Issues of Gamification Part 2

In Gamification, Serious Game Design on October 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

This is the second in a series of planned posts about the heavily trending gamification scene. These posts are shared for your enjoyment and feedback, and as a motivator to force me to build up my own thoughts and approaches to the topic.

In my first article on the supernova trend of gamification, I spent much of it dissecting the problems with early gamification efforts and CW. I further pushed forward the notion that the path to more impressive gamification efforts was going to be through improving the input methodologies that are a necessity of any game let alone the transmogrification of real-world tasks and productivity applications into games.

A full column on redefining gamification awaits but in order to proceed I need to at least do a bit of that here. Under any eventual definition, gamification should be the application of mechanics, interfaces, and/or gameplay from games/videogames to enhance modern day applications aimed at other outcomes besides pure-gameplay. In practice, or at least most practice and 99% of perception gamification is about what Margaret Robertson so-deftly called “pointification” and I in a speech I did earlier this year said was the proliferation of “score everywhere” vs. “games everywhere”. If we’re to believe that larger more robust forms of gamification will exist then lets just assume that current gamification buzz is really gamification 1.0 (at best).

What game designers and true serious game practitioners should be thinking about is what does gamification 2.0 and 3.0 look like. Sure, you might also worry about the land-grab that is going on as that’s what drives hype, vc, and early success stories (it’s not like all of them will fail, just most) because establishment is worth something. However, in general, most of us are not in that mode or position and so our goal is to push at what’s next?

As I stated before, gamification maturation will require far more development of the input side of the equation and improved process of play. Now I want to discuss how that matches with the second big need which is more robust gameplay.

Most gamification ideas right now are about shallow use of score as a behavior change tactic to drive adherence to either a brand, behavior, or the game itself. I was recently playing Jane McGonigal’s BreakthroughsForACure game which was funded by RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio (which also funds Games for Health), and score was a fairly motivating factor for me in that game despite many problems with it — and my general lack of interest in how score works in many systems and games. So I can’t deny that score everywhere/pointification, as concepts are powerful. But ask me my gamer score on Xbox Live…? I couldn’t begin to tell you – I just know it’s not earth shattering like Randy Pichtford’s. And while I like getting achievements in terms of actually playing Xbox games I can only recount one single achievement I’ve gained in a game ever… For the record it’s the pacifist achievement in the original Geometry Wars.

So what we have is a semi-powerful mechanic, that is, relatively inexpensive to implement. That’s called leverage and people are exploiting it as they should. A local maxima at its best.

Real robust gameplay for gamification still awaits. What might it be? For most game players, real robust gameplay comes from either the process of improving their physical skill and thus achievement (e.g. action games), or mastery over a system of strategic decisions whereby their ability to exert agency over that system provides them increasing return let alone new challenge (think Street Fighter combos, or CIV). The role play-balancing has here can not be understated. It is multifactor elements, balanced well, layered against shifting situational contexts, that creates interesting decisions (think CIV). However, gamification, as it exists today, is often serial in its input, and often simply binary in its rewards. That is not a great gameplay recipe – let alone for modern times.

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Most gamification does not provide and thus does not reward with in-game strategy. There is no grand mystery to unravel, no in-game process to optimize, and so it really isn’t a game. Now, safe-to-say, gamification does not require of anything to be a game. Fair argument, though its proponents are happy if you perceive all outputs from games follow along so long as you build a bridge back to games with a single instanced mechanic. Can’t have it both ways for much longer.

More robust forms of gameplay within gamification applications will require creating more in-app decision making and enhanced rules-of-play governing the system. They must abstract the real-world behavior and envelop it into a system where there is real strategic consequence of the actions you take in the game. This does not mean that you can’t shape adherence and motivate the underlying behavioral-inputs, but it does mean those inputs have to elicit more then a score response or other linear result.

NOTE: As an aside here, I’d place story, as it will be practiced by many, firmly under the ‘other linear result’ category. I can totally see the idea of people saying you will just add story to the equation as the next big gamification mechanic. HAH! How many of gamers equate heavy narrative with linear gameplay?

An example of more in-app decision making might be hooking behavior-inputs up to simplified city-builder where you can accumulate resources for managing the city through a variety of activities but the expense of those resources is entirely left to your in-game decision making. Or events in a game could be triggered by real-world behaviors but unraveling when to do them, and in what order, and at what locations could be made part of a more complex puzzle that is itself shaped by deft game design. All of this can be more interesting then just accumulation of points or badges and not tip too far into being a game that’s too involving.

However you want to define it gamification is unlikely to survive as a points-based-system-meets-shallow gameplay for much longer. The real blue ocean exists for the organizations that provide something that truly breaks things out of the (skinner) box that gamification is itself to proud of.


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