Gamification, is it a load of bollocks?

I just read an article over on hide and seek, which was complaining about the recent spate of people trying to “gamify” mundane tasks. His main issue seems to be with nomenclature, he points out that because you are given point for doing stuff you aren’t really playing a game, you are collecting points, he coins the rather awkward term “pointsification” for this. He goes on to say that because there aren’t failure conditions, and there aren’t choices that you aren’t playing a game, you are just collecting points.

It occurred to me that one company/organization which has managed to “gamify” a mundane task is Weight Watchers, the funny thing is that in their game you don’t gain points you spend them, you are allocated a number of points a day, which you spend by eating food, you can replenish your supply by exercising, and you win by losing weight. There is even a lose condition, you don’t lose weight or you gain weight, there you have levels of failure and levels of success.

Why does this work better than gamifying exercise, or drinking cola, or heck even just visiting places ala 4square? I think its the fact that the points are detached from the win lose condition, sure they offer a guideline for how well you are doing, and you can correlate your points expenditure with your success, but losing weight can be arbitrary, you could spend your points correctly and not lose any weight, just like in a game, the game is slightly broken offering an element of randomness.

Also having a points balance to spend each day leads to you having to make decisions,such as do I skip lunch now so I can “afford” cake this evening, you actually have to sacrifice in the short term for future goals. In addition you can do something which RPG gamers are familiar with, you can grind points by exercising in the same way that you would grind for gold or xp in a final fantasy game so you can afford that shiny cake sword.

The two examples given in the article for failed Gamification are Nike+ and CokeZone. I’m not familiar with Nike+ but it sounds like you get achievements for doing things like running 50 miles in a month and so on, as for CokeZone its more of a “Buy our stuff and we’ll give you stuff” affair, neither of these as the author points out are games, in fact CokeZone is just an incentive to drink more Coke, its exactly like the various points cards that stores give you, so how could we make these more like games?

For the likes of coke zone you need to change the way the whole system works, as it exists currently you get a fixed number of points for buying certain items, the more expensive the item the higher its point value, while this is logical you could make it more “exciting” by offering point ranges, or even there being a small chance of a huge reward from a small purchase, for example 90% of coke cans are worth 1 point, but that remaining 10% can be worth anything from 2 to 100 points.

That way if someone is collecting points they get the, anticipation of getting a huge reward for a little effort, this could lead them buying more coke on the off chance that they “win big”. Another way to spice it up would be to add an element of risk to the point spend, sure you could spend 1,000 points on a baseball cap, but how about investing 500 on the chance to win something? I dunno like a car or gig tickets or something, you make a choice to gamble made up Coca-Cola monies for the chance to win something that is actually worth it. If you lose there might be a number of consolation prizes or something, like more coke or a 10% of your points back, things which are ostensibly free to the company but keep you from feeling like you’ve lost all your hard earned points for nowt.

I’m sure there are more ways that they could make it feel more game like, and in turn make people actually want to participate in the “Game”.

As for Nike+ that seems to work like an achievement system, you do things you get badges. Run 50 KM over the course of a month and you get a badge is the example given in the article, I’ve never looked into Nike+ but I assume that is uses GPS and a pedometer track your runs. If there is a GPS in there and the facility to somehow synchronise with the internet there is actually a huge scope for user generated content there, you could get badges for submitting routes in your area, people could download those routes, try them out and rate them, you could earn badges for people voting up your routes, for trying out a number of different routes, steal that concept from Little Big Planet.

How about having algorithms that merge user generated routes, and tells you when you get to an intersection that you can take the high road or the low road? Bam! choice and interactivity. I’m sure I can think up more ideas.

The real question here is do these things benefit from being made into a game? Personally I don’t think that anyone but Coca-Cola will benefit from Coke-Zone being properly Gamified, Nike+ well the users benefit I guess, it makes your run more interesting to have route suggestions, and challenges to overcome.