Finally, We’re Getting Somewhere

Finally, We’re Getting Somewhere


There’s been a bit of back and forth about my best-selling book, Gamification by Design in recent days. After reading the book itself, you can check out the opening review from PhD student Sebastian Deterding here, my measured response here, and his latest (not unexpected reply) here.

Now that we’re all caught up, at the very end of Sebastian’s latest piece, he ends with this fascinating question about my book:

“Why not inform readers about the complications and caveats involved? Why not be more careful in presenting what knowledge and experience is already out there? Why leave so much value for readers on the table?”

Setting aside for a moment that we absolutely point out a number of limitations and concerns about design patterns both in the book and in my live talks, he makes a great point. I present the opportunity for doers interested in gamification the way I see it – from my work with brands, the case studies, and the research.

Alternate approaches, viewpoints, design concepts and opinions are welcome in our community. That’s why I offer the op-eds, videos and conference speaking slots – unedited and unfettered – to anyone who wants to present their opinion and speaks with the credibility of experience – including Sebastian. That’s also why we spend the money, time and personal capital necessary to create an industry association, advocate for an ethical code, and more.

My responsibilities and perspectives are manifold, including pieces critical of gamification and my perspective on it (which I have written) and lots of analysis and self-reflection. I see dozens of case studies a week, and between my team and I, we try to understand their stats/dynamics, play the apps themselves and distill insight from them wherever possible. Most of the time however, my job is to champion the industry, the concepts of gamification, and most importantly – its potential to be a force for positive change in industry, government, education, and society. This includes creating an ethical code, and training future business leaders in the need to understand this trend and its effect on business.

But the conversation has to start getting constructive and focused on creating better outcomes, or it’s really less a conversation and more a rant.

To that end, I want to suggest that we get Sebastian’s thoughts together and put them where they’ll be most useful – as supplemental material to Gamification by Design. What I think readers would love to see is a thoughtful chapter on the limitations of gamification, the biggest pitfalls and key areas they should be concerned with. Though we’ve tried to cover this material throughout the book, a concentrated dose of that with Sebastian’s research skills behind them should be awesome. Obviously, we’ll need to get approvals and content will be subject to editing, but I’m sure readers will be stoked to see these thoughts in a focused, concise and constructive form.

I know I will.


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  1. I am too atonished by the notion of adding Sebastian’s work to *your* book to know where to start, so I will skip the whole discussion except for this:

    “… Back and forth about my best-selling book”

    By what criteria is this a “best-selling” book? The Amazon sales rank appears to be staying mostly above 10,000 which, especially for a new release in a hot topic, is definitely NOT a best-seller. That does not mean it won’t eventually sell enough copies (say 30,000 retail) to be deemed a publishing business success, but given the current ranking, and given that we have the same publisher, I have no idea how you’re calling it a “best-seller”.
    Until/if a book can stay below a rank of 5,000, it is VERY tough for it to reach what most publishers would consider a true “best-seller” status. So, again, your book might still get there, but it is far from having earned a meaningful “best-seller” rank, according to Amazon. (Amazon sales rank has proven to be an excellent predictor of overall success of a book across all channels, for most topics).

    If it can make it to the top 100 in one of the major categories, top-level categories (like Computers/Internet as opposed to a subset like Wireless Programming) *and stay there for several weeks*, it usually has a good chance of becoming a “best-seller”. Again, your book might still get there, but not unless it’s Amazon rank improves substantially (and maintains it). Again, it usually takes an Amazon rank well below 5,000 to end up on one of the major category bestseller lists. It would not surprise me if a book — any book — on a current hype-cycle topic reached those numbers. I’m actually surprised it isn’t selling better based solely on topic/title.

    Sorry for being all picky about this, but publishing is a domain I care about, and the phrase “best-seller” should still mean something.

    • One might disregard Kathy’s complaint about Gabe’s use of “best-selling” as being trivial or a non-issue in the grand scheme of things. But I think it points to a deeper issue.

      I have to wonder why Gabe decided to append “book” with the modifier “best-selling”. In the context of “a bit of back and forth”, surely the “best-selling” modifier is unnecessary (and as Kathy pointed out, misleading). You could have simply said “my book”.

      Surely a marketer like Gabe would know enough about language to understand that sometimes, modifiers are not necessary. This is particularly true if you’re speaking honestly.

      I would say the “best-selling” modifier was put their as a personal advancement strategy, which is something that Gabe has called “naive”.

      I think that is dishonest. I’ve read many of Gabe’s posts and comments and I’ve noticed that he dances around controversy by reducing it to “differences of opinion” and by constantly “welcoming critique” instead of actually providing a detailed, thorough, researched (with links to research) response.

  2. Hi Gabe,

    that is a kind offer. As you will likely have seen on the blog, all the posts are licensed under a cc-by license, thus they are free for you and anyone to remix, refine and distill with the proper attribution. Thanks!