Gamification - Dumbest made-up word ever?

By Chris Walker posted 06-19-2012 15:00


Warning: This post contains swear words. They're there 'cause they captured my mood at the time I wrote this. I'm all better now, thanks. :-)

Of all the buzzwords & acronyms being bandied about out there, “gamification” pisses me off above all others (maybe it deserves a shiny badge). I cringe whenever I hear it or read it. It cheapens what I and others have worked our asses off to achieve in our careers. It reminds me of the fat kid in grade 6 that got a ribbon because he managed an astonishing 7 situps in 1 minute (for the record, it wasn’t me). As a professional, equating my work with games, however obliquely, insults me. Games are what I play with my friends and family.

I was raised to work hard, though I didn’t always do so as a student. At school you worked to get the grades and not spend more than one year per grade. If you were the smartest kid in school you may have gotten an exemption from finals, a scholarship, or beat up.  Professionally, you worked hard (and smart, I hope) to get your stuff done and get ahead. If you didn’t get your stuff done you were rewarded with time off ‘cause they fired your ass for being deadwood, and you deserved it. Rewarding / recognizing people for doing just enough to get from grade 3 to 4 or to keep their jobs (reward enough, I say) is sheer lunacy.

My kids don’t get rewarded for just doing stuff that’s expected of them (e.g.: cleaning their rooms, picking up after pets, doing well in school). They get rewarded for exceptional behaviour & performance; the rest is just life. I don’t get rewarded for just showing up and doing my job in an ordinary, expected way. I get rewarded when I perform above expectations. If I or my kids don’t meet expectations in our respective roles bad things happen. Such is life.

The key, my fellow planetarians, is to set the expectations early and define what one need do to earn the rewards / recognition. Apparently, doing the dishes does not automatically entitle me to “get some”, but if I don’t do them it’s automatic that I won’t? WTF is that about? Anyways ...

I have no objection to reward & recognition schemes. In fact, I’ve received and doled out plenty of recognition (the positive kind) over the years. Rewards / recognition have been tangible (e.g.: bonus $, raise, promotion, time off, gift cards) and intangible (peer/client/manager figurative pats on the back). Most people, me included, are happy to receive them. But we’ve generally received them because we’ve performed exceptionally or taken on additional responsibilities. I can’t recall one instance in my career where I’ve given or received a reward for simply doing my job. It’s just not something that makes any sense to me.

Like I said, rewarding / recognizing people for exceptional performance or taking on additional responsibilities is fine. In fact, it’s a freakin’ critical thing to do because it helps to motivate people and keep them interested in their work. It can also help motivate the unexceptional to become exceptional. I truly believe that it’s a necessary thing to do and that it benefits all involved.

One of the areas that [the word I hate] is being linked to is social collaboration (which also sucks ass as a term because how the hell are you gonna collaborate if you’re not being social), especially as related to identifying experts. It works like this:

1.       Say something not completely stupid.

2.       Someone, who may or may not be stupid, rates your stuff (or gives you a badge or a cookie or a pin, who cares?).

3.       Someone else sees the rating, and being equally as stupid, or not, bugs your ass for your opinion or for help.

Uh, WTF? I do good work and get “rewarded” by more people bugging me? What kind of psycho place is this?

Identifying experts is good. It helps those seeking advice by providing resources to tap. It helps those providing advice by making them think a bit more and pushing them to be better (and the ego stroking likely doesn’t hurt). But calling it [the word I hate] does everyone a disservice. Experts have worked extremely hard to get where they are, and many truly enjoy what they do and helping others. The folks looking for advice are likely stuck on something that may or may not be hugely important. I’m not certain that anyone involved wants their situation or efforts equated to playing games.

When I write a post I don’t write it to garner likes, +1’s, follower, or increase my Klout score (Klout is Krap, IMO). I write because I have something to say that I think and hope will benefit someone, or at least make them think. If someone provides positive feedback I appreciate it. If someone provides negative feedback I appreciate that too and try to be better the next time (unless they’re just being a dick). If someone reaches out and asks for advice, an opinion, or help, I provide it gladly with no expectation of getting a badge or biscuit. I do it because I am social just like every one of you reading this. Sometimes I write because I get pissed off and need to get something off my chest. On those occasions feel free to ignore me, just like my wife and kids do when I go all bat-shit crazy over something.

As a consumer, I love [the word I hate], but prefer to call it loyalty rewards or some such. I like going out and spending money on stuff, getting points, and using the points to get more stuff for FREEEEEE!!! I also like discounts, upgrades, and complimentary in-flight hookers (not available on domestic flights). But when it comes to me spending money that I’ve worked hard to earn, don’t equate it to playing games.

I’ll give [the word I hate] a little slack on social media & social networks. Earning “stuff” on Facebook (was thoroughly disillusioned to learn that “poking” wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d imagined) games, Foursquare, Klout, ..., doesn’t bug me, mainly because I don’t take them all that seriously (as I do my work & my family).

[Note: I added the next bit on 2012-06-20 ...


