It’s time to get real on gamification. I’ve seen much written about gamification. About what it is, how it works, and how to use it. Gamification as a kind of social mechanism that can be readily imported into a new or existing service to liven it up. To enhance and augment interaction and engagement. To make things fun.
Gamification and game mechanics have also been associated with non-game social interactions. I’ve seen it argued that everything is a game, that anything can be gamified, and that all social interactions are becoming games. As if all interaction is fundamentally based on or includes competition, incremental achievement, incentives and rewards, and successful outcomes.
Games and gamification have been extended not only to social tools and to social interaction online, but to other kinds of online interaction. Brand campaigns and engagement through gamified narratives and stories. Users in roles, positions, and on leaderboards. Gamification of question/answer services like Quora. And of Google+ users.
One would think that social game designers see only the game in interaction, the competition behind relationships, the success of action, and the strategic and tactical purpose of communication. As if all social might be subordinated to ulterior and extrinsic motives and outcomes for the sake of tracking, measuring, ranking, and rewarding users.
If by now you don’t see the cynicism an short-sightedness of social perspectives enslaved to the cult of competition, have your head checked. And your heart. Better yet, just hook your heart up to a monitor and track its function; the feeling heart has probably atrophied.
The trouble with this cheap proselytizing of social games and of gamifying everything under the sun (hey, mr Sun is five on the cosmic leaderboard!) is that it sells out social media and their users for trivial achievements.
If all you track and measure is the incremental and inevitable progress a user makes towards the next level-badge-reward-deal-tweet-point-avatar-privilege — and that’s inevitable as long as or until the user sees the inevitability of his/her own incremental progress in a different light — all you get is incremental value.
Not the relationship-transforming value promised by (social) brand managers. Not the trust-creating value asserted by (social) marketing professionals. Not the transparency-inducing value claimed by (social) business pundits. Just the incremental value left behind as the residue of a trivializing reduction of potential and opportunity to the safely-secured banal.
You get what you (can) measure. Gamified brand relationships don’t deepen brand relationships, cement customer loyalties, reward consumer passion, or enhance engagement. Games don’t engage what interests the consumer in a brand. In fact they disengage the user from real and meaningful interests just to subordinate them to “mechanical” ones. Mechanical actions, we should add, whose particular value to a brand is trivialized by the fact that these actions are being sold universally — as a risk-free ticket to user engagement.
Users did not ask for games everywhere any more than users asked for their activities and relationships to be gamified. Gamification, when extended and applied to online experiences as some kind of global palliative, is the cynic’s idea for success. Not the user’s.
Gamification, as a system of simple and effective rules and structured rewards, is a superficial and bankrupt approach to social interaction and engagement online. A wholly inadequate representation of user activity and purpose, a novelty seized upon simply because it has shown success as an adoption strategy. And because it can seemingly be described as a set of universal rules of design and play — social complexity simplified to what can be codified, coded, and counted.