Gamification: Where the Real Online Communities Game Lies

A Craps Table

Gamification is often used in social web applications to make use of people’s desire for competition, status, achievement and altruism by giving rewards to participants. Rewards might include points, badges or levels, the filling of a progress bar, ratings, or highlighting accomplishments via leader boards. I’ve certainly been motivated once or twice to get myself ‘up’ there.

However there is a lot of hype out there pushing gamification as the big thing to drive people’s adoption of social business platforms. I have no doubt that it will motivate many people to interact with the system and generate higher pageviews and more ‘activity’ on the site.

Unfortunately there is little positive criticism of this hype; so I’m writing a quick post to highlight gamification’s potential to drive a community to a populist status quo, with discussions becoming an extrovert-driven jumble of ephemeral like-baits. Exceptions include some good Intranetizen articles and this one by Brian Burke where he says:

The sweet spot for gamification objectives is where the business objectives and player objectives overlap.

This is precisely why there is a lack of criticism; the business objective driving the people implementing social business platforms is ‘system adoption’; we need to look beyond just system adoption to actual business benefits that will drive return on investment.

So before you jump in and enable ‘out of the box’ gamification on your intranet, consider the following potential obstacles to achieving business benefits:

Populist – Why engage in deep, sustained, and penetrative debate with people who disagree on the particulars of a niche innovation when you could be riding the Mr Popular wave with another cheezburger-cat-lol link? Gamification creates obstacles to innovation and effective discussion; the very qualities it purports to address.

Status quo – Suggesting that meat sandwiches should cost more than vegetarian ones will ensure my social ranking is cut to pieces by a bunch of ‘one stars’ from the majority who are content with their subsidized meat but unwilling to discuss the issue; a Kafkaesque scenario where I cannot answer the prosecution but suffer the consequences of being anti-the-majority. Gamification hinders an organisation’s ability to adapt in an environment that is otherwise characterized by rapid change.

Ephemeral – The most popular posts are often the shortest; and the more you post the better your chances of being liked. As the discussions become shorter and quantity trumps quality, posts will inevitably become harder to find. Gamification encourages behaviour that will clutter up your intranet and lead to much larger problems.

Extrovert-drivenIntroverts are more likely to ring people up, mentor, or discuss issues more subtly than in a public social environment; indeed the very presence of a ‘most popular’ list may discourage them from posting at all. Gamification discriminates against and discourages introverts.

Social business applications have implicit gamification embedded within them. If my contributions are seen as valuable they will lead to me being paid for what I’m passionate about and, ultimately, my promotion. That’s where the real game lies.

2 thoughts on “Gamification: Where the Real Online Communities Game Lies

  1. Social media company pushing back on Gamification:

    “One of the things that keeps some users from engaging with a lot of these networks is that they seem so oriented towards gaining massive amounts of followers or contacts, with everyone obsessing about how many favorites or retweets they have. Some internet-native users may enjoy that, he said, but others don’t, and they can be intimidated by the demands of those kinds of networks…”

    http://gigaom.com/2013/06/25/is-there-room-for-another-social-network-for-sharing-links-with-friends-branch-says-yes-gives-birth-to-potluck/

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