All over the web and in all the product management communities, there are articles and discussions about gamification. If you’ve been offline for a while, gamification is about applying design and development efforts to software in a way to make it more engaging, more “fun.”
Not only have whole applications been born under the premise (i.e. Foursquare), but gamification has also had great impact in some of the more traditional business software, (ie. Salesforce.com) allowing for more interaction and amusement when performing daily tasks.
I’m all about having more fun in my interactions with technology, and can truly appreciate making the more mundane less so; but, I believe sometimes we have taken the concept of gamification too far.
Not every piece of software or every interaction within should be designed around fun. Stanford professor Elizabeth Corcoran, in her book on the subject, “The ‘Gamification’ Of Education”, suggests that the gamification of businesses and virtual worlds is creating an expectation among people that real-life interactions follow simple mechanics and some disillusionment when they do not. Are we making our software more of a toy than a productive tool?
I recently heard of a software company’s UI meeting, held to introduce the upcoming planned release to the internal audience, where the discussion quickly went from what the planned for now to the planned for later. In the “planned for later” talks, the designers were sharing their vision for the upcoming UI changes, which were focused on including more opportunities for social interactions. The problem? No one had talked with more than 1 or 2 current customers to find out if this is what is truly needed or wanted.
Conversations need to start with the market, not just customers. Does your market want to play a game when they are in your software? Will it help them do their job better? More effectively?
Luke Hohmann, with his company Innovation Games, does great work in promoting playing collaborative games with your customers to build engagement. He states that engaging customers in a well-designed Innovation Game frees them up from the constraints of typical focus-group sessions and delivers deeper, more accurate information than is available through online surveys or other tools.
There are some very successful elements that need to be copied. Gaming elements do and should belong in SOME software. Luke’s reasons and use make sense. In consumer-facing sites, I support using gaming elements to make the site more engagement, building more loyalty, etc. In business programs, I can no longer remember the “old” training programs where you didn’t even see your status on the module much less your achievement. Gaming made training more fun. But, once you start entering the enterprise software realm, gamification is an area that needs to be evaluated carefully.
Gamification elements that are added in by designers because they are the latest and greatest, will quickly get subjected to the sideline and prove to be a waste of your time and effort. In the competitive software market, time and effort need to be focused on those areas which deliver the differentiation. And, it might not be about the game.