The Great Gamification Debate

by Rolando Fuentes

The Great Gamification Debate held February 2nd at the VFS Cafe in Vancouver produced great insights on what is gamification, and how it can be used in product design. If you weren’t able to make it to the event, Ayogo, the host of the event, have already announced they’ll be producing a 6 part video series on their youtube channel in the near future.

The first debater was Michael Ferguson, the mastermind behind Ayogo games inc. which focuses on using gamification for social causes. His opponent was Steve Bocska, founding president of PugPharm Productions which has created an adaptable gamification system. Moderating the debate was Joe Nickolls Executive Producer at Microsoft/Big Park.

With a calm atmosphere the debate began and the crowd was treated to humorous debate filled with wit and bright ideas. At the end of the night, Michael Ferguson of Ayogo stood victorious as the winner of the debate.

Here is a quick recap of the main topics that were debated and the thoughts that were shared.

Is Gamification effective?

While Steve was comically trying to debate it isn’t, Michael theorized the biggest reason gamification is effective is because it comes down to our human nature. We learn through games and it allows us to be more productive making use of the way our minds think. Gamification leads to fun, which in itself is satisfying. Thus gamification is effective.

Is Gamification Deceitful?

Steve tasked to argue that gamification is deceitful, discussed how it is tapping into people’s enjoyment to play to eventually get the desired behaviour out of them. On the counter, Micael focused on how we each have free will and if we choose to take part then there really is no deceit. However, it is important to be honest of what the end goal is.

My initial thought is that gamification isn’t deceitful. It can be too much of a gimmick if used incorrectly but overall people will have the intuition to know what is going on. Michaels point about honesty is enlightening, it’s always important to ensure the users don’t feel like they’re being lied to or herded into behaviours.

Does Gamification required special knowledge and skills?

This was a very close debate with Steve debating it does and Michael debating it doesn’t. They both had their merits in their arguments. Steve focused on how it does require skill as creating engagement with consumers isn’t easy. Having someone with experience in gamfication would be absolutely vital in the design of it. Michael chose to generalize gamification and argued that anything can be gamified by anyone citing his road trips with his brother.

Gamification requires the skills to implement the system and in the business world it normally means on an online or technical platform. In this sense Steve is correct. However, that isn’t the only place gamification happens, as nicely outlined by the idea of the speed camera lottery. It’s an example of an everyday person with an idea to gamify speed limits.

What’s a bad example of gamification?

This was part of the Q&A session after the debate was over. Both Steve and Michael agreed that gamification can’t be used to mask a bad product or program. Simply adding badges and leveling systems doesn’t mean that it is a good gamification product. Sometimes gamification can be counterproductive if it distracts users from the desired behaviour that is being sought. Steve was very adamant that if gamification doesn’t have a long term revenue strategy, than it is failing. Gamification elements have to work for your cause and not just be stamped on top of current products.

What is Gamification?

The question was never asked directly but there were a lot of hints as to what they believed it to be. Gamification is the use of game mechanics to complement a business objective and achieve a desired result more effectively. Gamification uses the existing play, which are actions that already need to be takes such as paying taxes or taking medicals, and creates further rules, artificial conflict, rewards, and a way to play. Rewards don’t always have to be points or badges, but simple feedback of a job well done or a social connection could be just as rewarding. The goal is to provide satisfaction to the user for their good behaviour. While employing gamification, it is important to be honest with the users to not make them feel like their being tricked or lied to.

Currently, gamification is a serious buzz word amongst business professionals and market experts. However, in the final minutes of the debate, Michael confessed that it is likely a term that will fade away. Gamification will be transformed into the terms good or bad designs and be distinguished by how closely it resembles a game.

Gamification being a relatively new concept has a right to be in the spotlight. It is still a novel idea just starting to be exploited. However, as time wears on, we will understand that it is only part of the bigger picture of designing a good product meant for user engagement and customer loyalty. It is great to see the elements that games provide infiltrate so many of our daily interactions. Who can debate against it, games are fun!

Ayogo Health Inc
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Better Through Play: Games & Apps for Patient Engagement & Adherence. Ayogo motivates people to change their lives, one fun social game at a time. We apply the behavioral psychology of games and play to the management of chronic health conditions, and patient adherence. We are multiple award-winning start-up based in Vancouver’s emerging district for the digital and creative sectors on the... more

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Rolando Fuentes

Rolando Fuentes

I’m a student, not just of school but of life and of each of my personal interests. After a year-long internship in Ottawa working for Research in Motion, I have grown passionate about the technology sector and learning about its current state and future direction. Now back in Vancouver, I am fascinated by social media and marketing, which have become the focus of my studies. Working with... more

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