Sunday, January 29, 2012
How gamification could kill your business

I'm not a gamification expert, and I hear there are lot of people out there who get deeply defensive over the technique. But as a marketer, web user, and customer service campaigner, I can't help but read at least one article about it a day.

And gamification is starting to worry me.

Gamification - or as Wikipedia eloquently puts it: 'the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences' - is currently a favourite topic of the social media speakers who, two years ago, were fronting Foursquare as the answer to every marketing problem. But gamification isn't just a social network with 'next big thing' status - it's a blanket concept that the big brands are already getting excited about.

It may be a great idea, but here is the problem: Plugging gamification into a badly-running business or process doesn't help. I agree with venture capitalist Bing Gordon that as a term 'gamification' is just like 'social media' and 'mobile'. But that also means you can't just buy some, sit back, and reap the rewards.

Here are ten reasons why a poorly thought-out approach might just kill your business in 2012. Hopefully they will help you think more carefully about how it could work for you...

1. If your customer service is broken, making a game out of it won't help. Just as the adoption of Twitter forced companies to rethink the notion of the call centre, gamification requires a whole new approach. Winning points for how long I stay on hold to your crappy helpline won't make me any happier.

2. Gamification doesn't fix unhelpful systems. If your employees are complaining that your financial system is slow and fragmented, don't try to gamify it. Fix the system.

3. Making a game out of something people are forced to do just looks sly and manipulative. 'Let's play tidying your room!' might work for 3 year-olds, but your customers and employees are going to see that coming a mile off.

4. A small section of the world's population play computer games, and an even smaller section of them are on social networks. Your amazing idea to use gamification to revolutionise your business is going to be understood by less than 1% of your existing customers.

5. Gamification isn't new. Airline loyalty programmes, where you collect points and receive badges, have been going for decades. Don't get too excited about the concept - the first loyalty scheme was launched in 1793.

6. We're in the expensive part of the hype cycle. That gamification guru who just sent you a $250k pitch was a Gowalla guru last year. Think before you invest.

7. All the best examples are not business related. MyFitnessPal is for weight loss. GetGlue is for watching films. Nike+ is for running. Recyclebank is for recycling. Those things are easy to gamify, because they are all lifestyle choices in the first place.

8. Playing a game can be annoying. A large number of your customers and employees don't want to be faced with a multi-level roleplaying adventure game set in a future where dragons rule the Earth when trying to use your website.

9. We're still in a financial slump. If you're thinking about spending money, spend it on improving efficiency to make your product or service cheaper, or easier to get at. Oh, and if you're a bank doing it, stop gamifying things with my money.

10. Gamification removes a layer of human interaction from management and / or customer service. There are theories out there that you can replace guidance from another human with a scoreboard and virtual badges. Erm, hell no.

(Score +1 for reading this post, and +1 for each reason that you agree with. +5 bonus for leaving a comment, +10 for retweeting this post, and +20 bonus for leaving a comment on Tac's post using sweary language.)