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Shall we play a game - Gamification and software


Using techniques from video games can drive usage.Games people play, you take it or you leave it
Things that they say, honor brite
If I promise you the moon and the stars, would you believe it
Games people play in the middle of the night
~Alan Parsons Project, Games People Play

We love to play games and the gamification movement, making just about everything into a game is changing the way we think about software and other services, but is this a good thing? Should everything be a game?

I wrote a post on this blog back in January called Making Programming Fun and Games, about Microsoft's ideas for making programming a game, comments on Reddit suggested it was a condescending approach. As one commenter, protonfish, put it, "I love having treats tossed in my mouth like a performing animal." In other words, programmers weren't thrilled at the idea of being subjected to gamification.

But does everyone feel this way? And what about your users? Would they like games? It probably depends on how well it's incorporated into the software and what the rewards are.

A recent post on the Randsinrepose blog suggests that it might be a good way to motivate users, but you have to be careful how you do it. As the blogger put it, "...there are a lot of folks who think gamification means pulling the worst aspects out of games and shoving them into an application. It's not. Don't think of gamification as anything other than clever strategies to motivate someone to learn so they can have fun being productive."

That's certainly a different perspective from thinking of your users, whether they are programmers or not, as trained seals, but the point is you have to be clever in your approach and not just offer some badges for generating the most code, for instance.

Neil Fox, who is vice president of strategic consulting at Ness says gamification may be the latest buzz word, but there's certainly something to it, even if it doesn't apply to all situations all the time.

"The real insight of gamification is the concepts of challenge, social and reward. That is not to say that every application needs to be a game, but software that includes a competitive social aspect with (most often not monetary) rewards will be more compelling than those applications that are pure utility in nature (read "no fun").

He says companies such as, TripAdvisor and hundreds of others have realized that by making software fun and social, you can create an amazing amount of participation, but he warns, "This is not as easy as it sounds. Creating a real social context and lasting competition is in itself a tremendous challenge."

He adds, "The good news is that gamification can be applied to nearly anything.... If you have kids then you likely know what it's like to make a game out of cleaning their room. We just need to think the same way, but with software and much more social."

So perhaps gamification, like so many concepts, can work for you too, but you have to be clever about it, rather than heavy-handed -- and just maybe you can get more people using your software or service -- which is after all the intended goal.

Photo by ShardsOfBlue on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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