Experienced Points: In Defense of Gamification

  By Shamus   Jun 12, 2012   134 comments

The subject of “gameification” has really taken off over the last year. I think Extra Credits really kicked off the discussion. They didn’t invent the term, but it does seem like they brought it to the masses. We’re now several spins through the whole cycle of evangelism » backlash » counter-backlash » re-framing the discussion. At PAX East this year there was even a panel titled, “If I Hear the Term ‘Gamification’ One More Time I’m Going To Scream”.

But until now the criticism has mostly fallen into one of two categories:

  1. Shallow, snarky dismissal, like when people complain about the movie Avatar not because they’ve seen it, but because they’re straight-up sick of hearing about it. Hype backlash, basically.
  2. Academic critiques that don’t reach very far beyond academic circles.

I think Errant Signal is the first place I’ve seen the more academic and informed view packaged up for mass consumption:


Link (YouTube)

I’ll be the first to admit that gameification is not a new subject. In fact, according to my own definition school grades are basically a technique to game-ify learning, and I have not been kind to those ideas in the past. In fact, the whole “intrinsic / extrinsic” motivation he talks about at the end is a perfect description of why I never cared about grades or school and held the whole thing in such contempt.

Despite this, I wanted to take issue with the idea of gamification being bad. Or at least, it’s probably an improvement on what marketing has given us in the past. So that’s what my column is about this week.

Due to a misunderstanding it’s running on Tuesday instead of Friday, but there it is.


A Hundred!2014There are 134 comments here. I really hope you like reading.


  1. krellen says:

    “Experienced Points: Updates whenever Shamus writes something!”

    I still follow webcomics with that update schedule. It takes a year of nothing before I remove a bookmark.

    (Sorry, I don’t have anything to say about gamification. I’m kind of agnostic on the topic.)

  2. Mari says:

    I’ll be honest and say that I pimped the heck out of that video when it posted.

    I don’t mind the concept of “gamification” but I kind of resent the way it’s implemented most of the time – ie the most shallow, transparent form of pandering to the youth-culture’s materialistic need to have all the things without actually providing anything material. But yes, I recognize that pandering to the youth-culture is pretty important as a business strategy because young people have money burning holes in their pockets since they generally don’t waste it on frivolous things like mortgages or diapers or food.

    Also, it feels kind of like the lazy way out. Sure, you can have forums to keep people hanging around but those require moderation (which usually means paying somebody to sit around minding the forums) if you want anybody but the trolls to stay. You could make vapid polls about sexy video game characters, but there’s a limit to how many of those people will participate in at during one sitting. Gamification of the entire site takes tremendous effort at the outset to set everything up but once it’s in place it’s very low-maintenance. Every once in a while you slap up a new 50 pixel by 50 pixel graphic and pop some requirements on it and off everybody goes again in a frenzy of “must have!!”

    I guess, basically, I resent feeling manipulated and gamification makes me feel manipulated. Of course, so does most marketing. I regularly get ticked off at commercials and banner ads for being stupid and transparent and manipulative. I once signed up for one of those “take surveys to earn money and rewards” sites, took three surveys, and got pissed off about it being a transparent marketing ploy so I left.

    I guess, what I’m saying here is that I kind of dislike gamification but no worse than I dislike most other marketing. I recognize the value of it all, I just don’t like feeling like Pavlov’s dog every time I do something I enjoy.

    • Jakale says:

      I don’t really have an issue with it until it happens to stuff I’ve already done, like when Steam put achievements on Psychonauts, or Half Life 2. The game’s great and I’ll play it again someday, sure, but I can’t help feeling kind of cheated for suddenly not getting credited for something I’ve already done.

  3. David Armstrong says:

    It isn’t just that gamification is manipulative in a way more apparent than traditional marketing, it’s that gamification hurts the advertisements. Let me explain:

    So you initiate a gamifying program on your site and it increases views by 30%. Fantastic, good job. The ads that you’re running, are those businesses receiving 30% more business for their advertising dollar? Probably not.

    Probably not because the people who’re playing the “games” have already eaten all the site’s content, and are now “grinding” to get the “prizes.” So the ads are getting viewed over and over again, but they aren’t getting clicked.

    See, if a person views an internet ad and doesn’t click it, then having them view the same ad 50 times (and never click it once) isn’t productive. And once advertisers get wind of that, that websites are using tricks to inflate traffic so as to inflate advertising revenue…

    …the bottom’s going to fall out and advertisers will give much less money for the same amount of ad space – because now that ad space is so much less valuable. Sites like the Escapist, who think they’re being so clever, are harming their end-game.

    Ad blocking is sinister for that same reason – people are getting content without “paying” for it. People who’re on the Escapist just for the “game” are consuming content and bandwidth, but for the purposes of ads they aren’t even window-shopping. They view the ads but won’t, and never had any intention of, click on them.

    • Mari says:

      OK, but let’s be honest. If I’m in a city with mass transit and somebody has an ad on that mass transit, there’s a good chance I will view that ad but it doesn’t make me any more likely to actually shop with the place “running” the ad. The last time I purchased a good or service based upon advertising was…my car insurance. I started insuring through a particular insurance company that nobody I knew used at the time because they advertised low rates and the quote when I checked was indeed MUCH lower than our current rates. That was about 14 years ago. In general, marketing has *very* little to do with my purchase habits except when I decide to avoid buying a product because I find their marketing so offensive that I refuse to give them money ever again (I’m looking at you, Chrysler!)

      • David Armstrong says:

        That’s the spam approach to marketing. Basically, throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks. And the spam approach is not what’s going on here.

        When you advertise on a website, a particular product for a particular audience, the Escapist promises more than the generic type of advertising a billboard promises. Billboards are basically spam.

        You were on the subway and saw an ad. You fit the definition of a browser. You wander about and if something catches your eye, you take a second look. You aren’t on the subway for anything other than the subway.

        Gamification subverts that. It would be like if the subway offered free coffee so as to encourage more people to ride the subway.

