Gamify to Product Failure

In a press release written in 2012, Gartner said by 2014,[1]

“80% of current gamified systems will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design.”

Verifying the 80% may be a bit difficult at this time, however, it’s pretty easy to come up with many examples of failed gamification. (Note: there also weren’t wildly successful ones.) How could it be that something so highly praised could fail so much? The problem is we’re choosing the wrong game mechanics[2] to apply.

They don’t want to use the hard, strange, magical features of games. Instead, they want to use their easy, certain, boring aspects. Those are the gimmicks which can be leveraged into “monetizable APIs” and one-size-fits-all consulting workshops.
–Ian Bogost

Adding points or badges will not make your product successful but this failure to produce results is not due to a failure in gamification–it’s a failure in understanding what gamifying a product means. In order to comprehensively understand gamification, we have to understand what makes a good game and pay attention to what the gaming industry can teach us.

The problem with applying game mechanics in a shallow way is, at the root of it, they cannot solve the problem of a lack of motivation. In order to sustain long-term user activity:

  • The product has to fulfill a need which is fueled by self-motivation.
    A user will not go back to an app if they have no motivation to use it. This is an important hurdle to overcome in apps in which more data input (whether manual or not) provides more value.
  • The product has to provide value to the user’s life which is easily understood.
    Fulfilling a need is separate from providing value. Providing value can be difficult to communicate in a quick and easily understood way. If the solution is not faster, easier, or cheaper, you are fulfilling a need without providing further value.
  • The product has to encourage and develop intrinsic motivation and change behaviours–not just minds.
    The real hard work is always in user retention. Continued delightful experiences maintain long-term usage. The word ‘delightful’ can mean many different things in many different contexts–delight could mean efficiency (getting the user to the goal faster than before), celebrating a user’s goals, or be as insignificant as fun illustrations.

“When well done, gamification helps align our interests with the intrinsic motivations of our players, amplified with the mechanics and rewards that make the come in, bring friends, and keep coming back. Only by carefully unpacking consumer emotions and desires can we design something that really sticks.”
–Gamification by Design

↩︎ [1] Dom Nicastro, Gartner Sticks to its Failing Gamification Prediction↗︎, 12/13/2012

↩︎ [2] A long list can be found on Wikipedia↗︎

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