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Gamification has gone too far

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

In an earlier column, I derided the idea of gamification almost in passing. It is a concept I would like to discuss more fully.

A little bit of gamification doesn’t hurt. Sites like 1UP and Giant Bomb dispense arbitrary point values to users as they complete tasks and visit pages. And they come by it honestly. In fact, one could call the implementation clever…maybe even subversive.

I also don’t mind the existence of Foursquare, a GPS-enabled, location-based, social-networking site. Aside from being extraordinarily useful for burglars, it enables me to witness just how many times Steve Wozniak, inventor of the personal computer, eats at the Outback Steakhouse in San Jose. For the record, he ate there five times in the past 60 days, making him mayor.
 
Creepy? Yes. Interesting? Fascinating.

But Klout’s implementation of game mechanics really crosses the line. Klout scores your social network reach via completely arbitrary and unexplained numbers and pretty graphs. Today, I have a Klout score of 42, which tells me absolutely nothing. Maybe I won a red snapper. I have no idea.

 
 

And now I am getting badges, and I can give people +K. Essentially, this is designed to persuade me to use the site more…probably because the site isn’t very interesting or exciting to begin with.

What bothers me most is that this isn’t actually a service or product. It’s just a thing to tell you how you’re doing on Twitter, which shouldn’t matter at all. Who in the world wants to know how influential their chitchat about video games, sports, #OccupyWallStreet, or knitting is? (As noted, I am 42 Klout score influential.) And if you think any of that matters, a) Why are you talking about it on the Internet?, b) What are you going to do with that Klout score?, and c) You realize you can’t use an epeen for actual sex, right?

 
Klout Badges
 
If you aren’t cynical about the idea of gamification yet, please peruse a popular example like Gigya…or Bunchball, which allows you to empower your audience by taking advantage of basic psychological reward systems. For a fee of course. 
 
Try this quote from the Gigya website: "Game Mechanics [a Gigya product] is designed to reward users for performing actions that benefit your business."
 
Or this from the Bunchball site: "Bunchball works with leading online retailers and brands to optimize the sales process by making it more engaging for consumers."
 
Not once did they mention anything about a "good product."
 
Bunchball Nitro
 
I’m sensitive to these notions, and I always have been. I don’t use loyalty cards or have a points-powered credit card. I buy coffee where I want because the sixth one is only a couple bucks (much like coffees one through five). I have a low-interest credit card because if I ever need to use that interest, it’s half the cost to me. These "quests" with "scores" are prototypes for the modern use of game mechanics, and have informed purchasing decisions for years. Gamification, for its part, has removed the real-world value out of the equation. Instead of getting a free coffee, you're now getting a badge. On the Internet.

Anytime you see a website offer you a badge or achievement, keep in mind that they paid someone to advise them on how to best trick you into reloading the webpage you are currently reading. Do them a favor: refresh once, and then go read something good.

We play video games because they’re worthwhile. They are experiences unto themselves – fun, interesting, scary, informative, or a thousand other things.

Gamification rewards us for doing stuff we are already doing.

See the difference? Congratulations…you just earned a badge.


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