A Gamification Conference you say? Surely not.

Yes indeed, a whole day in deepest darkest Shoreditch dedicated to that most questionable of neologisms, Gamification. The bastardised term used primarily to describe to Venture Capitalists what marketers are up to or more often the addition of so called gaming mechanics or elements to all manner of things such as what TV programs you watch and how you brush your teeth.  As this trend has grown off the back of successful implementations such as Foursquare and Stack Overflow then more and more people have been keen to add a dose of gaming ‘magic’ to their products. This has lead to a backlash from the game design community, as they cry ‘rewards and scoreboards are not games’ and ‘gamification is actually just pointsification’ and the marketers largely ignore them and carry on regardless.

I have been interested in game mechanics and theory for a few years now. I certainly had thoughts early on around how these seemingly simple rewards and interactions could potentially alter or promote different behaviours in the banking world. On the other hand I have also played a lot of computer games throughout my life from my humble Commodore 64 up to my current games machine of choice the Xbox 360 and as such they hold a special place in my heart.  I have talked in the past about the lack of meaning these gamification rewards have outside of the system or platform of play that you have chosen and my thoughts have still not changed on that point. So why on earth would I go to a gamification conference?

Because the salesman are circling. Because the term gamification is being uttered inside the organisation that I work by people other than me (how dare they). I want to ensure that if it is something that is seriously investigated it is done so with as much knowledge as possible on the pitfalls as well as the potential positives and that points and badges don’t get handed out for all manner of dull things. Like banking.

There was also two other very good reasons to attend the conference. Sebastian Deterding and Dr. Richard Bartle. Without a doubt the people I was most looking forward to hearing speak and neither disappointed.

Sebastian told a fantastic tale entitled ‘There Be Dragons’. The title coming from the phrase cartographers would use for unmapped areas in days of yore that were marked with that epitaph.  This was in reference to the fact that gamifaction is so new, we do not know what lies in the unmapped areas and that danger certainly lurks.  He went on to list 9 of these pitfalls (The version on Slideshare is even more danger filled as it contains 10 pitfalls). The pitfalls cover the gamut of issues around this trend from ‘The Crap Crab – Abuse is not a value proposition’ which looks at how the ideal game play area is an equal overlap between user interest and business interest and far too often the business forgets this. Through to ‘The Panacea Python – Looking for a quick-fix, one-size-fits-all wonder potion’ which is of course as mythical as the dragons mentioned in the title. For me this excellent talk highlighted so many reasons why banking needs to think long and hard before getting involved in this especially at the expense of features that need to take precedence. How about concentrating on making a game called ‘Make it is as easy as possible for me to see my balance’ or ‘get me on the phone to a customer service rep in seconds not minutes’ basically don’t go adding extra levels of challenge to processes that might already be challenging enough.

I have followed his work for a while now and he produces the most beautiful slides (the type face alone is a work of art and I am not even a type face nerd). The fact that he speaks so authoritatively and wittily even in a language that is not his mother tongue and you have a killer combo. I urge you to admire the design delight of the slides and the witty insights of the talk.

Dr. Richard Bartle
is someone who’s work I am only vaguely familiar with (sorry). His work on the 4 gamer types (he told us there are actually 8 in the more complex version for virtual world games) based on the Bartle Test is mentioned a lot and it is this reason he was actually speaking ‘The reason I speak at these things is because people keep talking about my work’. For someone who is not on Twitter his talk contained so many tweetable gems it highlighted what a shame it is that he is not.  He spoke of how gamification was nothing new indeed people had been turning things into games for years, ‘Scientology turned religion into a game years ago’ e.g. OT IV; the Operating Thetan drug rundown level.  His definition of gamification was the best of the day as he said gamification used to mean turning something that is not a game into a game. Now it means taking a game and turning it into something that is not.

