Gamification Versus Pointsification – You Decide

Designing Digitally


A really interesting recent article on the BBC written by Nic Fleming addresses the history and evolution of the idea and pursuit of gamification for businesses. Mr. Fleming seems undecided as to how he feels about gamification – otherwise known as serious games or game-based learning – but he does an excellent job at spelling-out just what gamification is and how it could work in an ideal world, as well as several problems with the model presently.

Gamification, which we at Designing Digitally, Inc. have been championing for some time now and believe in completely, is the art or science of taking education and training for disparate industries and placing them within a games-based milieu where the game player competes against him or herself, others online, or the game itself to earn points for various outcome results. These points are earned by achieving victories over tasks that are actually training routines within that particular industry, or for scoring on knowledge within that industry. Gamification is based on making learning and training fun and enjoyable, and leverages the growing number of young workers who have been raised playing complicated video games and are quite comfortable using computers and monitors for assimilating information.

Some of the interesting and sometimes contradictory information included in the BBC article includes:

  • US-based analysts Gartner predicted in 2011 that by 2014, 70% of the world’s Top 2000 companies will be using some form of gamification.
  • Gartner then released another report stating that by 2014, 80% of gamification applications will fail to deliver “because of poor design.” We’re not worried about THAT prediction – we’ve got great designers and coders onboard at Designing Digitally, Inc.
  • Gamification theory can actually be traced back to 1937 and behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner’s system called “operant conditioning.”
  • Rajat Paharia, considered the founding father of gamification, adopted the term in 2009 after hearing it used in a presentation.
  • Margaret Robertson, managing director of UK game design company Hide&Seek, prefers the term “pointsification” for much of what is considered gamification today, since important elements of true games – such as the risk of failure or repercussions for actions taken – are often missing in training-based games.
  • There’s a big philosophical discussion happening right now about whether rewards-based learning/training encourages students to continue learning on the same subject or to lose interest. As writer Alfie Kohn explains it, "It reflects an ignorance of what psychologists have known for decades - that intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are two completely different things, and that the former is undermined by the latter."
  • There’s actually concern that gamification can become addictive for some users.

With such a young industry just stretching its wings, there’s definitely going to be critics and nay-sayers along with fans and acolytes. That said, gamers will only continue to increase in percentage across America, and as the older workforce retires and newer, computer-savvy employees replace older workers, having systems in-place to take advantage of the efficiencies that serious games and eLearning offers (mobile learning, consistent monitoring and scoring, standardized training administration, safety for new hires in training processes) only makes sense….Big Sense!