There shouldn’t always be an app for that

Posted on 20 October 2011 by Daisy.Walker

The word gamification is enough to make some grown men dry heave; it’s bandied about as a knee jerk answer to ‘how should we bring this to life?’ Just as there shouldn’t always be an app for that, games and engagement strategies need to hit certain markers to have relevance and ring true for a brand.

An internet flame war has erupted over Sebastian Deterding’s strong critique of Gabe Zichermann’s book Gamification by Design in which Deterding accuses Zichermann of peddling cod-science and misrepresenting the fundamentals. Why should we care? Well, Zichermann proclaims himself to be the expert in gamification and his scope of influence is pretty wide, and while Deterding’s argument is overly long, the basics of it are straightforward and pretty important:

  • It’s not the rewards/ points which make gaming compelling, it’s mastering the challenge.
  • Don’t generalise the social / status element of gaming: “Personal relevance and community are prerequisites for status indicators to work, not something you conjure into being by adding status indicators. I don’t start to care about French Cuisine or the opinion of Brazilians if I come across a Brazilian website for French cuisine that tells me I’m “three checkins away” from advancing on its leaderboard.”
  • Beware exploitation through obfuscating the value of rewards – that is just trying to get the better of your customer, and nothing meaningful will come of it.
  • Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic rewards /motivation; understand which is the key driver for gaming.

Beyond these issues this has turned into rather a compelling debate with Zichermann coming over as a slippery bugger with something of The Game author Neil Strauss about him. It’s an interesting look into an emerging arena where people like Zichermann have spotted an opportunity for some local celebrity and fast money, without even practising the gamification he preaches in marketing his own book.

Great game strategy? AKQA’s Heineken Star Player and AMV’s The Nightjar. Top of the leaderboard for me though is TBWA’s Nissan GT Academy – Nissan teams up with PlayStation’s Gran Tourismo offering gamers the chance to turn their PlayStation racing skills into real life driving skills; training at the GT Academy, initially competing virtually and then in reality on the racetrack at Silverstone with the ultimate winner qualifying as a racing driver and competing in a Nissan 370Z in a real life race (this year it’s the Dubai 24 Hour International). Tens of thousands of car and gaming fans enter; it’s spawned a reality TV show about the competition process and best of all? No irrelevant checkins necessary.

Losing game strategy? Too many to mention; anything languishing on the 5th page of your iPhone taking up bytes. If you want more than the ‘virtual grunt of appreciation’* that is the Facebook like, consider what people really want from games in their lives.

*Brilliant phrase via Contagious




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