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.