Gamification: The issues to consider

Michael Brown

Yellow rosette made out of paper on a blue background

Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Over the last decade the concept of gamification has become more and more popular. In basic terms this means using game mechanics in non-game environments, usually with the aim of making repetitive tasks more engaging and enjoyable. For a more detailed description of the various approaches and techniques, wikipedia is a good place to start.

While the term itself is relatively new, first gaining popularity in around 2010, a lot of the approaches used have been around for decades. For example American Airlines launched the first ever 'frequent flyer’ program in 1981, allowing customers to collect points based on how often and how far they flew with the airline. 

While there are endless articles and blogs detailing the virtues of gamification and describing how best to apply it in a wide range of contexts, very little is said about the potential negative effects that gamification can have on the users of a service. Below are some of the issues to consider when deciding whether to use gamification as a marketing or engagement tool. 

Issue 1: Trivialisation of the service

One big impact which must be considered before adopting a gamification approach is how it can impact the perception of a particular task and by extension the service as a whole. Generally, the more playful a task is, the less seriously it will be taken. This isn’t always a bad thing but is definitely worth considering if trivialisation is going to impact people’s perception of your company or service. Does a sense of playfulness fit with your brand values? Is gamification appropriate for the type of message you're trying to convey? A bank that introduces gamification, for example, may come to be seen as untrustworthy and frivolous, particularly if the gamified elements seem to clash with other aspects of the brand identity such as reliability or maturity. 

Issue 2: Changing the criteria for success

Successful gamification inevitably changes user’s behaviour as elements such as points and badges encourage the user to complete tasks in specific ways that can mask the importance of the task itself. For example, if you reward users for the number of tasks completed it can make them rush through those tasks, which is likely to cause more errors, omissions and possibly frustration with inefficient interface elements.

Issue 3: Adding complexity

A more basic problem is that by laying gaming elements on top of a task or service, you are inevitably adding complexity to the interface and probably task completion itself. The additional cognitive effort, visual clutter and increased task completion time could mean you end up spending a lot of time and resources making users' experiences worse, even if the task is a bit more ‘fun’.

None of these issues are insurmountable but as ever it’s important to do your research so you truly understand if gamification is the right option for your service.

We'd love to chat to you about your questions or ideas around gamification and whether it would benefit your product or service - just get in touch.