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Gamification is baloney

The Pew Internet folks published a report in May on Gamification, and I just encountered it, thanks to someone sending me a link.

I think most of gamification is baloney, which is what I said in their survey, which they distilled in this way:

from The Future of Gamification – Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie – Pew Internet

Cooperation trumps collaboration, gamification is hype, gaming fads come and go and they will not be transformative

Many survey participants remarked that gamification is a “passing fad,” including technology consultant Stowe Boyd, who went on to explain that it is only “of interest to a small segment of the social tools developer community.” Boyd predicted: “In some segments it will have a long-term impact, but only in circumstances where it is integral, and not as a gloss or veneer. Much of what gamification seeks to do—to increase involvement, and foster certain collective behaviors in groups of people—actually runs counter to the fragmentation of user experience online. The rise of apps means that users are spreading their time out over a larger number of more specialized tools, and tool developers try to counter that through inducements to stay, or return frequently, and to align activities with others: a forced viralization. A much more profitable set of ideas? As people are made more autonomous, they naturally move away from collaboration (where users share the same aims and reward systems) toward cooperation (where users do not necessarily share long-term goals or values). Gamification has little use in cooperation, and that is the area of social software that is least realized at this time, and which I predict will be the highest-growth area in the future.”

Supporting my argument, the “#1 gamification company,’ Badgeville, recently launched The Behavior Lab, a “center for excellence” for “behavior management solutions.” The company states that 70% of Fortune 500 companies will be trying gamification by 2020, but that most projects will fail. And the reason isn’t that we haven’t developed best practices. The failure is inevitable, because people aren’t pigeons in a Skinner box, pecking a lever to get a food pellet.

The need for a renewed push in the enterprise to reengage every person with their personal work, to find meaning and purpose, has never been greater. But adding badges to users’ profiles on whatever work management tool the company is on, showing that Bette is a super expert customer support staffer, or whatever, is the shallowest sort of employee recognition, like giving out coffee mugs to the folks with the lowest number of sick days.

We need to build deep culture, where the foundation of the new work ethos is on people’s relationship to their own work: gaining mastery in their work domain, acquiring higher levels of autonomy, and gaining the respect of coworkers. For that, we don’t need no stinking badges.