Gamification has issues, but the name ain’t one

Gamification has issues, but the name ain’t one


Our own Gabe Zichermann was featured on O’Reilly Radar yesterday with his post, “Gamification has issues, but they aren’t the ones everyone focuses on.” Main discussion points include that the name gamification, multisyllabic as it is, is probably around to stay. On the topic of games in relation to gamification, he uses a quote from Nick Fortugno, co-founder of Playmatix, “Gamification is to games as jingles are to music.” They are different but related disciplines that leverage similar techniques and technologies. Other than these issues, Gabe raises three subjects that he views as more detrimental to the use of game mechanics outside of games.

First, replacement and over justification. In many situations, applying extrinsic motivations to support intrinsic skills can be damaging to intrinsic motivation. Second, the cost of ownership. Gamification campaigns, when done well, include a timeline beyond what designers may be used to, and require an amount of upkeep and attention in line with community management and development. Lastly, addiction and compulsion. Games and really any well-designed system can put users in a state of flow where they are more accustomed to accept information that the system gives them. For a solution, Gabe advocates “a voluntary code of conduct for gamification design that vastly exceeds an ethics dialogue — let alone standards of conduct — in games and gambling. At its heart, the core concept is to allow users to make informed choices about their engagement. It also means not using these techniques for anything that would cause direct harm to users.”

Check out the article on O’Reilly for a complete take, and we invite readers to join us in constructive debate on the topic. Please leave the flame wars in the 2000’s.


Need help with behavioral science and gamification? Get in touch with our boutique consulting agency Dopamine.


  1. The problem with games and gamification is that it is difficult to achieve gravitas with either, even if people like to play games and most of what we do in life can be seen as a game, solitary or multiplayer depending on our personality traits. The first time I saw the word in print, I mistook “gamification” for the simplification and trivialization of sober social processes — turning them into games. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If I (who favor gaming as a learning device) can be so mixed up, so can others be.

    The other issues are more profound. Is gamification the best source for ideas about heightening situation awareness? Some in the area of visualization and cognitive science might disagree. Is it as easily importable as the experts make it seem, without losing a lot of the vitality that gaming itself has? So far, the question remains unanswered.

    Ultimately, will gamification survive as a practice, or even someday a discipline (under one name or another), or will it be discarded as last year’s big promo (as happened to “captology,” the nascent science of understanding how attention is captured by digital technology, pioneered at Stanford by BJ Fogg — where regrettably, it remains). How people judge its future will determine if they make the intellectual and monetary investment to move gamification into the mainstream. Good luck!