The Problems with Gamification

The Problems with Gamification


What We See as the Problems with Gamification

Gamification is a powerful tool that is poised to change the world. The old Gartner adage that predicted that by 2014, 70 percent of the world’s top 2000 companies will be using some form of gamification…but they also had a report that stated 80 perfect of gamified processes will fail in 2014.

Naturally, there is some backlash from those who think gamification is a fad that doesn’t really work, or that it can even be harmful. And you know what? Some of those critics make good points. The problem, however, is not gamification itself. The problems are FAKE gamification and BAD gamification.


Fake Gamification

Let’s face it, some “gamification” efforts don’t deserve the label. As Margaret Robertson, New York-based managing director of UK game design company Hide&Seek, points out, real games are engaging for several reasons. “Importantly they have a dynamic structure in which things happen when you take actions, there are challenging goals and objectives, impediments and a real risk of failure.” Games should be many things, including fun, and simply awarding points and badges for completing tasks doesn’t constitute a truly gamified experience. “What we’re currently terming gamification is in fact the process of taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience,” Robertson wrote in a 2010 blog post.


Bad Gamification

And what happens when poorly designed gamification is implemented in, say, a call center? As this recent article from Wired describes, this sort of gamification can actually make customer support worse, by focusing employees on points and extrinsic rewards instead of the intrinsic rewards of helping people. Granted, it’s a stretch to assume that most people choose to work at a call center because of their burning desire to be helpful. But as the article points out, while some gamification can lead to improved customer service, in other cases, attempts at gamifying the customer service process basically amounts to another way to keep close tabs on employees, without much benefit to either employees or customers.


Gamification is a powerful tool for voluntary behavior change and it will continue to influence many areas of our lives, including education, health, business, and the environment. We shouldn’t let bad gamification and fake gamification prevent us from enjoying the benefits we can receive from actual, well-designed gamification.

To that end, the Engagement Alliance, created to further research, education and collaboration in gamification, will work toward developing a universal training and certification program for gamification designers. The Engagement Alliance is also working on a vountary code of ethics that certified designers would agree to uphold. If you are interested learning more and providing feedback, you can read more here.

Image by striatic


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


  1. Schell mentions managing expectations in his interview on here. Snake oil promises to cure everything and cures nothing. A good design also needs a little help from the fickle finger of fate. The management of expectations has to begin at the first pitch. There’s nothing quite like under-promising and over-delivering, or that Tom Sawyer tease.