Even the aging analyst crowd are picking up their Atari 2600 controllers and dusting off a copy of Pitfall to get in on the act. It’s providing a welcome distraction just now and in fact it’s the very antithesis of doing work if in the wrong hands. And this is where the problem lies.
It’s the engagement, stupid
Gamification at its heart is about engagement, whether it’s the end customer or the employee workforce but it’s the latter I’m more concerned with here. There is an explosion of workflow and enterprise task management tools which have been designed and built purely from a gamified perspective but I’m not convinced any thought has been given to actual productivity. And this is going to seriously damage the concept from the inside. Already there was a very loud and public spat detailed in GigaOM last year between two factions in the gamification camp which I wrote about this time last year on BPM Redux. There are also numerous startups launching or in beta phase claiming that their gami-productivity solution is here to solve the problem of completing boring and mundane tasks. I stumbled across one today which claims to let you set goals and save creatures from danger.
Are we playing a game or actually trying to achieve a completed task list ? And when does the line cross from no longer being about the work but just about the game ? At what point did Gamification become simply Tamagotchi ? Press ‘Enter’ to feed the CEO, Press ‘Home’ to tickle his tummy (ugh).
It’s the human psyche, stupid
The other aspect of gamification that some are happy to ignore is the overuse of the reward system, implemented quickly with a bit of gloss it completely ignores what motivates a large proportion of human psyche. To cheat. I might be showing my age here but who remembers programming Peek and Poke commands to gain infinite lives or infinite ammo ? As I’ve written previously, it’s human nature to quickly embrace a fun method of working but then equally as quickly to tire and bore of it once you’ve figured out the mechanics and for the clever of us, manipulate the scores. Gamification will collapse as a viable employee engagement method in a productivity context very quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, when this is applied correctly the message and engagement model it can be incredibly powerful but this growing pseudo-industry is awash with casual players who have actually no clue what the core values are meant to achieve and are just in it for the short term hit. Given that a lot of activity is centred around productivity engagement you would think there would be some cross-over, collaboration and mutual knowledge sharing between other industries but this just isn’t happening.
As a result, the proliferation of isolated startups are in danger of not only messing with the gamification value but also pissing off those who value productivity as an ultimate goal. It also doesn’t help that along with the casual players come casual observers in the form of analysts who should have retired but like Ra’s Al Ghul manage to crawl to the Lazarus Pit for one more ill-informed research note.
It’s the hardcore players, stupid
What gamification needs in order to survive are more hardcore players. Those who actually aim to know every angle there is, explore every map of the industry, find those secret rooms where other people and ideas lie waiting to cross-pollinate. If gamification is about engagement, then practice what you preach. Right now gamification is a quick commercial hit but with little serious research into just how far the concept could take us beyond the basic application.
To quote the GigaOM article:
We can act in good faith, we can read the literature, we can try and understand why something happens. Or we can remodel the world to fit an easy, commercially viable message.
The dissent in the ranks is because before the real understanding has occurred the consultancy and training invoices are flying out the door. What we really need at this stage is a unification and collaboration into what it means to gamify, an authority in application and methodology, the basic frameworks to build upon and flesh out with open participation to create that standard. Lessons from past industries should be heeded.
Now someone pass me my controller, Space Invaders are on the loose and I’ve just been passed a huge to-do list.