When people think of gamification, they tend to think of points, badges, and leaderboards. They make claims like "gamification is good for engagement” or “gamification should only come in at X stage." Academic researchers will research questions like “is gamification effective?” This is based on the assumption that gamification is a monolithic thing.
However, gamification can be done without feeling like gamification, without points, without badges, without extrinsic rewards. This is because gamification is, in fact, a whole domain of study. It represents a deep interplay between behavioral/cognitive science, game design, human-computer interaction, and research methods.
I bear the same shocked reaction when someone asks "is gamification effective?" that many people would have if you asked them, "is design effective?" Let me say it clearly: Gamification is not one monolithic thing. Instead, it represents a deep interplay between behavioral/cognitive science, game design, human-computer interaction, and research methods. Gamification is influencing user behavior through design decisions informed by principles of behavioral science and game design that increase voluntary usage
Gamification as you've been seeing it for years isn't being inspired by games and behavioral science, but rather, by other gamification. As a result of this Lazy gamification, we've ended up with a "Foursquare genre of gamification" that doesn't understand when it’s welcome and applies copy/paste solutions to problems and populations that they weren't meant to solve for. It's no wonder that Most gamification sucks!
However, if we lump the points, badges, and leaderboards that we're used to seeing into a "Foursquare genre," then that can be liberating. We can break past the shackles of what's known and venture into new territory. There could be many genres of gamification, and we've only scratched the surface.