldn't chuckle :)

There is a significant difference between "Gamification" as coming from the game industry means and "Gamification" as coming from marketing, as I'm now seeing here...

There's two sides to the coin, an equivalent would be Black Hat and White Hat hacking. You're referring to manipulative Skinner Box techniques and the illusion of a gaming framework around mundane tasks.

What I hear on the gaming side of Gamification is more about studying *how we have fun* and *what makes things fun, in games* and *how to systemically make awesome games*... and then applying those same things to non-videogame domains.

If you propose "exploitationware" for your side of the gamification coin, I propose "fun theory" for mine.

It's a shame you resorted to ad hominem instead of actually addressing Nathan's points; *that* was bullshit.

Unfortunately it seems you have been brainwashed by the hype machine before writing this article. I hate the term gamification also but at its core what it refers to is leveraging human behaviors and desires in repeatable processes to drive to an end goal. These principles can be used and has been used by marketers since there were markets, and it can be used by every other industry/person as well.

You are thinking of gamification as badges and check ins when in reality its everything we do today, getting up in the morning, going to work, eating, etc.. Why do we want to earn money and get a paycheck? Why do I want to keep up with the Jonses? I would also take a look at loyalty programs, retailer/airline programs as they are based on the same gaming principles and "exploitations" you are talking about and have been around for years with solid ROI's.

Uneductaed marketers are using the term gamification because its buzz worthy when in reality they should be using the term modern day loyalty instead. Only people who have not bothered to spend the time to research and educate themselves on what the gamification movement is about would refer to it as building a game.

Gamification is way too early in its development cycle to paint with such a broad brush. I would agree that "some gamification is bullshit" or even "most gamification is bullshit". But to suggest it is bullshit across the board ignores that it is a concept that is still evolving and with many varying application being tested. I think its similar to the broad brush you use to paint all marketers as evil doers out to destroy that which is good and beautiful in the world. My company (we're in the loyalty and motivation space) expressly states to clients that we do not recommend using gamification manipulatively, primarily because it doesn't work. Customers/users are too smart and will see right through that. We recommend win-win strategies, where gamification is used to help people progress in achieving results they were already inclined to move toward, rather than toward goals the company wants to push them at.

This sort of technique is nothing new -- its as old as when my Mom would put stars on a chart on the fridge when I was a kid to track my completion of chores vs. that of my brothers. The loyalty and motivation space has been gamifying experiences for decades. The only thing that is new is the name and, in some cases, a richer understanding of human behavior/brain to use in applying these techniques.

Once again, a person raises the reasonable position that gamification is a load of snake oil, and once again the supposedly successful marketing people who love it have all the time in the world to come to a comment thread and embarrass themselves.

When I see a gamification dork, I'm always reminded of Chris Farley's character Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker. "Living in a van down by the river!"

Gamification is the vuvuzela of the games conversation. Ian, there are those of us who support your war. There are those of us who say it should go further; an attack on the fantasies of 'innovation'.

I see a lot of rhetoric and ranting in your article but very few rational arguments. Gamification may well be bullshit but your post does little to make the case through logical arguments or facts. All I see is a lot of adjectives.

Ian, this is an excellent piece of writing. I have a visceral revulsion to the term "gamification", you really did put together a cogent, eloquent piece without resorting to hyperbole.

I don't know if you saw this story, but Heather Chaplin tackled another potential down side to "gamification." Outside of the marketing drivel, she equated its basic premise to mind control:

http://www.slate.com/id/2289302/

"You want to transform peoples' lives into games so they _feel_ as if they're doing something worthwhile? Why not just shoot them up with drugs so they don't notice how miserable they are? You could argue that peasants in the Middle Ages were happy imagining that the more their lives sucked here on earth the faster they'd make it into heaven. I think they'd have been better off with enough to eat and some health care."

Javaun Moradi on August 9, 2011 11:49 AM

Gamification seems to me to take the least interesting thing about games and try to shoehorn it into other areas of life. Points and upgrades... bleah, I get enough of that from my frequent flyer program. Where's the imaginary world? Where are the characters to care about, the story to follow? Where are the viscerally meaningful consequences of my decisions?

WHERE'S MY GODDAMNED MAGIC SWORD?

  • Gamification in the context of your business is complete bullshit, it’s not an awesome new way to generate engagement for your site/business. It’s a cool, unexplored, new, and relatively unproven concept — the operative word being concept.
  • New innovations in gaming are for really serious — while you could mistake several brilliant ideas for gamification(stackexchange’s point system), they are in fact, not gamification. Highly adjusted, balanced, fair and fun point systems seem very much like a game, which is why they’re so brilliant and successful.
  • Gamification inherently suggests that you’re going to nail this shit, the first time, with the help of guys like Gamify and Natron Baxter. Neither of these companies have ever invented a successful game for any platform.
  • Gamification suggests games are easy, give someone points for doing something, and they’re bound to do it(for the points, duh). Video games generally have hundreds of thousands of hours of development across massive teams and still, have poor play-for-reward mechanics — clearly, this shit ain’t easy.
  • I have a lot of love for the gamification idea, I want more game development studios to think about how to engage their entire community while simultaneously creating competition through a play-for-reward mechanic. It’s a super fun concept, and sounds very challenging. In fact, so fun and so challenging, I have trouble imagining it as anything but a totally unique product. And like all unique products, probably only one in hundreds(thousands?) is very likely to succeed.

And just to help address some circular bullshit(and statements not really making any valid points) I'll address Nathan's comment:

Our Gamification Wiki and other community sites, which get more traffic than any other gamification sites in the world, are all completely open for anyone to use and edit and were originally created by my co-founder and myself -- both of us lifelong gamers with backgrounds in the game industry. Many other leaders involved in gamification have great intentions as well and are building good products that are getting better and better.

I dig that you help to source your concepts from a community, Wiki style. That has little to do with Gamification being marketing bullshit. The fact still remains neither of you have developed a successful video game from a creative direction. To say, "We're working on making it better" is not indicative of a potentially strong product or idea. In fact, it makes it seem like you have no clue how to grow this 'gamification' thing.

Gamification is a natural evolution for the game industry. People of my generation grew up with games being a primary part of our childhood and life. I personally grew up imagining what it'd be like if more parts of life were fun like games and still to this day am devoting my life to see that dream realized. Are marketers involved in gamification? Of course they are, no differently than they are involved in the traditional game industry or any industry.

Probably much unlike you, I too grew up with video games. From the age of 5, actually. I've been involved with the CAL in early Counter-Strike(1.6), and some of the top World of Warcraft guilds back in vanilla(DRAMA, Death n Taxes, SAGA, Warpath -- Korgath and Illidan servers respectively). I've probably spent at least 2-3 hours every day of my life playing some kind of video game, and during the competitive time frames(such as those mentioned above) 18+ hours daily. Every time I hear about gamification, my mouth waters too; but I've actually spent enough time with these very successful games on both sides of the spectrum(competitive and casual) to understand why those games were fun for those people. It's not something you can "grow" into our lives. It exists outside the sphere of "every-day and everybody" for a reason.

All of the talk about marketers(great title for your post by the way!) is for the most part irrelevant really because the best products will continue to rise to the top and gamification will evolve based on consumer reactions to the experiences. No amount of marketing dollars or prowess will change that long-term.

Point made, it takes time to evolve an idea. Doesn't suggest gamification if any less marketing bullshit than the author suggested.

What gamification should be seen as is an opportunity to open our minds to change what reality can possibly be by re-imagining experiences with fun in mind. RecycleBank made recycling cool. Turntable.fm is revolutionizing how people discover music and socially interact with it. I think the best has yet to come.

This is just verbal diarrhea, "RecycleBank, Turntable.fm -- what if you had the chance! Turn back time today and invest with Gameification! NO REGETS! INSTANT ORGANIC POPULARITY AND TRACTION" -- Gamification is not the "re-imagining of the video game experience" -- I would be bothered to keep talking on this point if I believed it had any merit or was even loosely related to the idea of Gamification. Somehow, Nathan, you managed to stick marketing hype right in the middle of your "Gamification is not marketing hype" comment.

I hope you'll open your mind to the possibility that not all Gamification is inherently bad and if anything should be considered as a positive for the game industry, an amazing opportunity to experiment with creating a more fun world.