        So you go and get your free coffee and then you leave. This other activity, which happens to be in the same location as where the ads are, distract from the ads. And because you aren’t there to look at ads (or even ride the subway anymore), you pay even less attention to them. You have your coffee, what do you care about car insurance?

        People who’re on the Escapist forums endlessly so as to grind for badges aren’t looking at the ads, but the Escapist still tells potential clients about all this traffic they get! Look at all these page views!

        Never mind that it’s the same group over and over.

        • Thomas says:

          Plus I think there’s a subtlety to marketing that doesn’t let you know if you have made a decision based off an ad. I know one, two people who’ve ever bought something based off an advertisement consciously. But ads are worth far more money than that, so they must influence a much higher number of people.

          I always think Skyrims the best example. Everyone knew Skyrim was going to be a game of the year, before any reviews, demos etc and yet the marketing campaign didn’t even include gameplay footage. No-one would admit to being influenced, but there’s no way that was a rational decision on everyone’s part. Sure it was an Elder Scrolls sequel, but people were hyped who’d never touched Oblivion in their lives

          • David Armstrong says:

            You’re not getting it.

            I’m not saying that advertising doesn’t work. I’m not saying that word of mouth doesn’t work.

            I’m saying that gamifying a website that runs ads DOES NOT MAKE THE ADS MORE EFFECTIVE.

            Gamifying a website increases traffic but not in any way that sells product. The deception is that the website TELLS ADVERTISERS about all this traffic they get, but that traffic is artificial. It isn’t people perusing their content.

            It’s people racing through it to get the prizes. In an MMO, it’s the difference between power-leveling and experiencing. Yes, both people are blowing through the content, but only one of them is taking in the surroundings.

            You can’t fill an MMO with gold-farmers, but that’s what the Escapist has done and they’re calling those people legitimate customers, when they aren’t.

            • Flakey says:

              You keep saying about people racing to the games and ignoring the advertisements, but I am not sure how that any different to normal. I go to the escapist 3, or 4, times a week, yet I could not even begin to tell you what their advertising was, because I dive straight to their articles and videos, and ignore or blank out any advertising.

          • newdarkcloud says:

            No, but they knew what Fallout 3 was. And they knew that Fallout 3 was Game of the Year and that the same people would be making Skyrim in a very similar fashion.
            It was hitting both markets. I know one of my friends didn’t know about Oblivion but bought Skyrim because of Fallout.

            I won’t deny that advertising was a major role in that. It certainly did, but there was more to it than that.

    • Atarlost says:

      This. Gamification is not The Escapist exploiting its community. Gamification is some consulting firm exploiting The Escapist.

    • PhoenixUltima says:

      I use an ad blocker, not because I want to get “free” content, but because internet advertising is one of the sleaziest, underhanded things I’ve ever seen. I’m not talking about ads with big-breasted, nearly nude girls selling whatever – that’s more or less a universal constant in advertising anywhere. I’m not even talking about ads that sell one thing but direct you to another (like Evony, where the ads were “save this big-breasted damsel in distress with your mighty sword!” and the game, from what I’ve heard, is more “adjust these numbers that mean something or other!”), though those are awful. I mean ads that just straight up hit you with malware. Case in point: I went to a Skyrim wikia in the steam overlay browser to look something up, when one of the ads redirected me to a seperate webpage that immediately brought up a “your computer might be infected! Scan now? OK/NO” dialogue box. I had to kill the steam overlay process in order to close that page, then I spent the next hour or so letting my anti-virus do a full scan in case I caught anything (I didn’t, thankfully). That wasn’t even a fake virus page set up to draw hits in google, or some obscure porn site. That was a legitimate resource with an active community, and it still (possibly) tried to infect me, just because I was using a browser that didn’t have an ad blocker.

      My point is, internet advertising is more than just annoying or distasteful, it’s an entire avenue of attack that other people can use to plant nasty shit on your computer. I’m not going to open myself up to that just so someone else can make money, even if I happen to like that someone else (I even adblock this site – nothing personal, Shamus, I just don’t trust any ad service, not even ones that you trust).

  4. HBOrrgg says:

    Rats, I wanted to write something about this but you beat me to it.

    I really do like the premise of gamification: that people will be more productive and more motivated if we can find ways to make their tasks inherently fun. But at the moment I think the problem with both sides just comes down to people not understanding statistics. Saying that an arbitrary point system is good or bad because overall productivity went up or overall reported motivation went down is the same kind of fallacy that would cause a person to walk into the oval office and inform President Obama that he is statistically dirt poor because of his race, and statistically born in Africa.

    The reason a single solution isn’t making everyone happy is because we’re forgetting to account for people’s differences. Yeah, there are a lot of people who get put off by points and achievements, but there are also many who actually do find the prospect of a reward intrinsically motivating. When you have someone who is creating a massive strategy guide on how to game a forum’s points system, then you better believe he is being intrinsically motivated.

    As for understanding why people are so different in the first place I think. . . Wait, maybe I could write something about this if I move quickly.

    • David Armstrong says:

      Errant Signal’s point that “users stayed 10 minutes longer” doesn’t mean that “users were more engaged” is the primary point here.

      It isn’t that gamification isn’t an effective tool. It just depends on the problem you’re trying to solve.

      Is getting page views the end-all be-all? Then why not just lie to your advertisers and say you received ten million hits? Or program a zombie computer to endlessly refresh your home page? Can it be understood that there is a difference between browsing a site and using a site? And that a browser would be more likely to click on an ad than a user would be?

      And that flooding your site with users and telling your advertisers that all those people are browsers is inherently dishonest? I’m just saying, so long as you’re going to be using tricks, why not employ outright lies and save yourself the money and trouble?

      • hborrgg says:

        Advertisers want exposure. They want more people viewing the page with the ad, and they want people to view it repeatedly until they notice. Short of that they want to keep their product on consumers’ minds in case something ever pops up.
        Basically changing “I’m thirsty, I think I’ll have some water.” to “I’m thirsty, should I have water or some coca cola?”
        If anyone is going to be hurt by gamification then I highly doubt it will be the advertisers.