He talked of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and how the playing of an actual game is reward in itself, reaching that next level through challenging and skillful endeavour keeps you entertained. If the so called gaming element is actually you filling in a very dull form for which you are rewarded the ‘badge of paperwork’ people are not going to be too engaged with your ‘game’.

Richard warned that If gamification becomes ubiquitous then it will also become meaningless as people will understand the game, as the mechanics can only be simple and therefore quickly become very repetitive.  He did add that before that happens some people are going to make a lot of money and his tip would be not to tell anymore people about it but get on with it. Can’t recommend his talk enough so just go and watch it instead of reading this tripe (his slides are also available and they have an equally lovely type face although lovely for very different reasons to Sebastian’s).

My other favourite talk of the day was not really about gamification but more about platform design, APIs and separation of data and function. It also happened to be about a games platform and one built by the BBC. Tom Redin introduced the BBC Grid Platform which aims to reduce the overheads on creating games by aiming to have a more service orientated architecture which will allow games built to plug in to high score trackers, login authorisation models etc. The platform design was brought about after a majo tidy up of the BBC’s games and it showed a number of holes in the strategy and also meant that the removal of games lead to a huge loss of data.  The decision cam to separate function and data as much as possible to ensure that if a game was removed the data created was stored and could be used elsewhere.  The platform was designed to be fairly open although you had to have your game commissioned first before being given the keys to it. An interesting look at the way platforms should be designed and how the data should be as separate as possible.  It will be very interesting to see what the BBC do with that data as the Grid expands to cover not just games but other BBC areas such as News & iPlayer etc. More interesting from a data/social CRM type angle, more interesting to me anyway. Watch Tom talk about the grid.

The rest of the talks and panels had a few pearls hidden within. Guy Stevens looked at Gamification in the customer service arena. I felt his talk was much more on the social media side of things, I also think there are some overlaps between gamification and social CRM. He did give some good examples such as one of the key users in the Logitech support forum who had answered 45,000 questions for seemingly little more reward than some badges and ratings against his forum avatar but I feel it is a bit deeper than that. Guy also mentioned a nice idea on QR code usage on specific areas on physical devices such as washing machine seals so you can get a link to the part but also videos on how to fix. Again not really gamification but interesting none the less.

The rest of the talks that I saw, and I missed the first couple, were pretty nondescript, one of them had the word leverage in the title for example. There was one especially bad moment that stood out for me. During a platform demo by Bunchball via Skype (conference organisers if you intend to have people demo via Skype make it clear in your agenda) Bunchball showed their collaboration with Playboy which seemed to be adding a gamification layer to getting girls on Playboy.com.

‘It’s a month-long competition where any woman who aspires to be in Playboy can get her friends to vote for her. If she succeeds, she is crowned Miss Social for a month and can get a pictorial (clothed or not) on Playboy.com.’

Earlier Dr. Bartle had talked about the Overjustification Effect, which shows that if a person has sufficient motivation to achieve the reward they become morally desensitised, Richard used the example of the Art of Persuasion task from World of Warcraft where you need to torture someone to move forward. The Playboy thing seemed to be a perfect example of that as you are essentially playing a game to get young girls to pose naked…different kind of reward I guess and voting for, clothed or not, girls is not quite torture. Maybe my moral code has changed slightly since becoming a father.

An interesting event and one that I am willing to admit I went too with a bit of a closed mind, Why was that? I follow a lot of games designers and people involved in that industry and they are some of the smartest people I know. I think there maybe a touch of snobbishness in their arguments against gamification but I agree with them in the majority of cases. This event did nothing really to change my viewpoint and if anything it strengthened it, the marketers are here and they are going to make money. It certainly made me certain that gamification and banking will be used at some point but I think the focus should be on the actual functionality related to banking. There are areas that it could benefit such as those around financial education and perhaps to a lesser extent customer service and there are also some more interesting use cases for internal use such as the email game etc. but I still feel good design and the concentration on making services as slick and accessible as possible should beat any points and virtual rewards on offer…we will have to wait and see if people agree with me.

Leave a Reply