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Comentário de Augusto de Franco em 7 maio 2011 às 10:33

Gamification: Hype or Game-Changer?

Gamification is already shaping up to be one of the buzzwords of 2011. Educators, brands, charities and government are all looking at how to use gamification to improve engagement, make money or change behaviors.

We are in the grip of gamification-mania. Rick Gibson of Games Investor Consulting says “Some analysts estimate that 50% of companies will have ‘gamified’ by 2015. That’s 13.5 million businesses in the U.S. alone. That seems pretty ambitious to me.”

But what is gamification? At the Digital Shoreditch Gamification Day today, the audience seemed to be confused about the distinction between making games, gamification and transmedia.

At this gamification conference, the room is divided by a total lack of a common language. For some, gamification is making an iPhone app that entertains, like Barclaycards Waterslide Extreme. (I would call that making an “adver-game”). For others, it is about brand extension (taking Coronation Street onto Facebook, for example). For yet another group, it’s about adding points and levels and badges to a website. To my mind, the latter is a basic example of gamification, but even then, not everyone would agree with me.

My definition of gamification is “using game-like mechanics to improve a business process, or customer experience, or profits”. You could add “to change behaviors or outcomes” to that list.

It is fundamentally different from the art and craft of making a game. Games are about fun, and finding fun is hard. It combines effort with serendipity, technical knowledge with whimsical experimentation, art style with core game mechanics.

In contrast, gamification is much more rigid. It brings a set of frameworks and rules to a website, a business process or a lesson plan. Using features such as leaderboards, rewards, achievements and levels, gamification providers such as Bigdoor and Bunchball claim to be able to “turn customers into fans, and fans into evangelists”.

Supporters argue that, done well, gamification can improve engagement, drive revenue and cut costs. It offers valuable PR opportunities and insights into the behavior of your customers. By harnessing the deeper psychological needs of your users, you can enrich their experience, but also encourage them to visit more often, to solve their own customer service problems or to spend more money.

“There is a reason why games developers earn over £100,000 a year”

Detractors, most of whom are drawn from traditional gaming, are dismissive. Ian Bogost, Assistant Professor of Literature Communication and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology, argues “gamification replaces real, functional, two-way relationships [between brands and their customers] with dysfunctional perversions of relationships. Organizations ask for loyalty, but they reciprocate that loyalty with shams, counterfeit incentives that neither provide value nor require investment.”

He has initiated a campaign to rebrand ‘gamification’ as ‘exploitationware’.

Others argue that gamification at best ignores the unique feelings of fun, learning, joy, flow and discovery that lie at the heart of a game, and at worst is the evil exploitation of human nature by psychological tricks and Pavlovian manipulation.

The truth is inevitably somewhere in between.

What everyone does agree is that gamifying is difficult. Raf Keustermans, former marketing director of Electronic Arts’ social games division, Playfish, says “there is a reason why games developers earn over £100,000 a year.” And even they don’t always get it right. Of the more than 80,000 games on Facebook, Mr. Keustermans says that only 200 have more than one million monthly active users. Seventy-five per cent of users who play a game never return after the first occasion. Only 15-20% are still playing after 30 days.

In short, making a good social game is difficult. Gamifying is just as difficult. In fact, it may even be harder, because instead of just focusing on how to make fun, engaging gameplay that can be monetised, it has to focus on other, more nebulous corporate objectives like engagement.

Gamification is not a panacea. Many of the things that proponents claim gamification can do can be done by normal business processes: redesign your website, improve your product, train your customer service better. But if you are looking for ways to encourage behaviors amongst your customers, it has a place in the marketer’s arsenal.

More importantly, it is going to be one of the dominant buzzwords of 2011.

Nicholas Lovell is the CEO and Founder of Gamesbrief

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