NYTimes earns the fail badge

NYTimes earns the fail badge


This past weekend Natasha Singer at the New York Times tried her hand at summarizing Gamification in a short form piece. Setting aside the obvious fact that to cover an industry as broad, big and rapidly growing as ours is tough at best, the lack of common sense in the piece is glaring.

My favorite is the final quote from Margaret Robertson, in which she predicts a future when companies will position themselves as anti-points (and missions) in a form of Gamification backlash.

Setting aside the fact that the NYTimes’ vision of balanced reporting often calls for ending with a counter point, this one is particularly silly. Any real business reporter should have asked the obvious question: when have industries “deloyaltied” their consumer interactions? What examples are there of consumers reacting negatively to incentive programs over time? And why would someone who makes “pervasive games” – themselves emblematic of the concept of Gamification – wish for a future when people didn’t enjoy having fun that’s tangential to “required” behavior? And what about the longstanding examples like StackOverflow or Nike+ (not to mention the entire travel industry) that clearly thrive over a longer arc with gamified/loyalty approaches?

Obviously, industries generally don’t roll back loyalty systems once they’re delivered. For good reason – even if consumers no longer respond as well to Gamification over time, they generally don’t start hating it. They simply price it in as a common activity and shift their focus to the next thing. This means we have a great responsibility to ensure that our gamified experiences evolve over time, continuing to deliver great value and excitement well beyond the initial period.

As I’ve written about many times, one of the biggest mistakes in understanding Gamification – and one that I think the New York Times clearly makes here – is to assume that it’s all about games. Game design (and by extension, game designers themselves) are only one part of our discipline. We draw inspiration and design patterns from games, loyalty and behavioral economics – and to understand the effects and future of our industry, you must understand select knowledge from each of those categories.
Failing to understand this synthesis is behind much of the criticism of Gamification from game designers. And not seeing this tension for what it is (mostly unfounded fear) continues to rob the amateurish, mostly academic “debates” around Gamification of their legitimacy.

That is a mistake we (obviously) will not make at GSummit 2012, or on this blog – and one I’d love to see the grey lady avoid in the future.


  1. Gamification in education is not new, just the new term that now identifies it. Teachers have been using the process of game thinking and mechanics to engage and motivate students in their classroom. Now how do we take game thinking and mechanics to (LMS) learning management systems to engage and motivate students to work independently on e-courses?

    I have been reading your book, Gamification by Design and other gamification books, watching every video, and taking notes since October 2011. As I read these game mechanics and strategies these are what I used so successfully with my students, especially my at-risk students for over 41+ years.

    We just did not call it gamification and I did not have the technology we have today, but I used many motivational tools, leader boards, stickers, games, competitions, cooperative learning along with loyalty, engagement, achievement, discovery, and inspiration to motivate my students in the classroom.

    Taking successful gamification from the classroom and applying to a LMS for online learning?

    Ideas, suggestions, help, models that have been used successfully? I understand that it is not just adding badges and awards to a site, but it is “inspiration and design patterns from games, loyalty and behavioral economics,” from your article above.

    Presently, I have a new learning management system, http://www.edudaris.com which I am planning and working on gamificaiton.

    I would like to open the discussion of gamification, education, and learning management systems.

  2. […] The Gamification blog is annoyed by a NYT article trying and failing to explain gamification. I like this quote which fits nicely with the post about the importance of continuous and valuable updates of software I wrote on Monday: This means we have a great responsibility to ensure that our gamified experiences evolve over time, continuing to deliver great value and excitement well beyond the initial period. 51.534270 -0.120987 Share it: […]