Behavioral product strategist and gamification designer. If something seems incomplete, it probably is. These are ideas in motion, so I'm iterating on every page as I go.


Most gamification sucks

Game designers have been designing for digital behavior change for longer than just about anyone. They design the environment that the users interact with and the rules through which all of the user's actions are interpreted. The goal of game design is to influence user behavior to create an intended experience. They are doing Behavioral Product Strategy.

Given that, it astounds me that gamification is in the state that it is in. It's as though gamification designers said to themselves, "Points, badges, and leaderboards, those are the only things worth learning from!" Mechanics as motivators are a red herring. Think about mechanics as facilitators and Design systems of influence.

It's unclear to me why gamification has become so homogenous. Maybe its designers are too old and were influenced by the wrong games. They played games when "Galaga" and "Pac-Man" were cutting edge and then "grew up" and stopped playing games. They aren't looking at games from the perspective of a gamer/game designer. They are parents, watching their kids sit in front of a game console for hours, asking themselves, "Why is our child so addicted?" and "Why are they playing so many games when they could be doing their schoolwork?" Meanwhile, I was asking questions like “How can I improve my skill in this game to beat a boss?”

Gamification designers aren't asking the right questions, while Game designers and behavioral scientists are asking many of the same questions. We should instead be asking ourselves "What can we take away from game design and behavioral science to influence user behavior so that we co-create an intended experience with the user?" We don't have a choice whether we ask this question or not, because Every app is designed for behavior change, intentionally or unintentionally.

Games have grown up since the 80s and 90s and birthed many distinct genres. Gamification never grew up. It copied itself rather than drawing from game design and behavioral science. A relatively homogenous configuration of points, badges, and leaderboards have been slapped onto a heterogenous set of problems. Gamification didn't adapt to its goals and challenges because the designers didn't understand the behavioral science of how and why it worked. The designers thought that Four Square’s mechanics were successful in a vacuum. This is Lazy gamification. There could be many genres of gamification, and yet most of what we have is just Foursquare over and over again. Gamification is not one monolithic thing.

I love video games. Not only are they enjoyable, but they're a form of research when you analyze them through behavioral science lenses.Take that, Dad. Who's wasting time now? When I started working in gamification, I was amazed at the possibility of behavioral science and game design learning from each other. What I found when I looked for examples was so thoroughly unimpressive that I knew immediately I would need to develop my own understanding of gamification.

There is no curriculum that encompasses everything you should know because gamification has been systematically misinterpreted and misapplied since its inception. I sought the areas where Game designers and behavioral scientists are asking many of the same questions and I focus on those.