I like to think I've known this since I heard of gamification. Conceptually I don't think most people are against gamification. It's touting it like the customer-engagement utility that companies like yourself and Natron Baxter do that is irksome and, more or less the point of this article I think. Gamification is marketing hype bullshit that companies can't use. Anything further than the simple acknowledgement that people enjoy games, and games are accepted(and even popular) outside of the traditional medium would very likly be a losing move for creative companies today. Is there a place for games in my online social community? Possibly. Is it a problem(opportunity?) that I can simply outsource or hire a consultant for? Not a chance in hell. Capitalizing on this concept will not be the job of SaaS providers like BigDoor(or Gamify), it will simply help to facilitate working models until those entrepreneurial ideas can get enough funding to replace your solution with something that can keep up with the agility of their communities wishes.

senseless post. no facts. why is this on techmeme?, sigh.

So I'm not the only one who read On Bullshit and On Truth.

Bullshit or not, the reason it even has a silly little name (gamification) is because, rather unfortunately, it works. See: zynga.

Games have an off button. Marketers, unfortunately, do not.

Gamification may be a dangerous and deceptive form of distraction, but for once I feel that I can expect support (from sympathisers with this view) with a more important one that I have always felt unable to voice, for fear of ridicule.
I have always believed that we should condemn all forms of sweetening, because they can be used to disguise and encourage the consumption of foods that we were never intended to eat.
Sugars and other sweeteners (both natural and synthetic) encourage the gullible to swallow unnatural ‘food and drink’, therefore such additives as sugar, sweetening and ‘sweetification’ are (and I cannot emphasise this too strongly) an unacceptable evil that we have all been hoodwinked into accepting for far too long.
Why should we sacrifice our health by allowing our diets to be contaminated, just to coddle those mamby-pambies who cannot tolerate bitterness?
Surely such indulgence corrodes the very essence of human vitality.
We should start weaning ourselves off this cloying and treacherous scourge, as well as it’s new, equally contemptible metaphorical counterpart, ‘gamification’ and for that matter we should make serious efforts to banish games themselves, which are just as dangerous and deceptive a form of distraction, and which also keep us from devoting our time to matters of genuine importance.
We should look very seriously into the motives of those that encourage us to do otherwise.
"I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."
— Ludwig Wittgenstein

See also, "Bullshit and philosophy : guaranteed to get perfect results every time", ISBN: 9780812696110

It includes Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" essay.

I don't disagree with you on many of your points RE: gamification as used by marketing pukes. But glancing at the symposium page, Dan Hunter's name jumped out at me as one of the co-organizers. While there might be some marketing crap at the symposium, Hunter's work speaks for itself.

Hunter has been writing scholarly work on games for years and was one of the first law professors to write on regulation of virtual worlds. He's also one of the co-founders of Terranova ( terranova.blogs.com ) which has been writing about games and society since 2003. While he might not be familiar to you, he's not some marketing lackey or Johnny-cum-lately hoping on the gamification bandwagon. If he is one of the co-organizers I would expect there to be some substantive discussion to be held at the symposium.

Disclosure: I recognized Hunter immediately because A) I'm a lawyer, B) I'm a gamer, C) I'm a huge dork who reads law journals even though I'm not in law school anymore.

Hahaha. And now I just noticed that at the top of your post is the headline: My position statement at the Wharton Gamification Symposium.

I am reading challenged. Feel free to ignore my previous comment.

I honestly believe that the mechanics used by game designers to get players to play - and enjoy doing it - do actually work outside the context of a game.

That being said, I hate the word "gamification." It's just like "quality" in the nineties: something companies want to say they have covered when they report to their boards. Just seeing "gamification" in print makes me wince.

To the extent that companies flock to the word like high school boys to the hot new Swedish exchange student, I have to agree that it's bullshit. When I see otherwise smart and inventive people rushing to "gamify" with no understanding or expectation of what they want to do or why, it baffles me. When I see companies randomly sticking badges on stuff and then being disappointed by the lack of results, it makes me sad. "Gamification" almost immediately became a buzzword. And buzzwords are largely bullshit.

But again: I do believe that the game mechanisms used to make an experience funny, playful, charming; to make it something you want to tinker with, experiment with, work at - they have a place outside of games. It's a world apart from thoughtlessly putting stickers on a website. There ARE possibilities for innovation and creativity and wonderful things that aren't bullshit.

It's too bad that they aren't pursued and explored the way they should be. It may be that they can't easily be modeled or measured - another other big buzzword, of course, being "data-driven."

"I'm not being flip or glib or provocative."

Right. I call bullshit.

Interesting article. In the world of marketing, I think that gamification is more than just a buzz word. Although your point may be that gamification is (a) a way for agencies, brand managers etc.. to look good, and (b) something dreamed up by marketers to exploit consumers by tricking them into buying crap that they don't need, this is nothing new. Exactly can be said of multiple other marketing methods, particularly product placement, paid for celebrity product endorsements etc...

I think that gamification is a simple way of tapping into one's natural competitive spirit. Really it's not that different than Green Shield Stamps or baseball cards...

Gamification is actually NOT new, even if the term is. Hello McDonald's Monopoly game...hello every grocery story that gives you a free turkey for spending $X...applying extrinsic rewards to shape behavior has been around a long time, and its been a marketing tool we've seen over and over.

Technology just makes it easier to be pervasive.

Simply rewarding behavior does not make something a game, and does not make it fun. And if you've read Daniel Pink, or any more scholarly writing on motivational theory, you know that eventually, adding extrinsic motivators actually reduce/remove the intrinsic motivation you may have had to engage in the behavior to begin with.

So go ahead and let people "gamify" their businesses. Eventually, the laws of diminishing returns kick in and not only will the "games" not be fun, but they won't be intrinsically motivated to engage with those brands anymore.

Then we can get back to actual game design in all its complexity and wonder :).

I thought the same until I watched Sebastian's presentation "Meaningful Play", which made me appreciate what 'gamification' (for want of a better word) could offer. Highly recommended.

http://www.slideshare.net/dings/meaningful-play-getting-gamification-right

Peter Bowyer on August 9, 2011 3:40 PM

Well done sir. There is nothing wrong with brands having free mobile games or apps that are fun enough that people actually view them as opposed to a TV commercial, but that does not save them from being BS. Maybe Interactive Entertainment is what we need to start calling real games, the kind of games that make you feel like you have just been on a boating fighting with a bunch of vampire pirates and then only after a minute or two away from the keyboard realizing that it was late at night and you are in your man cave...

Terrification is not a word.

I never like the word "gamification" - it sounds too artificial... but for some reason it works on some businesses but not all.

Like most arguments, this one is borne of divergent definition.

Some of you are using "Gamification" to mean one thing -- some of you are referring to something else.

Is there value in gamification? Yes, there is.

Will there be value for those who succumb to shiny sales pitches for "Gamifying!" their product, where it's just a stupid layer and not integrated into the experience? No, there will not be.

End of story. You can all go home now. Nothing to see here.

The dismal science and its acolytes won't like it, but you jump up and down on a key aspect of business: it isn't about excellence, it's about doing as little as you must to succeed.

Unless they can simplify something into offensive idiocy, they are incapable of implementing it, especially in marketing.

The same simplification dominates education's swallowing of gamification. Getting gold stars is nothing new, but it sure looks like it is when you throw around gamification.

Until we can appreciate and encourage complexity in gaming, and recognize the importance of games that define themselves, we're going to be wading through buckets of utter crap (Farmville, Khan academy, foursquare, name your poison); all grossly simplified perversions of an idea that goes well beyond getting points for doing shit you didn't want to do.

Sadly gamification is getting a reputation for "monetizing the bored" and "evil skinner boxes" and "operant conditioning" rather than the wonderfulness that I can be. I humbly submit that gamification will help make the world a better place: just as a wall of "gold stars" for good behaviour in preschool works, just as a "trophy case" for sports works, the continuing gamification of the world COULD be used to train/reward/condition people to do good and be good, kind, generous, successful.

The only reason gamification gets so much hatred is that the money lies in conditioning people to do things that aren't good or healthy. With a little moral compass we could set up gold star boards and "achievements" for our kids for things like homework, going to bed on time, giving mommy a hug and make them better children.

With great power comes great responsibility - and gamification is incredibly, terrifyingly powerful. We can use operant conditioning to make people do ANYTHING (and I really mean anything). My hope for the world is that people reject gamification that rewards buying coke or mcdonalds or game grinding and embraces gamification that rewards charity, academic achievement, kindness, etc.

There are successful examples of gamification out there - stack exchange, points-based-forums and the mighty wikipedia garner a lot of activity. They hand out prestige, powers, and elite status - all things people want.

