Sixty-two Reasons Why "Gamification" Is Played Out

Designer/researcher Sebastian Deterding explains why badges, points, and leaderboards won't automagically turn your product into the funnest game ever.

"Game mechanics" are the new digital hotness these days. Fueled by business books like Total Engagement, successful apps like Foursquare, and presentations-gone-viral like Jesse Schell's "gamepocalypse" talk, it seems like every damn thing on the Internet is getting some gamelike interaction grafted onto it like a cyborg appendage.

And Sebastian Deterding, a designer and researcher at Hamburg University, has had enough.

He distilled his thoughts on "gamification and its discontents" into an embeddable 62-slide presentation that's pithy and pretty in equal measure.

Deterling attacks the gamification trend from a variety of angles, but his argument boils down to this: points, badges, and leaderboards do not a true game make. What they do make is distraction, confusion, and obsession with "fake achievement."

Here's his visual indictment of how points — a key feature of gamified products, services, and marketing schemes — miss the point:

If points (and a brainless way of earning them, like mashing a button that gives you points) are the key to games, then the above "game" should be the funnest thing ever devised by man. (The satirical game Progress Wars makes this same point.)

He makes a compelling argument, with some non-obvious twists near the end — like how gamified systems can warp social norms and encourage unintended consequences. For example, if your car dashboard is constantly blinking points or a "life meter" at you based on how mileage-efficient you are, you might be so focused on winning that "game" that you whack into somebody in the parking lot.

The whole presentation is worth viewing. At the very least, it may get you to ease up on sending all those $#&*ing Foursquare check-ins to everyone you know.

[Read more at Pawned: Gamification and its Discontents]

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  • If you were looking for the ethical issues surrounding gamification this is a good start, however you may want to broaden your search to the ethical issues around 'persuasive technologies' in general, as there is a lot in common between gamification and its bigger brother of persuasion through communication.

  • Hudson

    Like it or loath it, gamification is here to stay.The slide presentation could be reduced to just slide #21.Just because someone can develop a website, doesn't make them a good developer. Most people, perhaps 98%, who design websites should give up immediately, there's just no hope. Therefore it follows that 98% of every gamified offering is going to smell a bit.But think what the alternative is to the current state of affairs - anyone who develops a website must first pass a website driving test run by the government to see if they are a fit and proper person to design a website. Ain't gonna happen. Sorry.

  • Blain Rempel

    I've never fully bought into the concept of "gamification" because I think it masked the real challenge and sent many people down a misguided path. The real challenge is to provide a usable and engaging user-interface; gamification is a technique that is applicable in some circumstances, but certainly not all 9at least in my opinion).

    Good to see a dissenting view out there to keep people thinking.