Behavioral product strategist and gamification designer. This is my public hypertext notebook, sharing my thinking in motion at various stages of development.


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 understand Behavioral Product Strategy, even if they don't use the same words to describe it.

Given game design's profound and intentional influence over player behavior, 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 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 gamification 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. Game designers and behavioral scientists are asking many of the same questions, and we should be focusing on those. We should 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 many distinct genres have been born. Gamification never grew up. It copied itself rather than drawing from game design and behavioral science. Despite the heterogenous set of problems, a homogenous configuration of points, badges, and leaderboards has been touted as a universal approach. 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 mistakenly believed that Foursquare’s mechanics would simply lead to engagement, even when taken out of Foursquare's context. 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 scientists and game designers learning from each other's theory and findings. 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 explore the areas where Game designers and behavioral scientists are asking many of the same questions.