And there's the rub. Gamification can only work if the user is actually given something they desire. The moment points based 'task games' become the norm, the points become meaningless. And 'social rewards' like badges and moderation powers only work in contexts where people are seen - contexts, then, that people are likely to socialize in. Not the domains of a flinty-eyed "innovator's" task website.

I give it about about six months.

As a flash/web/game developer, I am loving this recent "exploitification/gamifying/whateverificationware fad. Games are very high on the fun spectrum of types of projects to work on. However, because the business people care less about the why and only about making more money and additionally are the ones determining which projects to craft, i fear it may be a fleeting moment in the sun for us devs.

Wholly agree on the sentiment of your article. I think there's another factor here which should be considered as well and that is: "what does gamification do to intrinsic motivation?" I know there have been all kinds of studies around the negative effects of rewarding kids monetarily for grade performance. I can't help but think gamifying practices in corporate america will have similar ramifications. Would be interesting to see some formal investigation into this.

Gamification is soooo last decade, it's time for http://www.kinectification.com

At first I was, like, damn this dude is really peeling back the skin and exposing the raw nerves of some shit. But on second thought, I'm not sure this is much more than a tirade against marketing in general and marketing trends in particular. I mean, Zynga is wiping the floor with traditional gaming companies like EA. Methinks the dude protests too much.

Nyaze Vincent on August 9, 2011 6:22 PM

Your are right and wrong.

You are right that Gamification and the use of it as a buzz word is overused and annoying. But it is wrong to think that the ideas behind game mechanics is misplaced.

You sounded very obtuse and the chance of one of us changing your mind on the positives of game dynamics/mechanics is probably nil.

Wow the fun police are out in force. The working definition of Gamification I am following as defined in http://hci.usask.ca/uploads/219-02-Deterding,-Khaled,-Nacke,-Dixon.pdf is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. It doesn't necessarily apply to just corporate marketing programs. So I can see how marketing widgets and driving mindless consumerism using gamification might be bullshit. Especially if the underlying product is crap. But what about if the goal is to drive engagement in an exceedingly worthwhile cause? Something that saves peoples lives or changes the world for the better? Is it still bullshit then? And if designers are good enough to inject fun into "the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway" where the hell is the downside in that? Most people don't get the pleasure of spending their daily grind in the fun companies of the world like Google or many of the other creative and engaging tech start-up's out there. If gamification gives the means and the desire to gamify those careers and the workplaces that they soldier on in then I say bring it on. It's a tool. Like any tool it can be used for good or bad. And it is based on the same underlying psychological triggers and prompts that have already been used by marketers and companies to sell their products for years. It is just better at it.

Ian, like many other commenters, I have the utmost respect for you and the work you've done over the years, and I think this is a very timely blog post that will kick off some major discussions on the overall credibility of 'Gamification'.

With that said, Gamification is not bullshit, nor is it as easy as you have implied. What is easy, however, is mindlessly tacking on an 'off-the-shelf Gamification solution' without really thinking through how it's actually going to impact your business - as Tony Ventrice mentioned earlier.

Gamification doesn't, and won't, work for every business/brand, but it will for some. The ones it will work for need a well thought out Gamification strategy before they even attempt to dive head first into the murky waters. Successfully implementing Gamification into a business is a difficult and challenging process that should test any Marketing Manager...and if it doesn't, you're doing it wrong.

In my opinion, Sebastian Deterding summed it up best in his SlideShare presentation on the topic. He identifies the misconceptions and confusion that surrounds Gamification and addresses them.

Finally, like Barry Kirk said earlier, it's still way too early to definitively label Gamification as bullshit. It's still in an experimental phase...growing, changing and adapting. Mark my words, there will be hundreds of Gamification failures before the year is out, but for every 100 failures, there will be 1 success story that we'll all learn from.

- Chris Gander
BDM @ 3RDsense

Very provocative article.

But I think you miss the main point. Humans have been playing games for entertainment and education since we lived in caves. In fact, it is the major shaper of civilized society and commerce. They are all games based on incentive, reward, rules and hacking the system.

Microchips, screens and the web just enabled a new cohort of games to emerge - and then the terminology.

Buzz words come and go. Get over it.
Steve.

There will always be middle men. They lack the risk taking and creativity genes. Instead, they are burdened with the lazy & "quick buck" genes.
Then there are the marketers. They have the middle man's genes in addition to the bullshit gene. If they only have the bullshit gene, they run for office.

Hi everyone, thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who linked.

I wish I could respond to everyone, and I'll try to distill some of the major themes in these comments for a response or another article.

For now, let me just remind everyone that I'm not talking about games writ large. I've spent a good deal of my career as a researcher, author, and game designer advocating for the beneficial uses of games in a variety of contexts. For more on that, read one of my books, particularly Persuasive Games (about how games make arguments, with a focus on politics, advertising, and learning), Newsgames (about games in journalism), or my latest How to Do Things with Videogames (about the many varied uses of games and why they are a mass medium), out in just a couple weeks.

I'm talking about a very particular use of games, which has been trendy in marketing, consulting, and investment circles over the past year. So, take that into account, k?

I'm a marketer and a lifetime lover of games. For me, the jury is still out on gamification. It may become a powerful marketing tool, or it may go the way of Second Life and ARGs, as a nifty gimmick but ultimately a flash in the pan.

I will observe, though, that your powerfully-worded treatise reads like an artist much-offended by business's sudden interest in exploiting your art. That's understandable, and no doubt we could find painters incensed by early advertising, novelists distressed by advertorials and composers upset by radio jingles.

You've every right to feel righteous rage about it, but so it ever was. Business is Agrajag, and it will exploit any advantage it can.

Your post here looks pretty much spot-on to me.

Slartibartfarst on August 9, 2011 11:48 PM

nice SEO title and a few waffling sentences but where are the facts? where is your argument?

I recommend you read my blog first... ;) (Not quite finished the foundations yet, though - still working on the post on art).

The problem with the word gamification, and how it is used, is NOT that it's bullshit at all - it's that the label is extremely confused for what it represents, since although what it represents does exist, and is extremely consistent with the basic framework of human behaviour, it's rarely consistent with the word game itself.

The problems with this word are merely symptoms of problems with understanding and recognising how the English language itself describes and represents behaviour - (things that happen) - as not just as involving verbs, but also adjectives (the property of such behaviour), and ESPECIALLY nouns - as an application of behaviour.

The problem with the word gamification, is that it is based on an APPLICATION of game theory, that is no longer consistent with what the word game itself represents.

Game theory is supposed to be about the basic mathematical systems and mechanics that games use - which is why it is called what it is. The problem, though, is that such systems are relevant to, and can be used and applied within, almost ANY COMPETITIVE system, not just games, which is why game theory has become so all-encompassing within the studies of our behaviour.

The reason we're having problems with the term gamification, is that it can represent a whole range of applications of game theory, most of which have no relation to the basic behaviour the word game represents an application of, merely applying the use of competitive behaviour.

Games, puzzles and competitions are of course all competitive activities, and can therefore be affected by 'gamification'.

But since the recognition and understanding of both WHAT application of WHAT behaviour (and also of WHO), these words represent, is currently a big problem, the differences between what these words represent - the differences in their application, behaviour and also those that they apply to, within the scope of 'gamification' - is what is ultimately causing the problem you have with this word.

Of course, such problems are built upon the label of game theory itself, being used in a manner that is not about games anyway.

I understand (and share!) this generally suspicious attitude towards gamification consultancy in the enterprise (reminds me of SEO consultancy in the enterprise), but I wouldn't be *that* suspicious when gamification in general is concerned.

There's a lot to be learned about how different users tick before reaching the conclusion what "playful" aspects to bake into a product (typically requiring determination and longer term effort), what really makes more sense, what to put in A/B tests and how to execute smaller tweaks.

Just like any other trend (from AJAX and Rails to cloud and Facebook apps), every company (and especially enterprises) should be cautious and deeply understand what is relevant for them and what really makes it work instead of engaging consultants and considering it done (i.e. "ticking the box").

Some strategies, user testing and UX approaches can bring a substantial growth in services centered around leisure competitive gaming effects like Foursquare (which is more an exception than a rule of success in the field) and additional revenue in more other, sometimes more traditional (social e-commerce?) websites like Amazon, Groupon but Facebook and Zynga also.

How small tweaks actually game users into spending more (time and/or money) has been nicely explained in this nice Wired article:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_gamed/all/1

Cheers!
Shonzilla

Too many layers will destroy reality for others.