On the corporate side, there’s a few areas where I think [the word I hate] is apt:

1.       Projects requiring participation of people that have “real” jobs;

2.       Organizational change management;

3.       User adoption.

When you pull staff onto a project they’re still typically expected to do their day jobs. They’re also generally not used to working on projects; there’s a huge change in dynamics from doing an operational role (e.g.: claims processing) to being the subject matter expert in JAD (Joint Application Design) sessions for a new claims system. Doing something as seemingly insignificant as awarding a prize for the best project name can reap huge dividends.

Organizational change management and user adoption are other areas where it pays to “play”. Adapting to new tools and methods is not easy for most people. Even if people hate the tools and methods they’ve been using, they’re used to them and some really are resistant to change. Providing people with goals, tools to reach them, and incentives for reaching them is a good thing. [The word I hate] won’t make the transition any easier, but it ought to serve to get the participants more involved and also provide them with a way to measure their progress.


Give me a raise or a bonus, give me a pat on the back, ask me for my “expert” opinion / advice; I’m cool with all those things if I’ve earned them. Just don’t equate what I do professionally to playing games. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old bastard. If so, I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s not the application of game theory I hate; it’s the label we’ve given it. When applied to so many aspects of our lives I find it diminishes us, our efforts, and our accomplishments.

Note: none of this applies to people who actually play games for a living. E.g.: Bowling, darts, pool. I don’t care what channel they’re televised on, they are not sports.

#social #rant #Collaboration #Adoption #gamification #changemanagement #Collaboration



06-27-2012 16:58

Quite possibly one of the best blog rants I've ever read, Chris - good for you. Gamification (like so much management-speak)is complete and utter bollock$. Well done for speaking out.

06-26-2012 23:23

I'd agree that Gamification by itself is not as strong a reward mechanism as a bonus check and might come across as demeaning ONLY IF management/evangelists believe that it has any real value beyond training/metrics for adoption. However, from what I've seen, this and the other a new construct that is radically changing the business world as we speak. From a die hard old school tech, social business has turned the IT business world upside down. I'm sure there will be many more made up words coming fast'n'furious...

06-25-2012 13:52

I am soooooo glad that I'm not the only one who thought "gams" upon 1st seeing [the word I hate].

06-25-2012 13:48

When I first saw this word my thought was of nice long legs wrapping around me based on the expression "Gams" used in some older gangster movies. I think the synonym "stems" was also used to indicate slender legs.
The reward of being Gam-I-Fied for doing the dishes would be Gamification for sure. I think the process of making a game out of a boring activity would work in the short term only, since even Gam-I-Fication would get tiring if performed every day.
I prefer to see it's use randomly, maybe to spice up a typical activity for variety. How about a Casual Friday but only if wearing a color from the company logo? (Google would be a tough one) I could survive this one maybe once.
So to Gamify well we must always be thinking of new ways to Gamify. The Gamification of Gamification.

06-22-2012 11:50

Love it Chris! I've been tempted to rant but have been somewhat restrained to this point. At least I feel :-). I also hate [the word you hate]. Just like I'm beginning to hate the word "cloud" because it causes so much confusion instead of clarification. [the word I hate] is a great thing in my bloody opinion but WTF?

06-21-2012 07:49

Love Pie's sales org reference. Must be for the younger gen though. I never knew of a sales group anywhere who didn't know who the top dog was, EVER. Of course everyone knew who the bottom dog was too. Experts are not hard to find either as everyone seems to know them. All you have to do is ask someone.
I understand your anger and frustration as gamification can come off as another exhibitionist showcase. Probably is for some. Sales folks who love their work always strive to be the best as they know what the rewards are. Never took a leader board to tell them what being admitted to the 'President's Circle' etc. meant.
I have no issue with gamification when used in tasks, training, etc. to better engage folks and makes things seem a little less like drudgery. There have been warnings when used as motivation as motivation is competitiveness and some take competition too far. Always an issue but names on a leader board can ratchet it up a notch (something about a dominant exhibitionist in a physic mag article) so you may need to manage it more.
In the end if it really, REALLY helps the business and THEIR consumers, fine. If not it's another spin, fad, consultant's hope for more work, that will be replaced soon with the next one.

06-20-2012 16:58

Probably going to have to write a whole post to counter, but try this...
Imagine a Sales organization. Everyone has a quota every quarter. The first person to exceed their quote by 10% "wins" and gets a good dinner, an extra bonus, or something. This may be represented as a badge. During the quarter, the percentage that the top five are in achieving their quota is displayed in a leaderboard.
In that scenario, competitive people are striving to be first. Not all percentages are shared so those not in the top group are negatively motivated (unless you want that goal). The reward goes to excellence. If you have the highest total, that is likely already compensated. The benefit here is that the manager of this team has employees not waiting until the last minute to complete their quota which provides more certainty. It also motivates them to not stop at just 10% higher.
THAT is gamification. It isn't to reward you for your job. It is to motivate, recognize, and reward people for going beyond their job. Helping on external projects, great example. Helping people in the organization by contributing valuable information to the wiki or answer boards, another example.
It isn't turning things into a game. It is taking some game elements and mixing them into the environment. Not all game elements appeal to all people. That is why you see a blend of elements.