Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Okay, I was waiting until the surge of "gamification" posts died down a bit before giving my opinion. Well, it's died down a bit, and this is my opinion.

For those of you who haven't heard the term, "gamification" is the idea that things which are not games can benefit from having game-like features that improve efficiency, user retention, learning speed, and so on.

The most common version of this is what I've heard called "pointification". That's slapping gamelike rewards (typically points or trophies) on otherwise ordinary tasks. As opposed to "pontification", which is what this post is.

Putting aside the putrid verbification of the root words, it's worth looking at these concepts a bit more carefully. I'm not planning on using "gamification" or "pointification" again, if it can be avoided.

The second is a word substituting in for other words that already exist and don't make linguists vomit in their mouth at all. "Pointification", or the assigning of points or other rewards of marginal relation to the task at hand, is really just a particularly limited subset of "reinforcement". The fact that we don't think about it as a subset of this term shows we didn't bother to actually do any research before spouting off.

If you've never bothered to read that Wikipedia article, maybe you should. It's got a pretty good overview, and you can clearly see where "pointification" falls: it's a generalized positive feedback reinforcer. The ever-popular "gamer points" on XBox is this plus some socially-mediated feedback as you see other people's gamer points and they see yours.

You can also learn more about the details of how to schedule these things. There's no need to mumble on and handwave: use the research the human race has already done. Sure, psychology's a soft science, but game design isn't a science at all. Learn from the sources available to you, even if they aren't (gasp!) games!

The term "gamification" is being used as an umbrella term for a bunch of concepts that really have no connection to each other, aside from being vaguely related to the same cultural wellspring. "To make like a game" is a very indistinct concept. It's far preferable to use more specific terms, such as talking about what sort of reinforcement you'll be using.

I usually divide "gamificiation" up into a few distinct categories which are so completely different that they should really be talked about individually and never clustered together under a single vague, undefined umbrella term as they are now.

Reinforcement tweaking is when you alter the task you're talking about to include more effective reinforcements. This is a super-set of "pointification", which is a horribly crippled term. I think on purpose, since when I read about it, it was cast very negatively. Anyway, let's talk about reinforcement tweaking instead.

Immersion tweaking is when you change the act of performing the task to better suit your needs. This may involve scheduling tricks, world/interface polish, or complexity adjustment. I'm sure there are other things it may involve as well.

Thirdly, culture alignment is when you adjust your task to be more in tune with the perceived culture of your target audience, such that they are more likely to participate. This may be a change in audiovisuals, a marketing campaign, or any number of other ways to improve the appeal.

Lastly is interconnectivity, where you adjust how the task relates to others, the world, and itself. A "social game" (another terrible term) uses interconnectivity extensively, as an example.

These categories are not entirely distinct. For example, interface polish may include visuals which are adjusted as a reward for participation. Classic example: strip poker. However, it is something you need to consider in more detail than just throwing up an umbrella term and hoping it sticks.

EDIT: Forgot to mention making tasks simulationist and interactive to allow for exploration and learning-at-your-own-pace and such... So, lastly is simulation-centric design, a phrase I'm not really happy with, but maybe someone else can come up with a better one.

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