        • Thomas says:

          I think Chris’ weak point is that the object of gamification as I’ve seen tends not to be ‘stay ten minutes longer’ but ‘try this’. The aim is to get you to watch your first zero punctuation video, or watch a few more if you were undecided. Then the idea is that the exposure to content makes you stay longer.

          With the grindy achievements though, that’s fair enough, achievements should always encourage new play styles instead of just encouraging repetitive play. It should be enough time for you to become proficient with a shotgun, not so much that you’re good and are still grinding away

    • Lord Nyax says:

      “I really do like the premise of gamification: that people will be more productive and more motivated if we can find ways to make their tasks inherently fun.”

      This. This is the problem right here. Gamification is not about making things more fun. It’s about making us want to do things. Sometimes we jump ahead of ourselves and assume that if we want to do it it’s because it’s fun, but thats not true. We feel compelled to do all kinds of things that aren’t fun. Like grinding in WoW.

      This doesn’t make gamification bad. Gamification can be used to make you want to do things you don’t normally want to do, like Chore Wars or 750words. But it doesn’t necessarally make those things more fun to do. It just makes us want to do them more. Now using those same techniques to make us want to stay at a website longer isn’t nearly as productive, but in his video Chris made the mistake of implying that gamification is bad because it doesn’t make things more fun. It’s not supposed to make things more fun.

      There is a difference between pleasure and desire. Gamification feeds desire, not pleasure.

      • hborrgg says:

        Depends on what you mean by “fun”. When players are devoting large amounts of time to grinding and are deeply engrossed I would argue that much of the time there is something about sense of accomplishment or monotony that they are finding fun. (Actually, I know from experience. Or would you say that there is no reason for anyone to play Minecraft in survival mode?)

        Certainly this isn’t the case all the time, but my point is that these “well, you aren’t having any real fun” movements aren’t necessarily solving many more problems than they create.

  5. Infinitron says:

    Saying that there a bunch of things that are even worse isn’t really the best way to defend something.

    • Shamus says:

      But it’s true, and it provides some much-needed perspective for the discussion.

      • tjtheman5 says:

        This gives a very easy opportunity to invoke Godwin’s Law. For the sake of decency, I really hope that nobody does.

      • X2Eliah says:

        But it also doesn’t mean the initial observation is wrong. Comparison with a few worser things does not make the initial thing any better in and of itself.

        • Shamus says:

          Except, that was the thrust of the argument. Ian Bogost was calling gamification “exploitationware”, and I’m arguing that it’s not. It’s NOT something new and horrible, and might even be an improvement on what we’ve had in the past.

          EDIT: Inserted the word “NOT”. Derp.

          • Infinitron says:

            I think the previous methods for retaining users were also exploitative, but they were not “ware”. That’s why he calls it exploitationware. It’s a game – software.

            • JPH says:

              Ads are software too, no?

              • Infinitron says:

                Not really. Not in the same sense.

                • JPH says:

                  Whoops, okay then.

                  Bear in mind I wasn’t trying to counter you — that was a genuine question. I don’t know shit about programming or software.

                  • X2Eliah says:

                    gamification method implements would need to have more of a codebase and fucntionality behind them, due to the interactive nature. Pure ads – banners, windows, adsense offers, that really isn’t software in and of itself, it’s just a kind of web content. Gamification implements, however.. They could stretch to be full software packages – e.g., a plugin for WP site to offer achievements, or a plugin to track “exp” for users, or a library for making inane idiotic quizzes (hello, Escapist!).. In that sense you could say that gamification thingamajigs are ‘ware’.

                    From another angle, though, you could easily argue that a lot of gamification implements are merely a more advanced use of webcontent and already-present html/javascript functionality, which wouldn’t really merit a separate ‘ware’ distinguishment for that small subset.

    • Brandon says:

      The point is, there’s no escaping the fact that websites are going to try to find SOME WAY of keeping users around. That’s their business. If they don’t do a good job of keeping people around, then their business has failed, and that’s no good for anyone. Not for them obviously, but not for the consumers either.

      So yes, in this case, since we can’t expect them to abandon their attempts, asking them to choose the method that is LEAST obnoxious/annoying/whatever is actually completely valid.

      At least that’s my take.

      • X2Eliah says:

        Isn’t the least obnoxious method of keeping readers around, well, making good content that readers stick around for?

        I don’t see how some stupid badge system, or reward tiers, or adverts are in any way less obnoxious than making the actual content of the site being the sticking point.

        • Primogenitor says:

          I think “has least obnoxiousnous per dollar spent” is a better metric.

        • Brandon says:

          Obviously people keep coming back for the content. If your content sucks then no amount of gamification or .. really any other form of revenue stream can help you.

          The point is to give people a reason to come back in the periods BETWEEN content. You can’t have a steady stream of new stuff 100% of the time, that’s ridiculous to even hope for. So you add a forum, so people can come back to discuss the content. A forum full of intelligent discussion can almost seem like the place is adding new content all the time, because there is always something interesting to read/view, even if it isn’t official magazine stuff.

          Now let’s say that the forum isn’t quite doing as well as you hoped, or maybe you just want to try and boost the revenue a little bit. Do you put mandatory loading ads that people have to click through before viewing any page? No, that’s ridiculously intrusive and people hate it. What else do you do?

          Doing “nothing” isn’t really an option either.. That isn’t how businesses work. You need to keep trying new, creative options to increase revenue flow. There is never a point in time when businesses don’t want to make more money if they can. So why not just leave it up to the same ads you already rely on, but give people a little incentive to spend a bit more time clicking around the site, without relying on creating new content for it? Sounds perfect! The people who are interested in just the content win, the people who are interested in the content and forum win, the people who are interested in the content, the forum, and the gamification stuff win, and the business wins! No one loses!

          Except the people who resent the fact that the gamification stuff is in there even though it doesn’t *really* effect them at all.

  6. Eric says:

    Got to agree with this.

