Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Gamification is NOT the Answer

Peter Rogers
My colleague and most trusted technical mobility expert, Peter Rogers shares in this article why "gamification" is not the remedy for poor design.  Enjoy!

Having coming from a gaming background it is frustrating hearing the word ‘Gamification’ being thrown around as the universal answer to UX woes. Just as I thought I was the only one who realised Gamification was actually the question rather than the answer then along came Morten Grauballe with an amazing Blog that reaffirmed my faith in human understanding.

Gamification is a way of rewarding people for repeating an undesirable and monotonous task. In a previous blog I controversially mooted Shamification as a technique for shaming those who did not perform said monotonous task, instead of rewarding them. Approaches have included giving badges or certificates for doing something painful or even putting a game up as a side-activity to make sure users return back again to perform the painful task. Can you spot the actual problem here though?

Imagine a video game where the objective was to complete your timesheet and it had the most amazing reward system ever. Every time you played the ‘Timesheet 2000’ Arcade Game you were able to enter your timesheet score in a global leader board where the top ten people in the world were invited to a televised timesheet multiplayer event. Would I now enjoy entering my timesheet every month? No, I categorically would not! I would not put one pound (translation: UK currency) coin into that Arcade machine. I would rather buy asparagus, and I really do not like asparagus. Everything that makes entering a timesheet frustrating is still present: chasing down project codes; making sure time allocation dates are correct on the code; and trying to work out what to do with down time. It is the same with claiming expenses, there can be no better reward system than actually getting money in your account, however most people still hate doing their expenses.

The problem is of course the repetitive task itself. This fundamentally proves there is a hole in the Gamification mind-set that has been overlooked for too long. Instead, if we can identify user experience loops that have to be completed many times and make them joyful to complete then we are actually achieving the goal of driving up repetitive task completion. I remember in my younger years sitting happily on the sunny beach but being uncontrollably drawn to walk up the long winding steps to the café, just to put all my hard earned ten pence coins (how times change) into the local Galaxians machine. The Gameplay Loop was a simple line up the spacecraft with the space invader, allow for movement and then fire. The reward was a very satisfying animation of the space invader exploding with a satisfying sound effect. The more important space invaders actually changed their patterns if you shot at them whilst in motion, which made it even more satisfying to nail them. Likewise many days of my life were spent capturing monsters in bubbles and then popping them in Bubble Bobble. Sure the high score drives us on but it was a really satisfying gameplay loop.

Before Gamification become trendy, enterprises would shun years of video game experience when designing applications. Now the discussion has finally begun then we need to take the best parts of game design and use them for enterprise applications, as well as consumer apps. We begin this journey by starting with well-considered animations and transitions. Personally, I am a fan of very subtle animations on UI elements with occasional background animations that are not predictable. The use of audio is also important, especially when synchronised with animations. Imagine an image of a car, it can have headlights that flash occasionally and maybe at some random times it sounds a horn. On a touch screen display then there could be additional parts of the screen that you can touch for hidden features that you discover over time. Maybe pressing a different part of the background makes some noise or triggers a hidden feature. This is what designers call ‘playfulness’ but it has been basic game design for many years. Google Hangouts has used special text codes that trigger amusing animations (such as animal stampedes) in order to introduce new fun features over time and that require an “insider knowledge”.

The core experience needs to be engaging though and that means we need to deconstruct the application into a sequence of commonly executed user experience loops. If we go back to the timesheet application then Nintendo have always allowed a default set up to an on-boarding process which gets remembered for the next time round. So the first time you set your profile by changing a few default values and then they are remembered for the next time you arrive. When you actually enter your timesheet you only have to change a few fields and all of these are presented by pre-loaded pre-emptive pop-up menus. You could even have an avatar that represents your profile and who guides you though the process. As for expenses, it would be amazing to be able to capture receipts with your camera and automatically submit them, but image recognition software still presents a large barrier to a seamless experience even today.

Unity 3D itself has revolutionised the tool chain that developers can use for building games or game-like experiences and in the process lowered the bar to 3D graphics. have introduced an amazing framework for animation and mixed mode 3D rendering which again allows application developers to include 3D into enterprise applications. Just recently Google, Microsoft and Mozilla agreed to work together to bring WebAssembly to most popular web browsers. WebAssembly enables a bytecode format for asm.js (which is ‘an extraordinarily optimizable, low-level subset of JavaScript’) which means that we can load, process and run JavaScript commands much faster. Unity also support Google Portable Native but it never really took off. Unity WebGL will output WebAssembly bytecode which will enable much high performance rendering of 3D in web browsers and I would assume would be looking at supporting it in the future. Other gaming engines offer low entry points to gaming experiences as well such as Platino (

The message is simple, don’t reward somebody for doing an awful monotonous task, fix the awful monotonous task. Gamification is only a plaster or the proverbial lipstick for the pig.

Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.