Chris Riccobono on August 10, 2011 11:05 AM

it's a very bitter pill when you generalize about consultants and refer to big business as a "wasteland", however the majority of consultants are running around trying to fit the square peg into the round hole. Thanks for the great piece and for giving us something to think about.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this in grad school for a thesis project. If you stick to people like Daniel Pink and consider games in the context of actual motivation and human needs/pleasures, you're better off. There's many examples of games being used in places to improve peoples experiences or level of engagement (see the oft sited Nike+). Gamification, unfortunately, means at best dumping 'points' and 'rewards' on top of programs with little or no thought for or grasp on the core issues of motivation and engagement. I think games have things to teach any business but not every business needs badges.

If you're looking to the right sources, there are many instances where games and game like interactions can be applied to commerce..and also improving healthcare, reforming education, beyond. There's inspiring examples.

I'm not adding much to earlier comments. Perhaps some people who really do see the potential power of games can sail past this trend that has so quickly devolved into a bunch of marketing bunk. The term was a bit cretinous out of the box, right? Less behavioral cynicism and more world changing.

Curious to learn more about news and games. Exciting things in the media world with interactivity and participation and access.

Juliet:
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Shakespeare

Now instead of Gamification I propose using: Uber-Channel, that simple! everybody happy!

From Multi-Channel to Omni-Channel to Uber-Channel.

Enrique Garcia @bidegain

Enrique Garcia on August 10, 2011 11:50 AM

Keas is bullshit? I disagree. Gamification being applied to help solve obesity and health problems. Early stage results are nothing short of phenomenal. Think again bullshit-boy.

For those confused as to why the article draws gamification in a negative light, while I'm not certain, I feel like it may have something to do with the points I made in an earlier blog post:

http://memorizationobsolete.blogspot.com/2011/08/factory-farm-games.html

The gist of it is that games nowadays are being stripped of their creativity and uniqueness (and *fun*) so that they can be mass produced.

Gamification is bullshit, but it is no threat to anyone except the business leaders who think making games is as easy as sprinkling on some "gamification" fairy dust.
However, even if they are successful in making profitable "exploitationware" (like Farmville etc.) this will only make consumers more aware of the psychological hooks these games use, making them less profitable and less pervasive.
Either way, gamification is a harmless, albeit annoying, buzzword.

In Gabe Zichermann's response to this post, he asserts that it's only academics who are dismissive of the term (and the ideas buried in it.) He also leads with the phrase "lies, damned lies, and academics," though what the lies are, is not qualified.

I was an advertising executive for ~10 years, started Area/Code Games in 2005, and continue to consult with companies that are interested in what games do. Speaking personally from that perspective, I agree with everything Ian writes here, and so do many consulting and communications colleagues that I deal with frequently.

As Ian mentioned in his comment, he is " talking about a very particular use of games, which has been trendy in marketing, consulting, and investment circles over the past year..." That use is painful to watch and listen to.

Here I'm speaking not as a game designer (I'm not a game designer) but as someone who cares about what games are, do, and mean... as well as someone who cares about how companies spend money, to what ends, and with what results.

Game mechanics are indeed being used to do interesting and valuable things. Few of them have anything to do with the shameful get-rich-quick syrup being poured out of the gamification bucket.

Thanks for that Kevin.

I'm not sure why Gabe felt that academics are the cause of his problems, particularly at an event hosted by a major business school and attended by business people in almost equal number to academics, but it is possible that accusing me of being stuck in the ivory tower is meant to invalidate my position as out of touch with the reality of business.

While I do spend most of my time in academia, I'm also a practicing game designer who runs a game studio and does independent work and consulting. I could also point out that before I started at Georgia Tech I worked for years in the advertising, entertainment, and technology industries. So not only am I not sure where the lies are, I'm also not sure what this has to do with academia.

I find this post somewhat amusing coming from someone that co-founded a company that makes advertising games. Is a gamified loyalty/community program and say a branded puzzle game or platformer ultimately any different? The end goals are the same - awareness, virality, loyalty, transactions.

And no, I don't work in gamification.

Ian, I think you're underscoring and ignoring the value that gamification brings to the masses whose lives during their 9-5 jobs are reduced to unavoidable drudgery due to crappy software design and function. Some processes, even with decent UI design, are by nature boring and repetitive.

Imbuing gamification in processes helps improve these people's daily work - and god only knows their lives since much of their life may be stuck in front of a computer screen. NOTE! This is not necessarily with the intention of selling more stuff, but of improving their morale and their day to day work - and maybe, just MAYBE with the side benefit of boosting productivity, and reducing turnover due to boredom.

Can gamification solve this alone? Maybe not, but a WELL DESIGNED introduction of gaming concepts in the right processes can move us in the right direction to improving the user experience more than core UI design can.

I think you're taking an extemist perspective to provoke a long back and forth dialog in your blog and boost some kind of marketing score of your own. Congratulations on employing something that might be considered gaming in a round about way.

I'm not a gamification expert, BUT I AM interested in how to make more processes that are currently boring more fun. Gaming or gamification is one approach to achieve that. Boo on your Rush Limbaugh-like antagonistic approach. I think it did work to boost your # of comment thread though, so maybe congratulations.

Elizabeth Ferguson on August 10, 2011 7:22 PM

@Elizabeth Ferguson
Or we could consider the possibility of altering their jobs, working conditions, family lives, or perhaps even the very social and economic structures in which those take place, rather than trying to cover them over with false benefits in the name of "fun."

This conflict between individual and sociocultural situations came up at the conference, and I'll plan to write something more about it soon. This is a very topical matter, as it happens.

@John
Yours is a common way to object to positions on the Internet: to expand the scope of the subject until some potential "zinger" of an objection can be found, and then to offload it and scurry away content. But no, you're missing an important distinction.

Once more I'll point you and others to my response in this comment. All of my interventions in advertising, as a developer and an author, deal with changing marketing practices for the better through games (for both companies and people).

I'm one of the biggest proponents of unexplored uses of games you'll ever come across. But having seen and considered so many of those uses also gives me reason to be concerned about some of them.

I wasn't going to try to reply to all of these comments, but I do want to respond to Keith Lee above, because he says this:

But glancing at the symposium page, Dan Hunter's name jumped out at me as one of the co-organizers. While there might be some marketing crap at the symposium, Hunter's work speaks for itself.

Dan and his work are awesome, and the fact that he and Kevin Werbach put this symposium together and invited people of varied backgrounds and opinions (including me--it's not like they didn't know my position in advance!) proves that they really wanted to produce a discussion, not just a junket. Yes, I made sport of their logos, but only because they synthesized the "simple success" formula so well. They would have done the same thing--in fact, Dan did at dinner afterward.

Echoing Ernest's comment above, why can't gamification use the *interesting* part of games instead of recycling the same old psychological tomfoolery that games borrowed from the business community in the first place?

Well pointed out, and provocatively written. I agree entirely.

But, should we be surprised by marketing and PR folks using video games to bleed more dollars out of corporates and government?

They've done it with every other media form, so we should expect it. And, we should expect it to be done poorly, with a focus on making $$$.

And, no matter how much we point out the bullshit - there will be corporate climbers willing to go with it to try and get ahead.

The true essence of play, its links to human development as a joyful pursuit, its desire so often to seek a different type of reality is removed for capitalist and corporate goals. And, so why do people care? What is the fuss about?

I don't agree. Gamification can be real: IE, if you think of a fun and inventive scoring mechanism, you can turn exercise into a game. If you do it right, people exercise more (To get Achievements, Combo Bonuses, Team Bonuses etc.) When it works, people are exercising more than they would have. This is a positive change in the real world. And that isn't bullshit at all.

Mentioning the lowest quality examples of gamification, like crappy Facebook social games, is like negatively appraising cooking because some guy put spray cheese on a cracker once. You're judging the potential of an entire genre buy the worst examples, not best.

Shane Wegner on August 10, 2011 11:53 PM

Good comment thread, everybody. A minimum of silliness.

Gabe Zichermann's response post is alarming and telling.

Academics lack that 'non-tenure track clarity', and you're not allowed to say that corporations are evil (what are you, some kind of dinosaur?). His examples are horrendous failures. He's happy to call critics of gamification the 'tech industry's Tea Party' and then cries foul when people rise up in response.

As the always-great Kathy Sierra points out in the comments, "support, celebrate, and highlight companies using gamification to increase beer, soft drink, tv watching, yet ... also claim gamification as a tool to help combat obesity." Kathy also points out that he doesn't take his own medicine and suffers from a lack of engagement in his own products.

