Last week marked the Gamification Summit in New York. Over two days, nearly 400 brand, startup, non-profit, academic and agency folks gathered in downtown Manhattan to hear extraordinary educators, professors, executives and designers share their expertise about this growing field. As an emblem of our growing industry – one that Gartner group projects will account for 50% of all innovation in the world’s biggest enterprises by 2015 – it was a resounding success.
Not coincidentally, Sebastian Deterding chose that morning to release a review of my new book, Gamification by Design (O’Reilly Media). A German PhD student in UI/UX whose well-designed powerpoints and game research knowledge have earned him kudos, Sebastian is a vocal critic of the Gamification industry. Unfortunately, he turned down our expenses-paid offer to come and share his unedited, critical opinion directly at GSummit, choosing that moment to level his criticism of my book and our widely proven methodology online instead.
Sebastian’s long and detailed review contains critiques that can be distilled down into three basic types:
3. Differences of opinion on theory and practice
Despite valiant editing by the authors and O’Reilly’s editorial team, and hundreds of re-readings, every book contains some errors. Thoughtfully, readers have begun to point them out (including the awkward/confusing language on viral loops), at the official errata page. We check out every submission, and will try to make updates in future editions of the book.
From the deliberately libelous title on downward, Deterding makes multiple accusations of plagiarism in his post, mostly centering on work published by Amy Jo Kim as part of our sold-out gamification workshop series from 2010-2011. While there is no doubt that Amy Jo has made extraordinary contributions to our field (the reason I worked with her and clearly cite her as one of the sources/inspirations in the introduction to the book), Sebastian deliberately misleads in his assertions.
As evidence of my plagiarism, he puts forward slides from the book’s supplemental exercises and compares them to Kim’s from those workshops. But as any scholar of games and motivational design knows (and our book clearly references), those slides (and Amy Jo’s) are based on substantial prior research. For example, the player types research comes from Richard Bartle and the stages of mastery work from Oppenheimer and Oppenheimer. One can also find inspiration for the viral loops from Penenberg (and myriad others) and game design action verbs from Lopes, Kuhnen et al – without taking anything away from Amy Jo.
Most all work in the design field is inspired and influenced by prior art. To move the dialogue forward, we remix, refine and filter a wide range of concepts to distill those that are most relevant to our chosen audience (marketers, strategists and product experts in the case of Gamification by Design). Perhaps the choice of omnibus citations at the outset of the book and bibliography creates some ambiguity, but the current standard is not to burden the text with dissertation-style notes inline. Of course, if you’d like to see supplemental citations in the text, please submit them via the errata page and we’ll try to incorporate them.
Differences of Opinion on Theory and Practice
Woven throughout Deterding’s hefty text are a wide range of citations from academic research that ostensibly disagree with the propositions and frameworks we put forward in the book.
It is spectacularly naive to suggest that research – by mere virtue of its publication – is somehow “the one truth”. Almost every piece of work in social science and psychology has significant methodological problems, and opinions about what works (and why) go in and out of fashion as quickly in academia as they do on the runways. But Gamification by Design is a practical book for practical purposes, focused not on games at all, but Gamification as a unique, emerging and hybridized discipline. Whether or not academics believe the techniques in the book work, they are based on my experience with dozens of clients, interviews with hundreds of practitioners, and extensive review of the literature and case studies.
But it is precisely this disagreement – when framed in a constructive and meaningful way – that helps our nascent industry move forward. That’s why we were disappointed when Sebastian opted not to come to GSummit to share his academic perspective and to open a dialogue with the community of doers. It’s also why we – as an industry – announced the formation of the Engagement Alliance last week.
The purpose of this new non-profit association is to further research, education and dialogue about the state of the art in engagement science and Gamification. While we know that certain case studies and techniques appear to be hugely effective, we need substantially more information about the why and how – and passionate intellects like Sebastian are invited to drive the state of the art forward.
Despite our differences, and many suggestions to the contrary, I believe Gamification’s critics share a common goal with its advocates: to make the world a better (and more fun) place, even if they lack practical business experience from which to conjecture. We may disagree about the language, methodologies, tone and ability to communicate without animus – but that will not stop me from continuing to offer a platform for open dialogue.
That’s why I launched the Gamification Summit and have been such an advocate for the creation of the Engagement Alliance. Perhaps my optimism is as naive as some of our critics’ personal advancement strategies, but I remain firmly committed to these goals and excited about the great future we’ll create together.