How Not to Make a Point (and Earn that Badge)

How Not to Make a Point (and Earn that Badge)


Game Designers Still Don’t Get Gamification

Yesterday, Steve Bocska opined here on about what was to be – ostensibly – a discussion of designing gamification without using points and badges. Instead, what he wrote was a screed that questioned the ethics of many gamifiers, assailed social games (really? is this 2011 again?) and reached its climax with the oh-so-powerful suggestion that you “think very carefully about what you’re trying to accomplish.” In the process of trying to lecture this growing community on its ills, I think Steve has made the point of one of our most prolific experts, Rajat Paharia, very clear: game designers – in general – just don’t understand gamification.

Many of the points that Steve makes are obvious to be sure (e.g. points and badges aren’t enough), but he’s tilting against imaginary windmills. Certified Gamification Designers already know that depth and purpose matter, and through the courses we teach and workshops we hold through our burgeoning industry, none of us can be accused of missing that point. Game developers seem convinced that us simple business folk can’t possibly wrap our minds around the idea that systems need long-term meaning and value, that they must progress over time, or that users’ intelligence should not be underestimated. After all, hasn’t the games industry been the champion of collective intelligence and business acumen in the past 40 years?

Part of the reason why I continuously insist that gamification is its own discipline — separate from, but similar to, game design — is that we have a major cross to bear. Our designs must not only be entertaining (which is hard enough) but also help people change their lives for the better, grow businesses, improve civic engagement, change the world, and make work more productive. In short, our challenges are generally much more complex, economically significant and — dare I say — meaningful than the work that preoccupies most game designers.

It’s therefore more important than ever that we continue to refine our education and certification curricula. The case-based and practical approaches we’ve advocated work, and our industry continues to grow at a rate unmatched by most others in recent times. We are doing important and meaningful things, with generally high ethical standards. Certified gamification designers are among the best creators of experiences in the world, and with diligence this trend will continue. — check out the cases presented at GSummit 2013 for some examples. We have – in so many ways – transcended the surly bounds of “game design”, and there’s no reason to turn back now.

That, my friends, is the point.


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  1. While it’s true that Steve failed to support his point in the most ironic way possible, attacking his background in game design is just as much a failure. The fact is, game designers and non-designers face two different, but equal, problems when entering gamification.

    Game designers need to learn the context of this new environment. They already know how to motivate and they have an intuitive understanding of how to make an experience fun. But if they can’t let go of the pure game context of their past life, they won’t succeed in gamification.

    Non game designers presumably understand the business they are trying to gamify perfectly well; they understand the context of what their users need, what the business serving them needs and the nuances of their relationship. For the non-game designer, the context is clear but what’s missing is a great deal of motivation and system design that needs to be learned.

  2. Great Point Gabe…I think Games are similar to Gamification as Coal is to Colgate. Games are designed as alternate to hideaway from reality and Gamification is motivating the players to face the reality and enjoy it too…

  3. “Our designs must not only be entertaining (…) but also help people change their lives for the better, grow businesses, improve civic engagement…” – ¿Is not the game was doing all the time during Human History? Plz check this lecture at University of Lüneburg:

  4. I came to this site because I have been one of those who was against the idea of gamifying education, thinking that making learning a game trivialized it and minimized the hard work that is required. But I have since learned that there is a huge difference between educational games and gamifying education. I think if we could find another word, one that doesn’t include the word “game” in it, it would be much easier to get instructors to adopt the principles of gamification. I know the more I learn about it, the more it makes sense. But as long as the name includes “game”, there will be resistance. I know, there goes your branding! LOL!

    • I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think that the problem lies with the word “game” but our ability to educate the public about the positive aspects of games. Your view on this demonstrates that we still have a lot of work to do as long as educators and parents view games as trivial, fun, and unimportant in daily life. Gamification, to me, looks at the psychology of how we engage in games when we won’t engage in similar activities in life.