It used to seem so clear; a game was something we played on a rainy Sunday afternoon, gathered around the dining room table, rolling dice and claiming to own all the power companies, represented by a top hat. Or with a skipping rope in the playground at break-time, or a hoop and whip... only joking.
However, you get my drift? Gaming used to be an obvious pursuit. It was signalled by certain specific items and with the agreement, tacit or otherwise, of everyone involved.
Now, gaming seems to have crept into every corner of my interactions with the world, or at least it is promising to. I am not, in this particular instance, referring to the mobile devices, phones, consoles and so on that I could be choosing to play games on.
THE G WORD
I’m talking about the gradual ‘gamification’ of my interactions with the world around me. For those who have somehow escaped this concept, to quote Wikipedia: “Gamification is the use of game design techniques, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.”
Gamification as a term was first used in 2004 as a marketing and selling tool: a way of persuading people to engage with a product through aspects often found in games.
These ‘gamification’ mechanics range from ideas such as virtual currency that the player/buyer can access by engaging with the product in various ways, using achievements, rewards and even embedding smaller, casual games within the product itself.
Gamification really started to grab the marketers imagination when they realised the potential in relation to websites and apps; brands were given a way of speaking to customers directly.
The longer a consumer can be persuaded to engage with a brand, the more information or analytics can be obtained, and the more brand loyalty can be promoted.
So, does it work? I really don’t know. Certainly, anything that makes choosing house insurance entertaining can’t be all bad. However, the cynic in me questions just how ‘fun’ certain things can ever actually be.
There is also the possibility that the concept of gamification, as a blanket approach, is really just a fad. After customers have got over the initial excitement of a question and answer ‘game’ every time they want to choose a new bank account that interest will fade.
So, what is the future for gamification? According to the Gartner Group it is onwards and upwards. They predict that by 2015 more than 50 per cent of organisations that manage innovation processes will gamify their procedures.
It really is a massive bandwagon, with experts explaining how to avoid law suits when dealing with in-game currency and personal data relating to leaderboards.
There are also gamification evangelists explaining how, through the simple introduction of gamification principles, a business can “increase productivity; (use it) as a training tool to help improve performance monitoring, and spur on healthy competition between employees.”
Whatever our personal opinions of marketing and sales techniques, and the ethics of creating ‘healthy competition’ between employees, no one can deny that it is has taken the marketing world by storm, which looks set to continue, for a while at least.
However, without the help of a crystal ball, predicting the future, especially in relation to technology, is a tricky business. Gamification is being hailed and maligned in seemingly equal measure.
From the witty but particularly damning article ‘Gamification is Bullshit’ by Ian Bogost, the author states that the concept was “invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is video games and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.”
Whether we agree with this or not, he also points out that gamification only ever co-opts certain aspects of gaming such as points and levels, and of course prizes. Ignoring the much more subtle, magical elements to do with player interactions and behaviours.
THE BIG QUESTION
So, it leaves me with just one final question; how does all this impact on games development? Well, there has certainly been an impact. The huge rise in app development can be seen to be bolstered by big business.
Whilst games like Angry Birds are notable for the massive profits they have made, there is no current, sure-fire way of guaranteeing a return from these games.
Consequently, whilst hoping for a yacht-supporting blockbuster, many are also attempting to provide a more reliable income by charging for the games they make.
In other words, what was previously the sole domain of the publisher has become inhabited by other businesses and brands desperate to associate themselves with the ‘glamorous’ world of video games.
Is life a game? If only.
What I would suggest is that gamification is an interesting identification of motivating factors of engagement, and if used appropriately it can be a fun addition.