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Author's profile photo Greg Myers

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.

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      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      Greg, thanks for a post and it's nice to see a fellow Bejeweled afficionado. 🙂 Interestingly, Bejeweled 2 for PC actually is an example of "good gamification" - they had very interesting badges that kept me playing for weeks.

      As far as SCN Gamification goes, personally I'm still on the fence. On one hand, I've seen some very interesting blogs created. On the other - much more blogs were created that just repeated information already posted on SCN years ago or could hardly qualify as a blog. Was it worth it just to get the good bloggers out? I don't really know. Perhaps we need to give it a bit more time to see.

      Meanwhile I'd encourage everyone to hit the 'Report Abuse' button on the very low quality content and rate accordingly.

      Thank you!

      Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer
      Tom Van Doorslaer

      Hi Greg,

      I entirely agree that there are quite some pitfalls to Gamification. It's something that must be done with care, and well balanced. I feel the SCN missions are well thought through and they keep a balance between motivation and etiquette/coaching.

      In the first few weeks, there was a lot of noise, but I have the impression that this reduced when people found out that "Cheating" was quickly identified and "penalised".

      This might have to do with long-time members following up on Jelena's advice, and self moderating the community. (I know I frequently hit the abuse button. Sometimes even too soon)

      For now, it seems to be working out okay, and I'm confident that Laure's team will be keeping an eye on the stats and will be fine-tuning the system as we go to keep it healthy.

      We as members also have our responsibility to keep a weary eye on what is going on and prevent it from going "Facebook-style" (Hoppa)

      Author's profile photo Greg Myers
      Greg Myers
      Blog Post Author

      Tom, I totally agree that Laure Cetin and team are doing a stellar job with the SCN Gamification implementation, monitoring, and adjusting. I really think that is the difference from other implementations. 

      Author's profile photo Laure Cetin
      Laure Cetin

      Hi Greg,

      Thank you for this post, we encourage all opinions on SCN as you know and feedback encourages us to always strive for the best 🙂

      I would like to add to the discussion and hopefully alleviate some of your concerns about rewarding quality and not quantity.

      Gamification is not only about increasing visits and usage of a product/service such as SCN, but also - and most importantly - about guiding members (e.g. see our onboarding missions First Steps, Ready, Set Go), changing behaviors and rewarding special achievements. I hope we're doing a good job here. I would like to do an even better job with instant communication such as pop-ups and more notifications, a true path that members can take, leading them from one mission to another. But for now this is all under discussion since not available in the gamification module yet.

      As for quality, you may not be aware of it yet, but if you look at the requirements of the missions around contributions, you will see that we require everyone to read the rules of engagement and get positive feedback from the community before they get blogger badges and other badges related to documents and discussion answers. So these badges are not very easy to get and the program does its best to incorporate quality as judged by the community. Of course, this can be cheated if you enroll a bunch of people to like, rate, etc your content. But hopefully this is caught by us moderators as we used to catch those doing it for points.

      You are right that we did the best we could with what we have 🙂

      I hope this helps clarify a couple things, and thanks for starting this discussion!


      Author's profile photo Greg Myers
      Greg Myers
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for chiming in, Laure.

      I certainly appreciate the work you and your team have put into the roll out of gamification here on SCN. I really do believe what you are doing is done to enhance the quality of experience on SCN, and have a little fun while doing it.

      As long as things continue to be actively moderated and adjusted, I think it can sustain at a high quality.

      Author's profile photo Laure Cetin
      Laure Cetin

      Thanks Greg, I wasn't looking for any kudos but I gratefully accept them 😉
      I think we are on the same page, moderation is very important.



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      My only concern would be if the gamification actively discourages contributing to the community. As most of the people who tend to get worked up are those most passionate about said community, and they post their concerns in here, it doesn't seem it is preventing those people from contributing. 🙂

      5 STARS!