We're already having discussions about 'purists', the lies of the critics and the search for 'allies' - are we seriously at the persecution complex stage already? Maybe we can get some positive results coming out of the 1,600 dollar gamification design certification workshop - and I'm not being churlish. It would be good to see what precisely the best practice looks like, because right now what's being touted as best practice is horrendous. Like Kathy says, we're going to need a lot more convincing that any of the projects do anything but infantilise workers, diminish responsibility in children or actually drive health results for the sick. Only the last of those three seems defensibly positive; and thats just not good enough.

We've gone from 'gamification can help your company' to 'non-profits, companies, organisations NEED gamification's proven tools today' - or even alarmingly a way to "scale [gamification approaches] to every classroom, every gym and every neighborhood across America and the planet." I look forward to the inevitable "at least they're trying, what has all this criticism done to improve the world?".

The challenge is for those who truly do believe in creating new forms of engagement for social good to distance themselves from those who are consulting for companies that produce social harm. Its 2011, and we should be able to have an honest discussion about factors which drive inequality. Its just as naive for someone to sit 'slack-jawed' as corporations are called out on their actions as it is for critics like me to denounce all capitalist enterprise.

My gamification design challenge / thought experiment is this: How can we effectively gamify recruitment programs for Xe/Blackwater?

… Gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants … So ruled “sir” Ian Bogost!

Shit, Bullshit!! It ‘a falsehood without ifs and buts. We are in a huge game, you should give to our champion three lives to save the princess!

Life 1) Year 2002, Britain’s Nick Pelling invented the term by giving it its current meaning while limiting its target. Nick has been envolved in more than 30 games as a programmer since the days of the Commodore64. As he confirmed to me in an interview:
With the term i meant “Apply” game-like accelerated user interface design “to make electronic transactions more enjoyable and faster.”

Ian, try again and be more lucky …

Life 2) Oh no, in 2008 the term was used by Bret Terril, at that time Senior Director of Corporate Development at Zynga, the gaming company with the highest evalutation in the world. He argues that:
“…one of the biggest topics (and one I happen to be thinking a lot about it recently) is the gameification of the web. The basic idea is taking game mechanics and applying to other web properties to increase engagement.”
But the great heroes give their best in difficult times.
The final level boss is coming and you just have one life …

Life 3) In February 2010, without mentioning the term, Jesse Schell in the mindblowing talk “Design Outside the Box” throws (deliberately exaggerating) some theoretical basis showing a world where every action we take will be influenced by points and rewards through the deployment of sensors, smart phones, geolocation. Ah, Jesse Schell is the author of the best game design book as well as founder of Schell Games, a study of 150 employees.
IAN YOU LOSE. THE END!

The story, and not ugly words, demonstrate how marketing and marketing-oriented people do not play any role in how Gamification, both word and concept, is born.


The rest of the piece here
http://www.mobcontent.it/2011/08/11/gamification/

I agree that gamification can be exploited as just the next fad for businesses to engage in and spend money on, but there is one kernel of truth in all this bulls**t - electronic games have had a far reaching effect on the present workforce. Workers have grown up playing various games umteen hours a day and gaming is an integral part of their daily life. Some of this has been harnessed successfully by the military in the unmanned drones program and creating realistic training modules for all types of military equipment.
Today's workforce is pre-programmed for games so why not harness this already "built-in" game predisposition for business processes? That being said, two things must be avoided or your foray into gamification will be doomed to failure - overreach and low quality. Making a game out of something that clearly shouldn't be a game is a killer - it just makes gamification look silly. If you decide to gamify a process, producing a high quality game is paramount. We have a very game discerning workforce - they know a bad game when they see one!

Extremely entertaining thread.

All I really have to contribute is what has become my second favorite quote on gamification:

"What we’re currently terming gamification is in fact the process of taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience."

Source: http://www.hideandseek.net/2010/10/06/cant-play-wont-play/

"For those whose goal is to clock out at 5pm having matched the strategy and performance of your competitors, I understand that mediocrity's lips are seductive because they are willing."

That was some of the most beautifully written poetic truths I've seen in a long time. Made my day.

Most of what needs to be said has been said, so I'll try not to repeat. My overarching view of the article though was that the title is wrong, it should really have been called , 'Marketing is Bullshit'. This was much more a comment on marketing and those what do it than about gamification and sounded to me more like a game designer getting a bit upset because marketers were stealing their toys.

For someone who has run a games business for for over 10 years and consider my self to be a marketer, I find it very odd that so many game developers, designers and builders are so anti marketing. It's as though a 'real' game doesn't need it. Maybe that's why many a good game has fallen through the cracks over the years.

Getting back to gamification though and IMHO... It is a crap word. It is still being worked out, so means different things to different people. It will more often than not be done badly, especially in the next few years. It will be done badly if it's up to game designers, because they hate marketing, and certainly they typically don't get it. It will be done badly if it's done by marketers, because, as many have said, to make it work you do need a deep understand of good game design, rather than a superficial one.

It will be done well when the two work together, which puts us in a good position really. I think the next few years in the world of games are going to be infinitely more interesting and involve way more change than the last few, which means its going to be a fun roller coaster...

Col.
3RDSENSE


Golf is Bullshit!

@bidegain

Enrique Garcia on August 12, 2011 6:59 AM

Gamification is basically a new name to an old strategy. Games utilise motivational strategies which have been used in teaching, business and the military - just about everywhere, actually - and use them in connection with fun and voluntary actions. Now some designers are taking the motivatonal strategies also used in games, tacking a new name on them and reselling.

It may not be bullshit, because the motivational strategies are sound, but it is certainly misdirection. Game designers didn't event these tactics, they only used them in a new context, and now they are selling this new context back to the areas where the strategies were originally developed. Clever marketing indeed.

Gamification is a red herring here, and that makes Ian's argument (while compelling) somewhat peripheral to the actual issues and opportunities at hand.

Julian Dibbell says that 'play is the steam of the 21st century economy', and that is what these various gamification efforts is attempting to leverage. The issue is that we are in way early days as far as re-writing the world as a play space rather than a work space. So, yes, lots of efforts fall flat. However, anyone who has ever gamed Weight Watchers, or used Fitbit, or revelled in the pleasures of frequent flier mile geekery, extreme couponing, and other loyalty programs understands the satisfaction of reward sparking analytics . This even goes back in time... think about the baseball card collectors, Cabbage Patch kids, stamp and coin collectors of yore...

One of my best memories of childhood is participating in complex gold star scenarios that teachers concocted... I spent months collecting stars and stickers that I traded in for a goldfish at the end of the year... unbelievably satisfying, and impressive that a 6 year old could be so focused on a long term goal, I think.

As an anthropologist I know well the pleasures, as well, of collecting resources, planting seeds and seeing them grow, and other skills fundamental to our survival. Gamification lights up our pleasure receptors, and I think that's a good thing, even if we are wont to react to what may seem like a buzzword du jour. I think it's just about endeavoring to make economies of reciprocity work better, and to make things more fun. How can that be a bad thing?

Julian Dibbell says that 'play is the steam of the 21st century economy', and that is what these various gamification efforts is attempting to leverage. The issue is that we are in way early days as far as re-writing the world as a play space rather than a work space. So, yes, lots of efforts fall flat.

But wasn't this almost exactly the promise of much 19th- and 20th-century socialist theorizing, that this "work" / "play" distinction would be erased by undoing the alienating effect of of wage labor, and returning the activities known as "work" to being a normal part of life, which includes playfulness, earnestness, sociality, and the whole range of such things? The Soviets even explicitly used some of the same gamification strategies that are now being touted for workplace gamification.

If anything, it seems like a worse reinvention of the old socialist work-as-play idea, because now there isn't even any pretense of not just exploiting workers, tricking them into playing games for the profit of corporate shareholders. It seems like some weird worst-of-both-worlds: communist gamification at least pretended that it was reorienting the field of work entirely, towards a communal, "fun" activity that benefitted everyone, whereas traditional capitalism is up-front and honest about the fact that it's paying people for their work. Now we have some weird combination where we're reorienting work onto the field of play, so that corporate shareholders can profit.

"All of my interventions in advertising, as a developer and an author, deal with changing marketing practices for the better through games (for both companies and people)."

It might not be clear or obvious, but many of us are employing EXACTLY the same frame in our work to apply game thinking/gamification to the business world (including consumer experiences). Yes, many early attempts at gamification have been tactical, shallow and manipulative, but I think that was iteration 1. Iteration 2, I predict, will look much more like what you ascribe to in your comment. To suggest that "gamification is bullshit" ignores these efforts and intentions by many in the space.

