How gamification is hurting our industry

I honestly thought gamification has been dead for about 2 years ago, when I saw the last RFP come across my desk with a company requesting “gamification” as one of the features they wanted in their business app. But now, companies are trying resurrect the term to drum up more business. 

Gamification is an industry buzzword that some software designers use to describe the introduction of game design into apps that are business focused (instead of entertainment based.) It is a tactic provides value in very rare circumstances. The following need to be all true:

  • The people using the app are lacking motivation to complete their digital tasks and this motivational vacuum is not a systemic issue of a larger problem (like a crappy product or poor leadership)
  • There is no way to simplify the app in a way that makes it easier to use (in my experience, this is extremely rare).
  • The company using the technique has a playful culture – one that embraces “fun” as a part of their core values.
  • The primary objective of the app is either publishing or learning.

If you attempt to execute a gamification strategy to get your customers to do something that they do not want to do, you will be very disappointed in your results. In every circumstance I’ve seen a request for gamification, the primary objective was to prod people down paths they weren’t willing to naturally take. People aren’t cattle. Always keep this in mind: your job as a digital product designer is that you are here to serve your customers, not manipulate them. 


  1. Well, in June alone I attended three gamification conferences in Europe and the US, where there were in total 1200 conference attendees. That doesn’t look like a dead industry.

    Then you say a company needs a playful culture to use gamification? If they have not, they are screwed?

    First, gamification is not about playing games. LinkedIn and Amazon are gamified systems. Do they look like games? Do you need a playful culture that somebody uses them? Those systems used design elements that nudge you towards certain behaviors, such as sharing more information with the community, doing more updates, write better reviews etc. Gamification offers information in a smarter and actionable way.
    If somebody is not motivated, it could be that they there is not information to do good work. Or that they don’t get feedback how well they are doing and how they could improve.

    Second, gamification is not manipulation. If you have those waste bins for separating trash, is this manipulation? Are they evil because the waste bins prevent you from putting a round can in the slit with the papers? Is architecture manipulating you, because people in places such as a subway or concert halls are guided in certain directions and paths because of the way it was designed? No, these are designs that help you make faster and better decisions.

    It’s not only not rarely working, but working pretty much even in the most simplistic designs. Just to get some facts and figures, here are over one hundred use cases:
    And the here is ton of evidence from research:

    You should work on learning what gamification really is before you dismiss it. Use that RFP not to put the customer down, but challenge your own knowledge and attitude. Otherwise you’ll be an extinct dinosaur soon.

  2. You didn’t actually explain how gamification is hurting “our industry” other than when it is applied wrongly to a given problem. Isn’t that same thing true of any technique poorly applied?

  3. I think you have successfully defined ‘bad gamification’ design – ‘getting people to do something they don’t want to do’. Good gamification design is about helping people do things they do want to do! Nike+, Strava are better examples.

  4. Wikipedia’s definition of gamification:
    Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.

    I’m a bit of a word snob, and I feel some of these comments are talking about good experience design, and not “gamification”

    Mario – I totally understand your ruffled feathers given your position as a CEO of a gamification consultancy. Bluntly, I have a problem with any industry buzz word that is used as a primary strategy to solving a difficult business problem. Lean UX, HFE, Design Thinking, Responsive Design, Adaptive Design, Web 2.0, Big Data, Mobile First, Gamification; are all terms (in my experience) used by opportunistic agencies that try to simply the complex design process in order to help simplify their own sales process. If my belief makes me a soon-to-be extinct dinosaur than I’m not sure I would want to be a part of this industry anyhow.

    In its true definition, gamification is a tactic that might be leveraged, on occasion, by a good experience designer looking to solve a specific user problem – it is absolutely NOT a strategy.

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