    I understand the critique of gamification, no question. I also think that, like all marketing, it’s something best discussed and understood. If there’s any danger it poses, it’s that people exposed to it don’t understand how they are being manipulated. Like all marketing, it demands education, not fear or derision. Provided you know who’s pulling the strings, why, and what you get out of taking the lead, I don’t think there’s any danger to it.

    Of course, actually managing to educate people properly is a different story…

  7. SteveDJ says:

    After watching and reading all that, it almost feels like the comments section here should be gamified — you know, with rewards for comments, points for being first, and… er… wait a minute… bad idea!

  8. Ben says:

    You are making me jealous with your description of a magazine having no video content. You mean I can quickly read an article, skimming the parts I’m not interested in, rereading where I want, and not be forced to put on headphones and listen to a 10 minute video of a guy just talking, that is not possible to skim? Sounds awesome!

    • Don Alsafi says:

      And here I though I was the only person left who vastly preferred reading articles to watching videos!

      You’ve pretty much perfectly summed up my own feelings on this, by the way. In fact, 99% of the time I won’t watch a video, even if it’s on something I ostensibly had some small amount of interest in, simply because of the format. If I click through to what I think is an article and it turns out to be a video link … I’ll just click back. I can quickly skim an article; with video, that control’s taken entirely out of my hands.

      Simply put, I just don’t have the time.

      • Ben says:

        If only Shamus would add up-vote buttons so I could get a gold star or something :D

        • Aldowyn says:

          Are the +1s not validation enough for you? :P

          Certain things are better as videos, obviously, but most of the time with a review I’ll read first and then watch, to make sure I didn’t miss anything… And there’s something a little different about an actual magazine. I STILL haven’t read my GI for this month…

      • Yar Kramer says:

        Yeah, Zero Punctuation and pokecapn’s Let’s Plays are basically the only videos I’ll watch that are over two minutes long (this includes movies and normal TV), and I’m still not really sure why. I mean, I actually saw the Errant Signal thing and sort of mentally went “AAAA! TEN-MINUTE VIDEO!!” and I still haven’t clicked on it …

      • Bubble181 says:

        Yes please!

    • Daimbert says:

      Yeah, the trend towards video content instead of text is really bugging me. I can read an article easily in stages, when I have time, and I don’t need to have to listen to it either. Videos, well, I can’t.

      It’s been getting so bad with places like Agony Booth and SFDebris doing only videos that I’m trying to start doing recaps like theirs all in text … but haven’t had the time so far.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      Pretty much this. I can skim through 10-20 articles and filter out the ones I don’t care for in the same time it takes to watch a 5 minute video.

    • JPH says:

      I prefer video content.

      /shrug

    • Jarenth says:

      Add another voice to the choir. I will watch videos, but only if I’m all-but-sure I’ll enjoy them on beforehand. That’s why it took me about five glowing endorsements to actually watch Errant Signal for once (sorry, Chris!).

  9. Zukhramm says:

    I hate gamification. I hate it because it works on me. But! But, I’m not going to argue against it because of that, because honestly, I don’t really care.

    There is something that does annoy be about it though. It’s completely understandable that companies interested in making us use their products more are all over this, that’s neither strange nor a problem. The strange thing is the normal people that are somehow completely sold on the idea that this will make everything fun. Eating, training, education or just buying stuff, it’s all going to be turned into a game and be so incredibly fun. It’s not. It’s not fun. It’s not going to make you enjoy things you didn’t enjoy before. It’s going to make you do those things, but they’re still not going to be fun.

    • Adam F says:

      “What, is this some kind of _game_ to you?!”

    • lasslisa says:

      But, doing the thing you should be doing / want to be doing anyway, without needing to consciously exert willpower is a pretty big improvement. Plus, you get that great burst of satisfaction from seeing your progress. It doesn’t make it “fun”, but it does make you feel better about doing it / while doing it, and that seems like a pretty big thing.

      (Also this conversation has made me realize I don’t really know what ‘fun’ means. Or perhaps just that it’s really not important in my life, versus doing things I can feel satisfied/happy about and having a feeling of achievement/accomplishment/learning.)

      • Zukhramm says:

        Maybe it’s good, but I still need to exert willpower. Why would gamification remove that? And regardless, I didn’t criticize it for not making things more fun, I’m criticizing the people who claim it will.

        As for what fun is? I don’t know. The important thing here to me is the distinction between things I do because I enjoy doing them and things I do because I enjoy the result of doing them.

    • Jarenth says:

      You’re saying eating isn’t fun already? I love eating.

  10. rayen says:

    I don’t know how i feel about the whole thing. gamification isn’t what i’d call bad, but neither would i call it good. it is what we make of it. the badges on the escapist have never annoyed me. It is completely optional if i mess with them. which is more than i can say for other marketing ploys. I think as long as it remains optional, especially regarding content, gamification is okay.

  11. Darkness says:

    I’ll read yours. You are always thought provoking and well-worded. The link to the goof however will go untouched. He actually did a piece on FortressCraft that convinced me never to see his site again.

  12. Klay F. says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with you here Shamus, just on the principle of defending the Escapist of all things. Its one of the most sleazy gaming websites I know of even compared to IGN, Gamespot, etc.

    And honestly I can’t describe how deep my loathing of the “Well they HAVE to make money” argument is. Its this same argument which has allowed the game industry to get away with DRM, on disc DLC and the like.

    • Aldowyn says:

      He didn’t say the Escapist was perfect, he was just defending the badge system.

      Personally I like the way it’s implemented because it gives a chance for people to show a bit of personality and preferences outside of their signature. And to be fair most of the issues with the escapist, as far as I’m concerned, are business things. The writers, editors, and content producers are mostly pretty cool people.

      • Klay F. says:

        Yeah I probably should have just kept my mouth shut. I let my hatred for the site as a whole obstruct what Shamus was saying.

        Unfortunately I still pine for the days before they introduced that “fan the fanboy flames” event that happens in March. Before that, discussions in the forums were just as civil, if not more so, than here.