@Barry
No, it characterizes those efforts as always subservient to the structures that underwrite them. There is no way out of that trap, so despite the possible hope (or better, rhetoric) of change, it will always be bounded by the operation of existing business practices.

Another way to put this: by strapping efforts like the ones you and I are referring to to gamification, you enslave them to the shallowness of exploitationware. There is no good reason to embrace or endorse gamification if your goals look beyond it.

@Mark N - In centralized control structures, yes, this is a concern. However, in bottom up economies of engagement, in which the 'work' is voluntary, play becomes a differentiator. Play also allows for a range of magic circles well beyond our traditional work metaphors. This makes them also creation spaces. I see play in this sense as something completely different, not merely an uncomfortable re-mix of reinventions of the whip. That said, I re-iterate that I think it's way early days, and we have no real idea how this will all play out. I'm just suggesting that we keep an open mind, collect metrics regarding the effects of such endeavors, and work on documenting best practices. It would be a shame to throw baby out with the bathwater.

These "early days" and "baby with the bathwater" arguments seem common in this discussion and related ones. I think they are non-sequiturs.

Gamification is the early days of a period for which we don't want to see the later days, or a bath drawn to drown the baby. Other strategies involving games and play are of course possible. I've offered my own fair share, and I will continue to do so. But there's no fallacy in doing that while rejecting this approach definitively.

Ian,

I completely understand what you are getting at there and agree with it. As someone who has been in the corporate world for more than a decade, I am all too aware of its soul-killing core and agree that gamification layered on top of that core is just gamified soul destruction.

I might suggest this bit of perspective though -- I've had some good experiences working with clients on gamified concepts from a perspective of "Persuasive Design" -- which my peers and I characterize as 1) Player-centric (what the customer want/need is subordinate to what the company wants/needs) and 2) transparent and non-manipulative. I've witnessed clients being receptive to these principles *because* we are presenting them within a "game thinking" context -- discussing their customers as "players" vs. reducing them to "consumers" provides a very different frame through which to view their business. As such, gamification actually opens their thinking and receptivity changing how they conduct business, not just how they add new mechanics onto their existing practices. How successful will we be with this in the long run? Its unclear, but I'm certain that we would not have been able to open the dialogue without gamification as the lead-in.

"Gamification is the early days of a period for which we don't want to see the later days."

Too many of the "but it's still early" and "sure, it's shallow NOW, but it'll improve" arguments suggest that these early attempts simply haven't nailed the exploitation part yet. To my horror, I realized that what most gamifiers consider "bad gamification" is "that which is bad at the behavior manipulation they're aiming for." In other words, "bad at getting people to take action" (as Gabe puts it) "against their own self-interest."

As a horse trainer all too familiar with the expert use of operant conditioning (and +R in particular), I agree with the gamifiers on their "but we're just getting started" characterization. Most gamification today is still based on the less effective fixed ratio reinforcement schedules. I fear they are just a few YouTube "Skinner" searches away from "leveling up" the manipulation to slot-machine effectiveness.

Kathy sierra on August 14, 2011 3:00 PM

Hi Ian,

So I've been thinking a bit about this whole gamification thing. As a hobby game designer, perhaps I'm being presumptuous to say this--since I haven't had to compete with gamification or play many of the crappy manipulative "games"--but my impression is that the demonizing, adversarial approach is the wrong one. What these people need isn't the legitimation of opposition, based on the presupposition that they could choose to do better. Everybody's doing the best they can with what they've got. Rather, it seems to me, what they need is patient guidance, so they can finally grow up and become fully human beings. After all, isn't that one of the key lessons of games: engagement with situations as ends in themselves? Rather than trying to use the here and now to be or get somewhere else?

We can give them that guidance simply by making better games and not getting distracted with bullshit. Its not the gamifiers' fault that the West thinks it dramatically prioritizes advertising over art. They may think they're fooling people--by helping businesses replace real rewards that cost money with virtual ones that cost nothing--but they're geekifying themselves as much as they're playmarketing their customers. All fiat money is monopoly money in the end: a socially constructed sign with the intrinsic value of paper, as many investors are learning. And if monetary value is based on human relationships, but one subordinates one's actual human relationships to monetary value, then one has already virtualized one's own desire, and lasting victory in the game of life becomes impossible. At least that's been my family experience.

In time game design and interactive arts are likely to become recognized by the mainstream as natural parts of the larger language of the humanities. I think of science fiction, and that moment in the 70s when some sci-fi writers suddenly found themselves being taken seriously as "literature." P.K. Dick comes to mind. That initial moment of acceptance and legitimation by the mainstream destroyed a lot of good sci-fi writers IMO. All of sudden they thought they could forget about plot, forget about the contract with the reader, and instead emulate a lot of miserable "literary" writers who had neither craft nor depth.

But today nobody cares about the "sci-fi" genre. Its the quality of the writing and depth of ideas that matter. Its become absorbed by the mainstream, and its history and tropes are used as freely by writers as diverse as Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Doris Lessing, Vernor Vinge, or Haruki Murakami. Its become accepted, even taken for granted--in the sense that now that the initial battle for acceptance has been won, artists can focus on using the language, lessons, and tools of sci-fi to make better art, rather than getting hung up about genre and turf.

And I suspect the same thing will happen with games if it hasn't already. Everything worth saving will still be here when the current fad dies, and those gamifiers that still haven't woken up will have moved on to the superfices of whatever new trendy business opportunity arrives. Maybe that's when the real work in interactive arts will begin.

Sure there's a maze of bullshit out there, whole theories of bullshit, philosophies of bullshit, cosmologies of rat scat... But why bother delving so deeply into them, unless for the fun of it? Remember McLuhan:

"Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity."

Mr. Seacrudge on August 14, 2011 5:29 PM

@Mr. Seacrudge
I disagree with some important details of your comment (doing the best they can, guidance, etc.), but that's sort of secondary to the place where I agree, which relates to not giving the opposition enough of the time of day to encourage their cause. This is, in fact, what I argue in the exploitationware article--don't reinforce the verbal frame of "gamification." I didn't take my own advice, as you can see.

While you may believe that gamification is BS, a series of extrinsic and intrinsic incentives should be designed in the engagement of customers, partners, employees, and users. It's part of the upfront design.

Call it what you may, w/o a good strategy, you lose the key interaction points and you miss out on opportunities to encourage desired outcomes. Not sure what you want to call it, but something like this will sure exist.

for now, i'm going to keep calling it gamification until someone comes up with a better term.

R "Ray" Wang
Principal Analyst & CEO
Constellation Research, Inc.
www.ConstellationRG.com

I feel like all the people who've labeled this critique of gamification as "sarcasm" or "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" forgot to read all the way to the end:

"For the rest, those of you who would consider that games can offer something different and greater than an affirmation of existing corporate practices, the business world has another name for you: they call you "leaders.""

Bogost isn't rejecting the concept of adding gameplay to non-game realms, rather he is criticizing the current approach (along with the actual terminology).

It is a silly term if you compare it to the other mediums of expression that exist. Photographs were first used for artistic expression, but businessmen of the day didn't label the eventual use of photographs for diagramming as "photofication".

I feel like all the people who've labeled this critique of gamification as "sarcasm" or "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" forgot to read all the way to the end:

"For the rest, those of you who would consider that games can offer something different and greater than an affirmation of existing corporate practices, the business world has another name for you: they call you "leaders.""

Bogost isn't rejecting the concept of adding gameplay to non-game realms, rather he is criticizing the current approach (along with the actual terminology).

It is a silly term if you compare it to the other mediums of expression that exist. Photographs were first used for artistic expression, but businessmen of the day didn't label the eventual use of photographs for diagramming as "photofication".

Hehe, nice touch at the end with "leaders" :))

I'm afraid you are a candidate for exgamification ;)

Rant ahead:

I think the gamification trend, and especially the word itself, has attracted some very shallow and incompetent people to a field that has definite merit.

I've been a game enthusiast all my life, and when my stars finally aligned in a way that allowed me to start my own company I was exhilarated - I was finally going to get to use my experience from games to improve everyday situations. I had just left a soul-crushing job at a software company making horrible accounting software, and for years I had been thinking about WHY accounting was so off-putting and why it was so hard to sell that kind of software. I had a background in philosophy, and I teamed up with some game designers for years of sketching, exploring and designing that led me and my future co-workers to a working model of how to intrinsic and extrinsic rewards modify experience. We started up our business and stretched out exploring tendrils into the interwebs and quickly found the appalling new trend of "gamification". Customers and potential customers started asking if we were part of the "gamification" crowd, if we had an API available for download, if we could really make a living on "adding some points to a website".

