How #Gartner Got Gamification Wrong

Pong photo courtesy of Bumm13.

Apparently, Gartner has decided to “Redefine Gamification.”

I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m glad that Gartner is putting a stake in the ground in an area where I’ve done projects on and off for the past decade. But on the other hand, the reasoning behind their definition is not backed up by the market or by hands-on experience.

Their definition is as follows:

“Gartner is redefining gamification as “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”

That is not a bad definition. It’s a bit incomplete, but I could use this in a consulting engagement as a “Gartner-approved” definition without losing credibility or face.

However, I disagree with all of the element definitions, because those details would make me look amateur in my understanding of gamification. To explain why, let’s walk through this definition bit by bit.

“Game mechanics describes the use of elements such as points, badges and leaderboards that are common to many games.”

No. Game mechanics define game and play-based interactions, only some of which are defined by award-based elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards. This is a basic definition of what game mechanics are. Chess is a game. Hopscotch is a game. Gamification does not have to consist of point-based interactions to be gamification. Game mechanics also include the methods, rules, and actions used to play the game. Effective gamification requires efficient rule creation and engaging behaviors.

As a basic example, you could create a basic data quality project where everybody cleans up a contact list. For every missing field that gets filled in, somebody gets a point. And the top 5 go on a leaderboard. That’s the addition of a game element.

But to make a better gamification experience, you could add a manual aspect, such as clicking a big button that says “Next Challenge!” that brings you to the next field that needs to be filled in. Or to increase productivity, you could force employees to only move horizontally or vertically. you could change the text color when the player completes a certain number of fields within an hour. The addition of time constraints, buttons, and movement control are all game mechanics as well and they should be included in a grown-up gamification effort.

Fundamentally, “dynamics” are dynamic and represent some sort of action. The motions and efforts used to play a game are a vital part of game mechanics.

I realize that some of these options still don’t exist in existing “gamification” platforms. I would argue that this is part of why gamification still hasn’t taken off: the platforms in place aren’t ready for the level of gamification maturity that is necessary to truly optimize business processes.

“Experience design describes the journey players take with elements such as game play, play space and story line.”

Play space and game play are both important, but are very different skills and experiences. “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Hide and Seek” are both rewarding game experiences, but an open-ended scenario development design is a fundamentally different structure and space from a closed “tag, you’re it” design.

In addition, narrative is different from game mechanics. You can watch a movie or read a book and get a story line. Yet, none of us call these activities “playing a game” because they lack the interactive nature of a game. Although narrative is an interesting potential aspect of gamification, it should really be an optional add-on rather than part of the core gamification experience design.

Going back to the data quality challenge, there are ways to add game play aspects that are outside of the core game mechanics. You could change the text color every time you fill in 40 fields in an hour to move to the next level. Or add bonuses by filling in multiple fields in one row or by taking on a new empty field within 10 seconds of the last field.

“Gamification is a method to digitally engage, rather than personally engage, meaning that players interact with computers, smartphones, wearable monitors or other digital devices, rather than engaging with a person.”

Also disagree on multiple levels. Players can compete and engage directly with other players in a gamified experience, but there is a game design or interface that facilitates interaction. But computer-facilitated personal interaction is still personal interaction. The separation between interacting through a computer or in person reminds DataHive of the false dichotomy that existed between “on-line” and “off-line” friends in the pre-Facebook era. Now that almost all of us have at least one friend that we’ve spoken to “on-line,” that false comparison is disappearing and we call them all “friends.”

It is possible to have a gamification experience that is solely digital with one person against one environment, but this is more akin to an arcade game like “Pac Man” or “Donkey Kong” where only one person can play at a time, nobody else can interact or interfere, and there is a single goal to achieve. This type of gamification is ill-suited to the gamification of business processes to enable team or corporate goals. In business settings, there is typically some level of team or community aspect to gamification. As a general example, the existence of a scoreboard is a level of social ranking and interaction between players.

The advancement of wearable monitors and mobile devices means that the interactions for gamification may not even be manually entered into a digital device. Consider two field service employees or delivery people racing against each other through the city to complete their orders. Their actual behavior is only minimally related to computer-based interactions, yet through their mechanically tracked actions and a set of game mechanics, this could quickly become a very gamified work place.

For a data quality challenge, one could add a chat window for employees to trash talk or help each other. Or one could enable messages or user tags within each corrected cell to show who had corrected or filled in each cell. There are a number of ways to provide “digital engagement” that personally engages players. In fact, the goal should be to personally engage players through some sort of appeal. By taking away the personal engagement, you remove much of the ongoing benefit of a gamification environment.

“The goal of gamification is to motivate people to change behaviors or develop skills, or to drive innovation.”

No. The ultimate goal may be behavioral or skill change, but the tactical goal that gamification actually accomplishes is to drive a specific action or set of actions. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about “game-based behavior.” The initial goal is to provide a behavioral framework and incentive structure to get specific work done. This doesn’t have to result in a Pavlovian reaction or behavioral change any more than Tetris forced players to obsessively rearrange their furniture into neat rows. Once you leave the game, you may not necessarily change behavior. It can be enough to simply participate in a gamified environment willingly and learn the rules of the game.

“Gamification focuses on enabling players to achieve their goals. When organizational goals are aligned with player goals, the organization achieves its goals as a consequence of players achieving their goals.”

Actually, corporate gamification is about teaching players to achieve corporate goals. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that personal and corporate goals should be aligned in the workplace. But gamification should focus on the behaviors that make employees more effective and gamification should be used to get work done. Otherwise, what is the value? It’s odd to have to tell this to Gartner, but we don’t go to work in mid-sized or large companies just to do what we want. We go to work to achieve goals as a team that we can’t accomplish as individuals. Gamification should be built around the corporate goals first, then be customizable based on individual KPIs and achievements.

This is an area that gamification platforms are starting to understand by developing increasingly modular and individualized incentive structures that are still based on a corporate strategy and corporate decisions. Platforms that are still stuck in a top-down, one-size-fits-all model are point tools that may be well designed for specific tasks such as sales, marketing, or ideation, but are not well-suited for enterprise usage.

So, why is Gartner so far off?

It’s not because of the quality of the analyst: I have actually enjoyed the vast majority of Brian Burke’s work and consider him to be one of the top infrastructure analysts in general. But Burke is ignoring all of the real hands-on work that has occurred in gamification for decades and it looks like he is coming in as a newcomer in this space. There is nothing wrong with that, but Burke needs to come in with the understanding that many best practices in gamification are older than the best practices for hybrid IT architectures or data warehousing. This isn’t an area where Gartner can simply come in and redefine all of the existing terms and best practices.

But this description shows a lack of experience in gamification and I would hazard to guess that Gartner has few analysts who have built out gamification environments in the last five years or have expertise working with the likes of Bunchball, Badgeville, and Bigdoor or related software such as InnoCentive and Mindjet that create open scenarios for new ideas.

It’s a shame, since I expect that the net result will be that Gartner will continue to go along its own path and build a confusing definition of gamification that is poorly aligned with both the software and consulting markets. The last thing that an emerging market needs is confusion, especially since networked, social, and digitally enhanced work environments are going to continue to be hot topics over the next few years. This should be a good time for gamification efforts to succeed on top of existing social networking and enterprise mobility efforts. I only hope that we don’t lose the opportunity in the next few years because analysts try to create their own untested models for gamification.

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