      • X2Eliah says:

        Idk. I’d say that the whole badge system is one of the more seedy aspects of Escapist. And it’s not like you can actually avoid that system – every time you watch a video that’s linked into the system (let’s choose zero punctuation, because nobody has problems with that, surely ;) ), a “badge” is shoved down your gullet. There’s, afaik, no way to opt-out of it.

        I won’t even bother to speak about the insanely idiotic quizzes they’re running (which very often directly counter what they are preaching on podcasts, about the falsity of casual-game moniker etc.)

        • Aldowyn says:

          Yeah but you don’t have to DO anything with the badge. That’s like complaining that your teacher gave you a sticker when you don’t care about stickers.

          I’m sure this is a lost cause, but whatever.

          • Klay F. says:

            You don’t have DO anything with a large shit your dog just had in your living room, that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

            I know it sounds ridiculous, but its essentially the same as your argument.

            • lasslisa says:

              Well, no, you actually DO have to either clean it up, or smell it, or step in it. I honestly didn’t even know the escapist HAD a badge system until this whole exchange. I view videos, I have an account, I read almost all the articles, I do the occasional quiz…

              But I never look at the teacher’s sticker chart, so I don’t see why it makes a difference to me whether there are stickers next to my name.

              Maybe badges are more intrusive if you’re a forum user, or something?

              • Aldowyn says:

                They’re right below your name on the forums.

                And have you ever read your messages? Every time you get a badge the system sends you a message. And a lot of the quizzes SPECIFICALLY say they’ll give you a badge, and 90% of the time the result you get at the end is a badge.

                Basically, you must be pretty oblivious if you didn’t know about the badges.

  13. Aldowyn says:

    I’m going to have to go with Shamus here as well, sorry Chris. (Btw it was really strange seeing you write “Franklin” in the article)

    Chris mentions that gamification doesn’t actually make things more fun, it just keeps you on longer. Why does that matter? Isn’t that the point? The consumer is being manipulated, sure, but since when has manipulation not been a valid market strategy, especially when they KNOW they’re being manipulated? Shucks, GAMES are gamified in exactly the same way through achievements and leveling systems! (Also known as the REAL reason call of duty is so popular) I guess it’s off-putting to some of us because it’s such a blatant use of the skinner box concept.

    Besides, I think educational and workplace environments might be a completely different situation. Something as simple as giving stickers to students who contribute to a class in a meaningful way or a bonus of some kind (maybe a mention somewhere, or (GASP!) slight monetary compensation?) to employees who go above and beyond the expected could make a significant contribution to the main goal (learning or production). The ends justify the means, I suppose?

    I mean we’re just going to do it at home if we don’t do it at school or work, right?

    P.S. I love writing stuff like this, it’s so fun. :D

    *edit*
    I keep finding badges that are hilarious in how obviously relevant they are.

    “‘Meta Meta’ Earn badges from 5 different Escapist shows”
    “‘Conditioned’ Would you like another pellet?”
    “‘Meta’ Achievement Unlocked: Meta!”
    (The three above were implemented, along with the other EC badges, shortly after the previously mentioned Gamification Extra Credits episode)

    *edit edit* And I just realized that Shamus SPECIFICALLY mentioned stickers in his autoblography. Well, just because it doesn’t work for some of us doesn’t mean it won’t work for other students.

    • Daimbert says:

      I think the reason that matters is that gamification is being sold on the premise that it makes things more fun, and so if your users have more fun they’ll stick around and view more ads. It doesn’t make things more fun, and so all it is is a marketing technique, and then we can ask if it will work, which Chris then says it probably won’t … at least not in the way it was intended.

  14. crossbrainedfool says:

    See, I think the problem here is definitions. Are Skinner box techniques a good way get more views?

    Not really.

    Can a game designer help a teacher? Absolutely.

    Gamification done well isn’t just achievements. Magic has taught me more about good decision making than school ever did. Netrunner is a crash course in reading and manipulating people. How many games teach you how probability works from dice-driven mechanics? The Battlestar Galactica board game is an exercise in priority juggling.

    Admittedly, I’m a board gamer to the core, so that I have examples lined up for miles isn’t surprising. The trick is that all of these are things that came about from my own desire to get better at games. However, it’s also important that each of these is not wholly defined by its value as a teaching tool. Magic is a half-dozen games with the same name, and the creative team has really started to hit the resonance out of the park. Netrunner is also dripping with feel, especially from the runner’s view. BSG is fundamentally about betrayal and trust.

    The main problem with most Gamification is that it’s to ham-handed, when really a few questions as to the way your system is put together could do so much more good.

    A good example “How does [individual] experience this?”

    “How does the player experience this?” is a core part of game design. Valve constantly double checks this particular item.

    “How does the student experience this?” is a much rarer question. It still gets asked though, which is why practical science labs exist. However, this is why I think English classes have a tendency to be screwy – they tend to start from a point of mastery, and then point out what is important from there, instead of honing analysis techniques at a point close to home and then working further afield.

    “How does the worker experience this?” is almost never asked institutionally. That’s usually up to each individual in the corporate ladder to occasionally remember.

    But instead of rethinking core organizational decisions, a game designer is viewed as a specialize morale officer.

  15. anaphysik says:

    The linky to ‘Autoblography Part 13: The Secret of Atlantis’ reminds me: might we ever get to see the full 130pg version? Perhaps even as scanned images with hyperlinks ^_^

  16. Bubble181 says:

    Two nitpicks:
    1) “hetrosexual, which is just a typo, and
    2) gamification/gameification. It’s also a typo, I suppose, but it seems like all over the web, people can’t decide which one it’s going to be…You use both in the article.

    Now, off to think of my reply to the article :-P

    • Aldowyn says:

      I usually see the first and I believe that’s the one more consistent with the rest of the not-so-consistent English language. Lemme think of an example. … … Petrification? No, not quite. Noun that ends with a silent e… plane? Planification? Wait, that just doesn’t work.

      Gamification means “the act of making something more like a game”, and that’s just a … rare manipulation of language.

      In other words, I have no evidence.

