The Pitfalls of Gamification

I’m worried about gamification. I’m worried that it’s going to be the next fall guy (or girl) in the marketing space as people begin to decide that “no one wants badges”.

Granted, the truth is that, yeah, no one wants badges. But that’s because it’s not the badge they want but the recognition of achievement, either from a game or from their friends. Since none of the badge-based games do that particularly well, then people don’t want badges, branded or otherwise.

So what’s the deal? Gaming touches on a set of core human functionality. A good game presents itself as an achievable challenge. Something that you can do, that’s outside of your day to day life, that provides instant feedback to your actions and a place for you to try something out over and over again. Physiologically good games create dopamine bursts in the brain that look a lot like what happens when we take drugs. So while it might sound gross, there’s many companies that see this as a fantastic opportunity to connect people with their brand.

Heather Chaplin, in an article she wrote for Slate on March 29th, takes the perspective that gaming should not become  a means for companies to engage people, especially employees. She sees the dangers of gamification as a means of paying lower wages while increasing performance for employees while, at the same time, convincing consumers to give information or perform tasks for free.

She’s got a point. But maybe that point will become antiquated over time. Look at Khan Academy’s new Practice section of their website which turns learning into a game with points and ranking. If you’re a student growing up within this system of encouragement, would be you offended if your employer or an advertiser created a brand-centric game? Probably not. Maybe you’re not as compulsive as I am, but I spent about 2.5 hrs playing at addition, subtraction, multiplication and division because the site made it fun to try it out (when was the last time you did long division without a calculator… and… yeah I’m that big of a nerd.)