Of course, that was never what we did in the first place - but now the gamification crowd is and people like Nathan Lands and the Gamify crowd are doing more to pollute people's understanding of a concept than they are to help people.

The word gamification is a business-killer for us. When we get associated with that word it leads to difficult sales and poor expectations.

I sincerely DO believe that we can improve the experience of using a wide array of products by designing them with perceived reward, as well as intended utility, in mind. Helping software companies understand the game mechanics that are ALREADY in their product before exploring how these reward systems can be optimized was our business plan, but now we find ourselves "competing" with a bunch of enthusiastic entrepreneurs that think all that is missing from Your website is a way to earn a badge!

I am yet to lose any clients to one of these "competitors" (in fact, it seems to be going the other way) but I sincerely wish that the word gamification had not been coined. It is misleading and destructive.

- Anonymous, lest I be accused of promoting myself

While your thoughts hold some validity in the context of brands and marketing, it is abundantly clear that you have not spent much time- let alone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for an entire adult life - in a call center, retail break room, factory, cubicle sea, or similar environment that is devoid of color, creativity or personal choice. As a co-Founder of Saatchi S and someone who has worked with many Fortune 500 companies and millions of employees on culture change and engagement initiatives, I see a HUGE potential for sound gamification to help foster happiness, increase personal empowerment, build skills and interpersonal connections while enhancing company value. Then again, perhaps we ought to just focus on putting up "employee-of-the-month signs".....those work really well for retention and talent attraction.

Judah Schiller on August 17, 2011 12:28 AM

Judah Schiller, employee-of-the-month signs are a game. Not all games are great, and most badges are even less appealing than that plaque you decry.

If the gamification trend could focus on the science of motivation instead of the hype of points I think we would all be better off.

More Dan Pink, enough already of that half-wit Priebatsch. I don't care how much money he is making, his understanding of how games work - and the damage he is doing to other people's understanding - is infuriating.

And yes. I doth protest...

That's a really satisfying article.

Leonard Ritter on August 18, 2011 6:39 AM

Gamification is bullshit.

Matthew Jensen
Co-Founder
Natron Baxter Applied Gaming

@Ian, re: babies and bath water. There is a concept in media studies called the 'language of the medium', which describes the evolution of a technology platform or medium from its first invention to eventual incarnations that really demonstrate aptly its potential. I'm sure you know this meme well. When I said gamification is a red herring, it's because I think we shouldn't be talking about it, but about engagement, pleasure and play. It appears we don't disagree there either.

The crux of the gamification issue is the interest and adoption of what is simply little more than a tactic. What we should care about are strategies: engagement, pleasure, reward, virality, relevance. However we should also be willing to contemplate interesting tactics, and engage in the delicate dance of letting a technology or medium find its voice. This is an iterative process and therefore takes time.

I don't personally have a problem with current gamifcation efforts, as I think they are interesting experiments. I do think we need to be at the ready to collect information on their successes and failures, and to evolve quickly and steadily in more positive and effective directions.

Lisa, you and I see things very differently. You see gamification as a baby step. I see it as stepping on a baby.

just to clarify, is this a rant against "gamification," or against "selling the idea of gamification for profit?"

Did you read the post Kathy Sierra did on this? - Shame she's stopped posting http://gapingvoid.com/2011/06/07/pixie-dust-the-mountain-of-mediocrity/

why dont you tell me the rules this next time around ?

The position of Gamification as "Bullshit" is based on the premise that marketing and promotion are immoral and not truthful. If gamification is applied in a transparent ethical and truthful methodology the "bullshit" is removed. Participation as an opt in then becomes a powerful way to engage your customers and stimulate business. However, I agree with the author, that untruthful and deceptive actions and practices in marketing and promotion are "bullshit". In gamification let's foucus on transparency, honesty, and providing the best game mechanics in marketing and promotion.

1. I'd like to hear Ian expand on his last sentence. e.g. if Salesforce.com paid Ian to build games around their product, what would he do that wasn't Bunchball? (assuming he'd condemn Bunchball)

2. Ian's reductionist position feels my intuitive reaction to Schell's Gamepocolypse vision. The Gamepocolypse still terrifies me, but like Brave New World, I can't pin exactly why I hate it, other than it's not what I'm used to. Maybe Ian's point is: you don't need an argument: if it feels wrong, it probably is.

3. I found McGonigal's Gamification keynote had a nice take on the problem with gamification: "Bring heart to your efforts, gamifiers."

4. If gamification is shallow, which way to deep? Is there a limit to depth? Are games fake at their core? Do they hack the human's pleasure-from-learning system, like a drug? (can't recall cite for this, will find it if anyone cares) How deep can games go, really? e.g. I'm interested in learning game design, where constructivist simulation feels like a good way (and yes, constructivism alone leaves out important elements of effective learning experience, but still, a good base to start from). ...but there's some valid critique of over-simulating in games. (to do: recall cite)

When I think of gamification, I think of Dora the Explorer, a children's TV show, that has incorporated game elements in the show to 'coolify' it... it seems they've done very well with it. So I guess that not all gamification is BS, but there's bound to be lots of BS implementations.

hi!,I like your writing very so much! share we keep up a correspondence extra approximately your article on AOL? I require a specialist on this space to solve my problem. Maybe that's you! Taking a look forward to see you.

Ian, you are a bitter and ignorant blogger. You have condemned gamification in general as "bullshit" when, in fact, you are simply angry at our corporate enviroment that co-opts any good idea and perverts it for simple profit. If blogs were around in the 1800's you would have written "Western Medicine is Bullshit" based on your observations of snake oil salesmen.

As many of the previous post have mentioned, there are lots of good examples of gamification. Any casual reading of Jane McGonical will reveal scientific evidence that immersive game environments enhance/change cognitive function.

As with all new science, how and who develops it decides whether it is a force for social improvement or just a manipulative way of turning a profit in the corporate America you, and so many others (including myself) distrust.

I think gamification is a good thing because it helps us do things in a more engaged manner. It can influence our behaviors in a good way. Great to use at schools with misbehaving children, as it can make students behave for rewards. Also, many businesses have begun to gamify themselves to attract more customers, and increase sales by adding points-systems to their business. Many people like feeling that they're winning and competition is a way to do that. Things such as air-miles points have attracted lots of people to buy their products. Using game mechanics to solve our problems and engage us is great.

Gamification101 on February 1, 2012 6:07 PM

It's good to hear a cigar called a cigar, but you do it with a nice sense of humor too. Made me laugh.

Also funny is the gamification of actual games, lately. "Achievements" that mean squat and require no skill, but hey they keep my 10yr old happy.

:)

Yeah, I never understood the whole, "They only do this to get us to buy that", well, bullshit. Is it bullshit when we see a trailer that "makes" us go to the cinemas? Should we be upset when a book is made into a movie or vice versa? Who said we have to see/read it? Who said we have to play the game by their "rules". If we do it, and enjoy it, it's not bullshit. Bullshit, in this manner, is subjective. I may think the whole Mass Effect franchise is bullshit, but I have friends who love it all - the games, shirts, books, etc. Have they been duped? Did they play the game, get hypnotized to follow up related -ifications, to later wake up at home and realize they'd made a terrible mistake? No, they enjoy it, and if there's parts you or I, or anybody else, thinks is bullshit, we just don't partake in it; we can ignore it. It's like the whole thing with the Dragon Age writer, Jennifer Hepler (easily Googled if you're unfamiliar). She was absolutely right and the supposed "fans" who gave her bullshit were 100% in the wrong. You don't buy and play something you don't like. You don't like it and then suddenly retcon to not like it after you find out something you don't like about the writer. Nobody is obliged to do shit. If you don't like it, don't do. Buy another game or just stop being a gamer before you give yourself a heart attack. I think that thinking any of this is bullshit. But, that's just my perspective, subjective, opinion. Nobody has to agree with me (check. and. mate.). :P

Gamification is in its infancy. Which means at present, it is still more of a concept than a process. Of course, a lot of "bullshitters" will take advantage of this and promise marketing miracles once you "gamify" your product. But to deny the potential power of gamification is ludicrous. I had been using gamification models in my own way long before i ever heard of the word

this is a marvelous and necessary article that I am sorry only to have stumbled across just now. thank you for writing it.