      • Syal says:

        Gamification looks like ramification, an actual word. That’s why it’s more common.

      • ClearWater says:

        But gam is also a word (who knew!), so gamification could also mean “the act of making something more like a social visit or friendly interchange, especially between whalers or seafarers.”

        • X2Eliah says:

          Just because ‘game’ is the word doesn’t mean it can’t lose the last letter in certain forms.

          For example, we don’t use “gameing”, we use “gaming” to refer to ‘game using’. Likewise, why should we use “gameification” if “gamification” is a successort to “gaming”‘s logic?

          • Aldowyn says:

            Ah, there you go. Use gaming as the comparison, why didn’t I think of that. Thank you for helping us to solve that dilemma. :)

            *edit* and now every time I see gameification spelled that way I will cringe and have to resist correcting them. Ah well.

            • Thomas says:

              Yeah dropping the e when it’s used like that seems pretty common.

              It’s nowhere near as as bad as a certain country which feels that ‘mathematics’ loses it’s plurality if you shorten the word :D

          • Kacky Snorgle says:

            Right, but the final ‘e’ is preserved when it’s needed for disambiguation.

            Thus cringe becomes cringing, but singe becomes singeing because singing is already a different word. And tinge can go either way, apparently because we’re uncertain whether tinging is a different word or not (i.e., whether ting is a valid verb or not).

            Similarly here. Whether or not you put the ‘e’ in gam(e)ification depends on whether you’re implicitly thinking that gamification might be a word deriving from gam rather than from game.

            With the word gaming there’s no ambiguity, because under the English language’s quirky spelling rules, gam would form gamming with a doubled ‘m’. So gaming is clearly formed from game, and thus gameing isn’t a possible form since the ‘e’ is preserved only when there’s an ambiguity to avoid.

            • X2Eliah says:

              Given the rather large disbalance in popularity and parlance between ‘game’ and ‘gam’, it’s, imo, safe to assume that gamification would refer to the vastly more popular of the two in case of confusion.

            • Syal says:

              If it were ‘gamming’ wouldn’t it also be ‘gammification’ and therefore unambiguous?

  17. Primogenitor says:

    I chuckled when the first paragraph of Shamus’ article is a conflict of interest disclaimer, and then the first example in Chris’ video involves Shamus’ book.

  18. ClearWater says:

    What I got from the video isn’t so much that gameification is a Bad Thing(tm), but that it’s being advertised to make users do stuff that they would normally find boring or uninteresting, and that that’s not necessarily true, or at least, not as true as people claim.

    It’s not evil because website users will be marketed at. It’s evil because gameification implementers are selling it as something more than it is.

  19. MichaelG says:

    Gameification is taking advantage of the OCD exhibited by most gamers. I’m not sure it really applies to the general population. Since they aren’t interested in the endless repetition needed to play most games, they aren’t going to be earning badges on websites either.

    Also, consider the state of advertising now. I think someone from 100 years ago would be appalled at the number of ads we’re subjected to every day in every part of our lives. But we’re almost completely blind to it. Advertisers use beautiful people, stunning scenery, catchy music, constant sexual references, and we don’t even glance at the ad.

    The same will be true of gameification. We’ll get used to it and it will lose impact. The only thing that works in the long run is making products people want to buy, and content people want to read.

    • PAK says:

      That’s a nice thought, but I think you’ve overlooked the prevalence of both gamification and the dopamine reward cycle that you are characterizing as gamers’ OCD. Most of the general populace is at least a little subject to short-circuiting of the dopamine reward cycle and the newness of the word gamification doesn’t mean it’s a new concept.

      See also: academic grading in America, frequent flyer miles, bank “reward” points, those frequent-customer punchcards you get in coffee shops, slot machines, lotteries, the McDonald’s Monopoly thing, “contest-winning” messages on limited numbers of yogurt cup lids, Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, etc., etc.

  20. Rack says:

    While I can see your argument that gameification might be justified, I don’t see an argument that it isn’t exploitative. The whole point of it is to take advantage of people’s compulsions in order to compel them to do things that are good for you but bad for them.

    If it brings me more Miracle of Sound I can accept it, but that doesn’t stop it being sleazy.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    See Chris,I told you promoting his book wont get you out of harms way;)

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Funny thing Shamus,I went to see what your badges spell now,and the first three were EXE.Add a dot in front of that,and its kind of appropriate.

  23. Daimbert says:

    Well, this sort of thing isn’t new, but I think one of the main complaints about it is that the new forms are more grindy than the others.

    Both Board Game Geek and Giant In The Playground have similar systems, but they aren’t grindy. For the latter, you do get levels based on how many posts you make … but then they do everything they can to stop you from just grinding it out through their moderation procedures.

    For the former, there are a number of things that can be used to encourage you to post and participate there. You get microbadges for contributing a certain number of things, like reviews or sessions or posts. You also get Geek Gold for doing those things, which you can use to buy other microbadges or give to users who do things you like. You can also get thumbs ups on posts that people like. Again, the moderation ensures, mostly, that you just don’t grind it out, and most of the rewards reward interesting content additions, not just looking at something. So, because I get more rewards — at least potentially — for doing stuff I want to do, if my choice is between doing something that I find fun on BGG and something else that I find fun on, say, my blog, I’ll choose to post/read/review on BGG, because it’s more worth my time.

    The rewards are also personal. The microbadges I’m displaying right now are “BSG PBF Fan”, “Amber Diceless Fan – Amberite”, “Knights of the Old Republic Fan”, “Turrican Fan”, and “Sledge Hammer! Fan”. So what I get out of these is not, in fact, just an accomplishment, but the ability to reflect to the word who I am. And these badges are made by users, who get rewarded, and so on and so forth.

    But the grinding is nothing more than a Skinner Box, where you just get rewarded for clicking a lot and are encouraged to do so. And so I think Chris is right that it doesn’t encourage engagement, but simple clicking, and what you want is engagement, people going to the site because they enjoy it and not just because they can get some kind of visible reward that demonstrates that they can spend a lot of time clicking pointlessly.

