Gamification Suffering Epic Failure

By | Nov 30, 2012

Gamification, or the process of using game mechanics or design to increase loyalty or production in employees and customers, has been slowly gaining recognition as a powerful way to influence people and drive value for a business. Now, a new report on the matter throws some cold water on the entire issue, raising questions about whether many companies should even bother with the practice.

Business and Games

There is little doubt that games have become an ingrained part of our culture. While recreation has always been an important part of life, the last two generations have found an affinity for gaming so deep that they are willing to perform otherwise repetitive, boring tasks for hours on end in order to reach some goal or plateau in a game.

It didn't take long for businesses outside of the gaming industry to recognize this trend and attempt to develop their own gaming ecosystem, bent on providing customers and employees with an experience that will have them coming back for more. This whole gamification process has been severely hyped recently as a way to drive value to the company.

However, a new report from Gartner disputes some of the hype that is surrounding the term. As noted in this Tech Crunch article, Gartner predicts that by 2014, 80 percent of all gamified apps will fail.

The reasons behind that belief, which are detailed in this Guardian article, really comes down to poor game design. Often, business leaders aren't the type of people who spend much time playing games and therefore don't understand the allure of gaming or what separates a good game from a waste of time. These leaders may just decide to attach badges or some sort of ladder to boring activities, resulting in a "game" that is anything but fun and addictive.

That said, Gartner does say that there are some beneficial gamification apps out there, and that more successful ones will arrive in the future. The main argument right now is just that the term is overhyped, resulting in a ton of copycat gamification apps or systems that do little to benefit customers, employees or the business.

Balancing Fun and Value

With the buzz and successes surrounding gamification, even with the numerous failures, IT managers will, at some point, probably find themselves in charge of one of these projects. This is especially true at midsize businesses, which can leverage this phenomenon into the better brand adhesion or productivity so necessary to keep these types of businesses afloat. Whether the goal is to keep customers coming back or to keep employee interested in their jobs, the challenges are the same.

One look at all the failures in the real gaming world should tell anyone just how difficult it is making a game the people want to keep coming back to. Add in the fact that at the core of gamification is a series of tasks that otherwise wouldn't be considered fun, and the project becomes even more challenging.

Unfortunately there is no cut-and-dry solution to the problem right now, but a lot of pitfalls can be avoided if the right approach is taken from the beginning. Gamification is much more than slapping badges onto existing experiences or creating some sort of leaderboard for minor achievements. The game has to be something else entirely, something that makes the participant feel truly rewarded and makes the tasks they had to perform to get that reward seem less mundane.

Luckily, research in the area is growing, and with each successful application more and more information is available to IT managers concerning just what it takes to build a working system. Expect to see more about this phenomenon in the near future, but as Gartner warns, if you want your program to be successful you have to invest more than just a token, buzzword-driven interest in it.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.