Blogs & Comment

Don’t use the ‘G’ word!

The trend of embedding games in every industry from banking to journalism has designers and techies thrilled—just don’t call it ‘gamification’.

Companies have wised up to the fact that if games can get the most unmotivated demographic—teenagers—to do something for hours straight, they might motivate people to use a product or service more. The idea of turning something that’s not overtly a game, like grocery shopping, into a game by adding a system such as loyalty points has spread like wildfire across various industries. Online banking is doing it and online clothing stores are doing it, both of which I talk about in a feature I wrote on the movement. The idea of looping your customers into an endorphin cycle similar to games has even garnered its own term: “gamification.” But shh—not so loud! Not everyone is on board with the lingo.

In the latest instance I read about of something-turned-game—a platform for citizen journalism website called Citizenside, where contributors are rewarded with points depending on the intricacy of their work—the article ended with the controversy around the phrase. The author wrote: “Like the term du jour earlier this year, ‘gamification,’ has already fallen out of favor. All of the people I spoke with were careful to not use the expression, with (Philip) Trippenbach [editor-in-chief of Citizenside] even saying he ‘loathed’ the word. Ian Bogost, one of the co-authors of the 2010 book Newsgames, says that gamification has become an ambiguous buzzword. ‘It lets you imagine that there is this power that you have captured, and you can just sprinkle it on your website like fairy dust and then watch the magic happen,’ he says.”

I thought back to the interviews for my article and remembered some sneers from sources at the mention of gamification. I went back and asked some of the experts how they felt about about the phrase. “‘Gamification’ is a problematic word because it means so many different things,” says Amy Jo Kim, the CEO for consulting company ShuffleBrain. “I don’t ever use it myself to describe what I do.” She says what clients are really looking for is “engagement design, which is my term for designing an experience that creates sustained engagement throughout a player’s lifecycle.” Jesse Schell, who teaches game design at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center , calls it a “silly word” that “is usually used by people who are grasping to figure out what they really mean. And usually, what people really want to say is not necessarily that they want to turn their experience into a game, but rather that they want to increase the amount of intrinsic motivation people have to engage in the experience. So, a better phrase, which I cribbed from Sebastien Deterding, is ‘motivational design.’” While Kim predicts the word will be a short-lived meme and won’t be in common parlance in a few years, Gabe Zichermann, co-author of Game-based Marketing, says though semantics are beside the point, gamification is here to stay. “The real question is how the techniques are used and to what end. The use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems (which is the definition of ‘gamification’ we use) is highly effective.”

There we have it folks. Does the term bother you?