    BTW, WordPress recently added something like this, where they set up a goal of posts — every 5 posts — and then count down to it. I have over 400 posts on my blog, so getting 5 more doesn’t impress me and so isn’t a goal, and yet they give me nothing for hitting that goal, so it doesn’t even motivate me that way. That, I think, is an example of a really, really bad way to do this sort of thing.

  24. Jack V says:

    Seriously, can someone tell me what escapist ARE doing? I don’t really follow the website, so I’ve no idea.

    (I’m reminded of the first time I saw a quick-time event. You have a button for “climb onto a ‘walker and stab the cockpit with a lightsaber”? That would be really cool if it were implemented well, but I can see the limitations of having only one button to mean “do cool stuff”…)

    What I want to say about gamification is:

    Firstly, it’s an interesting concept but incredibly broad; here we seem to be talking about a particular sort (gamifying “reading websites”?)

    Secondly, any game, -ified or not, has a balance between “how much people WANT to play it” and “how much they ENJOY playing it”. These are related but not the same. This is a serious question in philosophy, I think, about free will and how people act, and when people act against their longer term interests.

    But it’s familiar to anyone who’s kept hitting “refresh” on email. That’s addictive without being rewarding. Ideally games will be as fun as possible, but also a bit addictive. But there’s a range. Some games are probably not addictive enough. Some focus almost entirely on addictiveness with no fun whatsoever (zynga, I HATE YOU DIE IN A FIRE, why can’t you use your powers for good??)

    So, lots of stuff could benefit from being more fun. Lots of bullshit and FUD is thrown around about to gamify things without much detail. Giving people some simple time-sinks to keep them amused on your website is probably a good thing. But too many websites and marketeers will be too cynical and propose things that are pure addictiveness-grabs, and if too blatant, people will resent them (eg. the lowest common denominator is something like “Spam five friends. Get this picture of an owl which is totally unrelated to website content.”). I don’t know where the escapist will fall on the scale — Shamus is probably right that it’s on the fairly-worthwhile end, but I don’t know.

  25. Even says:

    I can usually go along with it as long as it doesn’t take anything away from me if I don’t actively take part in it. When you cross that line you’re set up for an ultimately self-defeating system. If history’s proven anything, it is that you should never trust people not to abuse a game system where you use an arbitrary reward system as the carrot on the stick and where the gained benefits give people an edge over others some way. It hardly ever results in anything positive for the community.

    Edt: However, there are stuff like the Youtube competition for ad revenue which are just obnoxious as hell to me. I’m sick of seeing every other Youtube partner’s videos try to encourage me with “Favorite, comment, like & subscribe!” and “Like for the lame pun I just made LOL!”. I barely ever even log in anymore, because I frankly have no desire left to participate in the community with the way it has developed over the past few years. I still watch a few channels, but I refuse to take part in the bullshit. Even if they lose 0.001$ because of my AdBlock, I find it hard to give a damn. Especially when I didn’t ask for any of it.

  26. Volatar says:

    “But let’s get down to specifics and talk about some non-“gamification” approaches to keeping people around. Forums are generally the most direct and obvious solution, and I don’t think anyone would be crazy enough to launch a content-driven site without forums.”

    Shamus, by your own definition, you are crazy. :)

  27. James Pony says:

    I just want a screenshot of Shamus spelling out something rude with his letter badges.

  28. some random dood says:

    Pavlov dog waiting for next Let’s Play – do we have the date for the start of the Mass Effect 3 play yet please?

  29. Chris says:

    I’ll say this much: I’m glad I cut out the segment where I chastised Valve for gamifying their sales by giving players who pick up a $5 game a few achievements that give them the possibility of unlocking a $50 game last Christmas.

    • James Pony says:

      Do you mean this happened last Christmas (because I don’t actually remember) or did you mean “buy X now, have a chance to win a time paradox”?

      If the latter, I really have no idea what you’re trying to say.

      If the former, I’d say “gamification” is crap because the chance to get a free game for buying a cheap game sounds more like a draw or a lottery with the achievement thing being just a mechanic that’s easy to implement from Valve’s standpoint, and as such calling it “gamification” is just making up new words to make regular things sounds SUPER RAD and EXTREME TO THE MAX – or to try to politicize something for some dubious agenda.

      • X2Eliah says:

        I basically agree, the big winter draw was pretty much a lottery.

        BUT.
        It was also a small form of gamification. Because your lottery tickets were literally special in-game achievements. In relatively cheap past-the-sell-date games.

        That said, the lottery did include a couple of practically auto-granted tickets too, so that literally everyone with a steam account would enter the draw anyway, the gamification aspect came into play only for *improving* your chances by a miniscule amount. So I’d say it is not all that bad.

        Anyway, doesn’t it make a kind of sense to employ gamification principles in an event for game selling outlet?

        • James Pony says:

          In-game achievements? So if you happen to do some things in a game, you might win? Sounds like a bonus to me. I see no need for a word like “gamification” to be used in this context.

          Thinking about it now, this whole “gamification” thing is starting to sound more and more like a buzzword, or a “trope”-name (and as much as I enjoy reading TVT-ropes, a lot of it is just unnecessary and doesn’t need its own name) or something-out-of-nothing we-don’t-have-anything-better-to-do “news”.

      • PAK says:

        Your right that “gamification” is essentially a new word for an old concept. Lotteries and draws are absolutely examples of the phenomenon. But giving it a word gives us the power to organize the concept in our minds in a way that is useful. People’s thinking is often limited by their use of language, a concept well-established in cognitive psychology. Is there a political agenda at stake here? Certainly, but one which is ethically-motivated. We know all sorts of things now about how the human brain can be tricked into entering into reward cycle loops based on dopamine–one of the reasons us gamers often fall in love with certain kinds of mechanics. And the kinds of ethical concerns Jonathan Blow leveraged at WoW seem even more insidious when taken into new contexts. At least gamers tend to be somewhat informed that the games they play are tuned to satisfy their onboard reward centers. But if someone isn’t aware of how something like, say, a frequent-customer punchcard is manipulating their neural circuitry, is it right for them to allow it to encourage them to buy more coffee?