In response to several posters here & building on your own excellent "Reality Is Alright," Jane McGonigal espouses not just a wrong-headed but a profoundly dangerous position, and the fact that she is not an academic appears (in her mind and practice) to license an incredibly selective and irresponsible "reading" of only some very narrow strands in the scholarly literature. She makes no effort to understand *how* reality got "broken," how/why it is "broken" *now*, and why our solutions to that brokenness should be confined to games. (I agree with yoiu, Ian, that reality can't be broken, and I would go further to include games *in* reality, so that McGonigal's constant sleight-of-hand on these matters really invalidates her work altogether.) She never even asks, for example, whether the tremendous amount of largely sedentary and physically isolated time we now spend in front of our computer screens might be part of the problem, despite the large amount of research suggesting just that. Her solutions very often aim toward something the few academic "happiness researchers" (the only sub-discipline in which she has much interest) she cites would agree with--more "quality time" spent in the physical presence of our loved ones and others to whom we are close--yet it apparently never occurs to her to mention that such time is available to us, generally, without games mediating those encounters than it is with them.

Since McGonigal earns her living exactly through the development and proliferation of games we should not be surprised by her exclusive focus on gamification as the solution to our problems; what surprises me is the widespread readiness to take up her work as if it were the (relatively) disinterested (note that I did not say and do not pretend "objective") scholarship of academics, who must take in, research, and understand all points of view to be responsible.

Dvaid Gloumbia on April 11, 2012 9:51 AM

Mr. E: Dora is quite different because of its intended audience, specifically those too young to be gamers or find much appeal in that. Rather, its not using a computer interface to educate children on TV. Its using TV to educate children on conmputer interfaces. Tool usage and all that.

I think the main point the gamification trend is missing is that for most of their history, games focussed on delivering enjoyment from the task itself. Achievements and points were only there as artificial lengtheners of that experience. I can see points systems only really have any benefit in the narrow field of educating grindfest-MMO addicted children who are half-asleep -- which is completely dodging the root cause of the problem -- and even then, you're just giving them a tangible way to compare each others' progress in their own education which is closer to the ideal than the 'finance + RPG elements = for the win' rubbish.

Wrong on all accounts.

Gamification used to mean "using gamedesign mechanisms in non-game-contexts". Unfortunately greedy people in your neighborhood occupied the term for their bullshit. And unfortunately rants like this drive the last nail into the coffin.

So maybe gamification now means bullshit. Let the stupid people conquer useful concepts, hooray.

The tone of this post is the same tone of posts referring to social games as bullshit. Guess what - they make money. (And people actually like playing them - sorry!) And guess what - gameification leads to higher engagement, brand awareness, i.e. shit you can actually measure. Shit that actually matters in the long run. Badgeville didn't raise an $18M series A on fake money and fake results.

Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's bullshit. What's bullshit is couching your distaste of something in skepticism of its value.

In short, you're the bullshiter. Enjoy.

This article is bullshit.

Michael Wilton on May 22, 2012 6:24 PM

Hi Adam,

Thanks for pointing out that the tone of an article critical of its subject is, well, critical. That's very insightful.

As for VC funding, well, a series A round is grounded on very little evidence, actually. It's a bet. And the idea that what gets VC funded "matters," that truly sends a chill down my spine.

Happy Interneting!

Ian Bogost on May 23, 2012 11:04 PM

The tone I perceived from reading this article is "Get off my Lawn!!"

Gamification is new and as much a buzzword as Green, Fresh, Cloud, etc., but there are profitable business models around it that take market share for more traditional business models.

In the age of smartphones and internet ADD, capturing user timeshare is one of the keys to running a successful business.

"but there are profitable business models around it that take market share for more traditional business models....In the age of smartphones and internet ADD, capturing user timeshare is one of the keys to running a successful business."

It's also the key to making shitty manipulative timesinks that serve no value to culture or humanity besides eating away the spare minutes between Facebook wall updates. It used to be that you could only make a fortune in the game industry if you provided creative, engaging, challenging game design. Now you just need to get people hooked on artistically devoid digital crack and watch the dough role in. I'm pretty sure that Zynga wrings all their money out of a hopelessly addicted ~10-15% of their playerbase, you know. I just couldn't live with myself if I was running that kind of business.

People like you are destroying everything I used to love about video games and the internet and it absolutely needs to stop.

I'm sure glad I read all of that whining oh wait I'm not. Look man gamificaiton may be a bunch of cooperate types looking to steal your money but so is insurance, hospitals, education systems anything that want's to make money will tell you whatever it can. Like you putting your tail between your legs and taking a overaggressive stance making bitch noises about it. You seem to think this gamification is getting me to go out and give someone more money than I would and that is low minded for someone who claims to be an expert. All I hear is something that reminds me of somehting I saw on my city bus(something I generally don't do because of my lifestyle) and I heard someone shouting real loud about how the state of america is the fault of a certain president. And I think your article is a whole lot of loud whining in a room full of people who have already formed their opinions, because that's what we do in america form opinions off of nothing and than try to back it up with whatever data says were right. Like saying a certain movement that is only large if you never leave your basement and post some tldr article that offers only the opinions of a man who probably jerks off onto his doctorate and no solutions.

Tldr for me: No one cares until you offer a solution instead of bitching.

Man, I don't know what's worse: Gamification, or arguments in favor of gamification.

Totally circular argument - "I'm going to call bullshit on a thing, call it gamification, then say that gamification is bullshit." (Actually, you did it a bit more subtly than that - you said "gamification is bullshit, and obtw, by 'gamification' I mean this thing that's bullshit.") Anyway, I don't agree, and I'm surprised at how many people are drinking your Koolaid here.

Here's what I think is a far more constructive way to think about gamification - the use of "game mechanics" in non-game applications, (especially enterprise apps).

Enterprise apps are things that people must use in order to do their jobs. As a rule, these apps are boring, they are not engaging, they don't help their users kick ass (which their users *do* want to do), they don't help their users collaborate, they don't help their users understand if they are doing a good job, or guide them to *do* a good job, they are often error prone. On the other hand, these are all issues that good games address, via a combination of intrinsic factors - it's always fun to kill things in an MMO or a first-person shooter - and game mechanics - it's really good to know if the thing you killed was worth killing, or how far you are from getting the next level upgrade, or if there are potential allies nearby who can help you handle the boss, whatever it might be.

Are enterprise apps intrinsically motivating in the same way? No, they are not, but people *are* motivated to do their work effectively, even if it's a partially extrinsic motivation- and everyone *does* want to do a good job, even if it's not what they'd rather be doing in the best of all possible worlds. And then there are those people who actually *do* love their jobs, just not their tools for doing their jobs. Using game mechanics in enterprise apps helps to address all of these issues.

Saying that gamification is just for "helping the man" and that it's all a scam and "exploitationware" is like saying "let's make everyone go back to 24x80 text screens to do their work - Windows are just a way for the man to get more work out of us." It's just a ridiculous argument.

Okay, definitely the latter.

I just had this thought : On one hand you have greedy corporations exploiting the idea of "gamification" as to expand their cliental and their wallets. What about game companies? I would feel that game developers and game companies main model is to make money by making games?

I'll be honest, it seems to me that the problem with gamification can be found in the app world. I hate looking for apps because people are trying to reuse the same models and constantly suck you in to simple stupid games. That is what would happen in the real world. Fact: people are motivated by money. Find a way to pay them more by doing certain tasks and they will work harder. If the game is just for bragging rights or so they can win, you won't have much participation.

Speaking of "exploitationware", I like the name so much I bought the domain. Your argument is one-sided, I think. Marketing is just what you do to attract buyers, sometimes it is bullshit and sometimes it is not, it depends on the marketer and the marketing. Success breeds immitation. I was looking for information about gamification because my son made me watch "Under The Boardwalk" about the making of Monopoly. This teacher by the name of Tim Vandenberg used gamification to teach math to students using Monopoly. The youtube video about it shows some pretty impressive results. I am trying to learn more about the board he uses and the lesson plan because my son loves Monopoly and it would help him learn and do better in math, I think. Anyway, I think gamification can be bullshit or it can be very useful, it all depends on how it's used. Just my humble opinion as a marketer and salesperson. Who wants to buy "exploitationware.com"?

The biggest bullshit is this article. Emotional without scholarly citations. Human life is a game, if you don't think that businesses, the government, or other groups will leverage this than you are fooling yourself...