The Pitfalls of Gamification

The Pitfalls of Gamification


Over the past week, two excellent overviews of gamification have come out that highlight a few of the pitfalls that must be overcome for a successful product or campaign. Michael Wu, PhD is principle scientist of analytics at Lithium. In his most recent post, Michael discusses the inevitable, that players will always try to game a system and that no system is impervious to abuse. By including this presumption in design, campaigns can minimize the number and effects of “cheaters”. Also, following from an earlier presentation, Kirsty Alberts and Kyle Findlay of TNS Global have reexamined gamification and its effectiveness. Drawing on smaller sized data sets that show up to a 50% increase in engagement from gamification techniques, the team also identifies a few major considerations best summed up by a quote from Francesco D’Orazio, Research Director for Face Group, “Game mechanics have massive potential in the research industry, but low-grade gamification is only going to distort social interaction and skew research outputs.”

Kirsty Alberts and Kyle Findlay are researchers out of South Africa that work for TNS Global, a market research firm. In their recent presentation (below) they outline a few major pitfalls in gamification design (explanations are my own).

Rewards are not equivalent to achievement: This is a common misunderstanding carried over from loyalty campaigns. The belief that rewards should be given early and often does not translate to achievement. A reward for an easy “achievement” will ring hollow because the user has already experienced exactly how much effort is required to gain it. Achievements should mark major milestones in a progress to mastery.
Limited participation bandwidth: Gamifying a hastily thought out campaign will not increase engagement. Players’ time and their participation are a highly valued goods, especially to the players. In the “engagement economy” you are competing with habits and hobbies, and even if money is not a factor, the value proposition must make sense to the player.
Undermining intrinsic values and interfering with social norms: Many Twitter campaigns and Facebook notifications run aground of this. By incentivizing players to communicate with their social networks, campaigns can reduce meaningful communication.
Unintended consequences or gaming the system: Michael Wu explores this topic in depth in his most recent post on “Beat the Cheat“. Summing up his arguments, an effecitve gamification campaign must be fair with protection against cheating. Gaming of commercial gamification is inevitable especially when rewards are involved, so perfect protection against cheating is not possible. The task should be to either decrease the perceived value of the reward or increase the effort required to game the system in order to minimize the effect of cheating.

In Alberts and Findlay’s interview with Jesse Schell, he provides more general insight into what will make gamification successful in the long-term, “In ways it is a fad–adding points and badges in tacky ways, looking at ‘gamification’ as an easy way to make boring things seem interesting–that is a fad. However, the idea of designing business processes so that those who engage in them find them more intrinsically rewarding–that is a long term trend.”


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