      • Chris says:

        Tenses are hard to keep straight when you’re posting at work. :(

    • Even says:

      I thought it was bull too. Doesn’t help when RNGs are always dicks to me. I didn’t go out of my way to buy a crapton of those 5$ games just to have a shot, but I was still disappointed with getting only a handful crappy coupons I had no use for.

  30. RCN says:

    As I commented on Chris’ video, I didn’t like that video very much because it was the only time he felt outright negative and spiteful about what he was discussing. His criticism of Half-Life 2 was much more level-headed and frank, this one felt like a personal attack to everyone who uses gamification and everyone who consumes it. Though for the second group this attack was just condescension.

    I’m happy you took issue on the matter. Personally, in my country I think it would work wonders if some people started catching on to gamification. Ever since Extra Credits touched the issue I have done research about it and found several stories about teachers who immensely improved the performance of his class by using gamification to give his students more tangible goals than “getting a good grade that will make your parents happy, I guess”.

    Cases where students get certain benefits as they gain levels through XP earned with homework. Cases where students can pass up on presentations with the accumulated “rep” they gained participating in class. Almost every time they report a noticeable spike in student engagement, so at the very least in the area of education gamification can be a very powerful and socially changing tool, not to mention it is a much more tangible immediate goal than “getting some acceptable grade by the end of the trimester”.

    • Aldowyn says:

      So, maybe if Shamus did well enough on his homework, he might “level up” and either get higher level homework or at least less or something like that?

      That’s actually a novel idea. Huh, that could help a LOT with the current system.

      • Unbeliever says:

        Yes. This.

        I can’t speak much to gamification of web sites — I leave the adblocker turned on everywhere but here, and I am very hit-and-run when it comes to browsing.

        But I have ALWAYS argued that Learning Should Be More Fun. In elementary school, I always got top grades. Why? The teachers were putting in the effort to be engaging, entertaining. Each letter of the alphabet had a name, a face and a personality! In math, we learned how many apples were left if Sneaky Sally took one away!

        By junior high, you were supposed to be better at paying attention. And by high school, they practically DARED you to care about the subject. And sure enough, while I still managed to pass everything well enough, I did less well in a direct relationship with how much of the class was drudge work.

        I remember Schoolhouse Rock so clearly. For you youngsters, it was a couple of minutes during Saturday morning cartoons, where they replaced some commercials with an animated, musical learning video. We learned math, english, history and science, while hardly noticing we were doing it. I can *STILL* sing the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and I’m in my mid-forties!

        (A history teacher of mine at the time, unaware of Schoolhouse Rock, once gave an assignment to the class to memorize the Preamble and be ready to recite it from memory in a week. Our entire classroom looked around at each other, stood up, and sang it on the spot! The look on her face was priceless…)

        Ever since then, I’ve known that learning didn’t HAVE to be boring. It’s the System, from the Boards of Education, through the school districts, through the principles and under-equipped and under-paid teachers, who MAKE it boring.

        And if you just can’t make a subject NATURALLY fun and/or interesting?

        Well, “gamification” is at least an UNNATURAL way to do it.

        If you’re bound and determined to torture your students, at least let them earn ways to LESSEN the torture…

        • X2Eliah says:

          Holy capitals Batman!

          Anyway. The key difference you missed is that gamification in schools does nothing to make the core subject itself any more fun or interesting. It can easily be the same flat, dry, useless drivel, but with a warning that you lose 20 points for not suffering through it.

          To make school properly interesting, you don’t need to implement arbitrary “achievements” that act as carrots on a stick for a donkey crossing a shit creek. You need to get rid of the shit creek itself – in this case, find better teachers who can present the subjects in an interesting way, and maybe rework the system a bit to include more interesting, challenging stuff. Slapping badges, cheevos, exppoits and other stupid gamification-style bling on the same old dull schoolsystem won’t do anything. And ofc you’ll get some good reports on gamification if the teachers there can present the subject interestingly – you’d get just as good reports without all the game-y crap, aswell.

          • Aldowyn says:

            It’s not all the teacher’s fault. (Or all the curriculum’s fault). A lot of kids just don’t care or try at all, and if “gamifying” education can help those kids actually try a bit, how could that be bad?

        • Zukhramm says:

          Learning itself is fun. We don’t need to make education more fun, we just need to stop making it boring.

  31. WWWebb says:

    The Escapist has a little slot where people who actually care about ads put their money…and then they don’t see ads.

    Also, I would remind people that a banner ad, just like those ads in magazines and bus stops, does not have to be clicked on to be effective…it just has to load before the content.

  32. Alex the Too Old says:

    I come down on Chris’s side on this. Shamus is correct that things could be, and often are, much worse. But, just because something is “better than bad”, that doesn’t mean it’s “good”. (The makers of Log weasel-worded this distinction in their advertising, of course.) Just because people can modify their own or others’ behavior this way, doesn’t mean that they SHOULD, or that staying dependent on subrational reward loops is an acceptable substitute for being aware of one’s behavior and taking charge of one’s actions.

    In fact, it would be interesting to have Extra Credits address this seeming disconnect between their advocacy of gamification and their criticism of “Skinner box” conditioning, as they’re essentially the same thing.

    It’s a similar mechanism to using sex to sell – in either case, you’re hooking base impulses that don’t really reflect people’s actual attitudes toward what you’re selling. You haven’t changed your audience’s mind, you’ve routed around their mind entirely. The fact that gamification (or sexy advertising, for that matter) can be used in the service of something beneficial is, in the final analysis, beside the point. Using people’s instincts against them robs them of agency, and in the face of a world increasingly driven by communication and unmediated direct interaction, training people to act without thinking and encouraging dependence on quick, superficial feedback is dangerous.

    I’m not proud of myself for thinking it might be funny to end this comment with a suggestion to come up with a fun system of rewards to train people to think for themselves more.

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