Don’t Hate the Game. The Points May Not Matter

Last week's Gartner study on gamification drew some passionate responses, but the root issue is whether it fits your needs. You don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

It doesn’t matter if gamification is a fad. Really, all that matters is if it works.

Last week, one of the more controversial pieces I wrote covered a Gartner study about the challenges facing the field of gamification, a tool often used to engage end users by adding game elements, such as a points system or badges to display achievements earned, to the process. The report took a pessimistic view of the concept, saying that poorly designed games would fade quickly.

The study raised a couple eyebrows, drawing tweets like this:

On top of this, YourMembership‘s Christina Smith, commenting on the post, expressed some frustration at the study’s findings and the depiction of the phenomenon as a fad. Rather, she cited solid fundamentals and long-term possibility at play—reasons why, if it makes sense for your organization, the technique is worthwhile.

“Sure, future gamification tools may get sexier but it still appeals to the same basic hierarchy of needs and human drivers,” Smith wrote. “I just wish it would get a more applicable name, one that speaks to the possibilities behind it.”

Looking beyond the association community, the study as a whole faced a couple of critical assessments, as well as a couple of less-critical ones.

Ultimately, badges or not, your online endeavors should shoot for ideas that fit so well that the tie is unmistakable.

“Hence the backlash, which is healthy, because it will hopefully encourage less buzzwords and conference-grandstanding and more substance around the way other kinds of businesses can learn from games and game developers,” writes The Guardian‘s Stuart Dredge.

It’s totally understandable why the study was controversial. Gamification is one of many useful tools in the association playbook. And a useful tool that’s working shouldn’t get batted out of hand, right?

Smith’s comment, in a lot of ways, underscores the true root issue. Associations are all trying a lot of things to draw the eyes of their members and keep them there. And ultimately, whether it’s a gamified approach or something else entirely, the goal is to stand out in a constructive way.

A Creative Approach Always Wins

Here’s how your online endeavors should work if you’re doing them correctly.

Last week, I played a game. It was created for a Grammy-winning musician whose music I don’t particularly care for. But I played through the whole thing because it’s supremely compelling, a clever play on a metaphor touched upon in both classic video games and in the artist’s own music. I may not go to a show by the artist anytime soon, but he got a little of my respect.

The artist? Electronic musician Skrillex. The game? Skrillex Quest, a glitch-heavy riff on The Legend of Zelda, which was a bit of an artistic victory in its own right. More info below:

What’s the value here for associations? Well, Skrillex might sell some music from this. He might even get a little bit of critical reassessment from music fans who might have scoffed at his work before. At the very least, he’ll draw some attention from the idea because he (and the game’s developer, Jason Oda) did something truly unique with the format.

This game, while loaded with gameplay, isn’t really gamification. Really, it’s more of a driver to the Skrillex brand. But it stands out nonetheless, because it ultimately is very successful at its goal: raising awareness of this Skrillex guy.

What your association does online to raise awareness of itself or drive its educational goals doesn’t have to rise to the level of Skrillex Quest, nor does have to be an actual video game. But it should have about the same level of careful consideration during the brainstorming process.

Because ultimately, badges or not, your online endeavors should shoot for ideas that fit so well that the tie is unmistakable. Perhaps Gartner was trying to cut through hype with a blunt instrument, but ultimately, that’s really the lesson here.

If the points don’t make sense or reach your goals, why have them?


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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