Gamification – Caveat Emptor
Gamification has been a big buzzword around the SCN community for a couple of years now. It is really just starting to gain traction on SCN itself in a substantial way. I enjoy it myself to a large degree. But just because we can gamify doesn’t mean we should. Let the buyer beware.
***DISCLAIMER*** Now, let me be clear, I am not in any way disparaging participation in the community. There are huge benefits for everyone that participates, shares, and learns from each other.
What am I buying into?
Well, simply put, gamification is meant to increase usage of a particular product, service or platform. SCN introduced gamification in order to increase participation, and give members ‘incentives’ for connecting with the community in a more active way.
Gamification in general is not necessarily a bad thing. It is supposed to make something (that previously wasn’t) fun and exciting. It is supposed to bring a wider appeal.
Where the model breaks down
One of the earliest attempts at gamification on SCN was the introduction of the point system. Ask any long-time SCN Moderator how that ended up. While done with the best intentions, it eventually degenerated into a mad dash to acquire the most points possible. Posting good content, answering forum questions, building wiki pages all fell to the wayside, and managing the spammers, blatant marketing posts, and mass cross-posters became a huge undertaking for the moderators. Adjustments had to be made.
Take a non-SCN example. This is the experience I had that really got my mind going on this topic. Take the tried-and-true game of Bejeweled. Now, I’ve been playing Bejeweled in one form or another for a little over 12 years. I started playing in on my PalmPilot around the year 2000. Back then, it was a great, solitary game that required skill, strategy, patience, and endurance. That game is still around, but the current popular incarnation of it, Bejeweled Blitz, was started on Facebook and also has mobile versions. Bejeweled Blitz is the model of broken-down gamification. Bejeweled Blitz uses your Facebook connections to show you who else in your friends list is playing this game, and keeps track of a leader board each week. Each week the leader board resets, and you have another chance to come out on top and best your besties. But, what no one will tell you is that in order to reach the top of that leader board, you have to spend real money. Real currency you work for to earn. Seriously. To win the game (for the week) you have to pay up. That’s because in order to get the insanely high scores that top the board, you have to purchase virtual ‘coins’ that you then use to purchase in-game power-ups. Those power-ups allow you to score big. Really big. Trust me. I’m a long-time, legit player, and never once have I ever come anywhere close to scoring that high. The only time I ever come close, is when I, through regular game play, am able to save up enough virtual coins to get a power-up. That’s sad. Skill, strategy, patience, and endurance have nothing to do with the game anymore. It is all about the power ups. And it only takes 1 of your friends to buy a power-up. Once one person does, and tops the list, more will follow because of our innate competitive nature. This also harkens back to business school (put on your morterboards), to the laws of competition. If one company in a competitive market makes an improvement that reduces margins, boosts profits, or speeds production, all other companies in that competitive market must adjust to stay competitive or they will ultimately fail. Now in a game, many are okay with not being in first place, but many more are not. Everyone wants to be a winner, right?
Where are we headed?
Like a game I still enjoy playing after 12 years, I am extremely fond of SCN. SCN is my tribe. These are people who do what I do, like what I like, and work in the same industry I work in. I’m wrangling this topic today because I care about SCN, and want to see it still be a great place to contribute 12 years from now (and hopefully longer!). But my fear is that the gamification will degenerate, as it tends to do over time. I know what we have today is there with the very best of intentions, and is managed by the very best of people, but for someone like me who has seen it time and time again, I have concern about where it will go. How do we promote quality engagement in this professional community, without having it come down to an arm-wrestling match over who has more badges, or who has what badges, points, or status? I don’t have the answer. But often times seeing the potential roads ahead can help avoid the pitfalls.