Is gamification good or bad?

Is gamification good or bad is a question we occasionally get asked by clients. It typically comes when rumours have been going around about all the bad things that can happen when people are asked to do things against their will. The thing is gamification can be both good and bad like all innovations it has an upside and a downside.

The downside

The downside of gamification can lead to the perception of being manipulated into doing something you don’t want to do. The ethical debate has been going here for some time. Gamification involves finding out about the motivations of end-users and tapping into those with nudges for the better. Anything that can be used for the better can also be used for worse. Being mindful that this is potentially there, is important and at each point, sense checking that you are on a for better track and not worse.

If you are unsure of the difference, here is an example. We all know we ought to exercise, the exercise application on your phone has an in-built reminder set to your chosen frequency. The reminder nudges are there because the designer knew that at some point you will be tempted to forget about exercising. This I would consider a nudge for the better. A nudge for the worst is often of an addictive nature, encouraging you to keep watching the next series, to keep scrolling down the endless feed, etc. Always ask yourself, who is this serving me (the company) or the end-user.

win or lose

Another downside is that gamification often introduces competition. The very nature of competition implies that there are winners and losers. Losers often get left out and may feel devalued or upset that they didn’t win. This can cause an immediate disconnect or negative feeling towards the company, brand or product. For some, it can also cause a bigger determination to do better next time or to win at all costs.

The win/lose equation is something each gamification designer will need to work with and design around. Having a path for both winners and losers can be the solution. Just designing for one however will by this very virtue leave out the other and cause a divide.

The upside

Gamification, when done well, has many upsides, from the achievement of goals thanks to a nudge based journey, to increased retention of learning content to give just two examples. In both cases, the design should match the motivation of the end-user and encourage what they want more of. The more aligned the encouragement with the motivation of the end-user the better the upside and potential success rate of gamification.

Collaboration can be encouraged with gamification by introducing common goals and team rewards for example. In this case, in order to win everyone has to play a part. It works well in a setting where you may depend on others to deliver whether it is a supplier relationship or simply department or team relationships inside an organisation.

Productivity and profitability can be improved with gamification and typically the two are closely linked. What is also linked in this equation that engaged employees as in people showing up motivated to do their best days work will assist in increasing productivity. Gamification has multiple ways where it can assist in this equation from simple feedback loops at the end of meetings, to nudge towards the highest priority work for example.

Gamification can be both good and bad, at the very minimum your designer should be able to advise on what potential downfalls there are with the design. User testing should also help in giving you feedback in the perception people have about your gamification efforts. I would say don’t let it stop you from using it, but go ahead with your eyes wide open.

If you are looking for a designer to help you design for good, we are happy to be of assistance, so give us a call.

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