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Reality Check: Gamification 10 Years Later

Reality Check: Gamification 10 Years Later

It’s a good decade after gamification made it on the public stage of Gartner hype curves, tech conferences, business magazines, and airport bookstalls. In the course, the idea of “fixing broken reality” with game design has lost a lot of its glamour, like any technology and design trend ultimately does. But we have also learned a lot about the actual possibilities and limitations of using game design and technology beyond games. This talk will take a look back over ten years of gamification to tease out where its sceptics and critics were proven right; what successful application areas have survived and thrived, like crowdsourcing or change management; how gamification is being mainstreamed in design for behaviour change; and practical advice for game designers and developers interested in breaking into the field today.

SUBOTRON pro games lecture held July 2, 2020.


Sebastian Deterding

July 02, 2020


  1. Reality Check: Gamification 10 years later Sebastian Deterding (@dingstweets) University

    of York, Digital Creativity Labs
  2. chapter 1 Time travel

  3. early 2000s: fear of exodus into the virtual

  4. exemplary: second life

  5. late 2000s: fears of the virtual invading

  6. “gamification” examplary: gamification

  7. gamification The use of game design elements in non-game contexts

  8. business

  9. health

  10. education

  11. a heated debate

  12. »Gamification presents the best tools humanity has ever invented to

    create and sustain engagement in people. [...] It’s a proven approach using breakthroughs in design and technology to vastly improve the world as we know it.« – Gabe Zichermann, 2012
  13. »Gamification is bullshit.« – Ian Bogost, 2011

  14. so 10 years later: who is right?

  15. chapter 1 Does it work?

  16. My empire of crud

  17. first, a quick detour into the replication crisis 2005 theory:

    Most findings are false 2015+ data: 39% of studies replicate, mean effect sizes half
  18. behaviour change, behavioral economics fraught with fraud

  19. behaviour change, behavioral economics fraught with fraud

  20. technology making us addicted and depressed?

  21. a.k.a. “let’s run all the analyses!” technology making us addicted

    and depressed?
  22. a.k.a. “let’s run all the analyses!” Average effect is equal

    to wearing glasses or eating potatoes technology making us addicted and depressed?
  23. games and phones are addicting dopamine pumps?

  24. games and phones are addicting dopamine pumps? 0 empirical studies

    directly testing the relation
  25. 100k+ papers later, we know next to nothing

  26. gamification *can* work

  27. gamification *can* work

  28. butt #1 it’s not easily replicable

  29. e.g. there’s pokémon go! … adding 144bn steps in the

    us in 1 year alone!
  30. 5 easy steps to gamification success, pokémon go-style 1. Create

    a 100+ year old trusted brand for quality family entertainment (Nintendo) 2. Create the world’s largest media franchise with hundreds of millions of fans across the globe (Pokémon) 3. Get Google $, talent, and infrastructure to build your alpha (Ingress) 4. Find a game mechanic that fits hand in glove with the franchise’s core fantasy and runs on the world’s largest install base OSs 5. Make a game and don’t care 1 second about gamification or behaviour change
  31. butt #2 we don’t know what works when and how

  32. we mostly have just-so stories without data Slack onboarding bot

    ≈ Early bot levels in WoW Game-inspired onboarding caused Slack’s success How alike are they, really? Was Slack really game-inspired? Are WoW’s bot levels working? Is Slack’s bot working? And IFF all that were true: how generalisable is that?
  33. most of this is not empirically tested

  34. specific understandings and uses differ – and matter codecademy van

    Roy, Deterding & Zaman, 2018 khan academy
  35. specific contexts differ – and matter  500 steps 8th

    day without cycling – you really should step it up! What about a 5 minute ride today? C’mon, your friends in California did it! Frank & Engelke, 2001, Reeve 1996
  36. specific designs differ – and matter Goveia, Pereira, Karapanos et

    al., 2016
  37. butt #3 gamification ignores sweating the details, a.k.a. (game) design

  38. Goveia, Pereira, Karapanos et al., 2016

  39. None
  40. None
  41. None
  42. None
  43. 12 months in …

  44. A skilled team following standard UX and game design best

    practices* is more predictive of success than any design element or gamification method. contention *User research, (re)framing, abduction, iteration, playcentric design, polish, …
  45. chapter 3 Did it conquer the world?

  46. In 2010, gamification is the new black.* * “black” =

    Opens the door to innovation departments and hearts of bored or desperate middle managers. 2008 2017 2016 2018 2019 big data 2005 web 2.0 machine learning Blockhain, VR/XR chatbots tech ethics, 5G
  47. literally disappeared from the map in 2015 … … and

  48. need a job?

  49. need a job?

  50. we see some areas that ‘work’ areas with heavy adoption

    • Self-care/mgmt apps (Headspace) • Private learning (Khan Academy, MindWare) • Corporate health programmes (Virgin Health Miles) • Corporate training (Supercell) • Crowdsourcing (Zooniverse) areas with low/slow adoption • Medical interventions • Formal schooling • Factory floors
  51. hypothesis: a matter of market fit incumbents regulation buyers users

    task structure production adoption factors • Incumbents don’t have buyers, regulators in capture • Little regulation • Buyer is individual consumer (b2c) • User is game literate • Task is unengaging, repetitive, piecemeal, easily assessable, digital opportunity Incumbents (edu publishers, insurers, health tech, …) enter market and buy in products/teams.
  52. (not talking about ‘premium’ applied games offerings)

  53. game design elements behaviour change techniques ≈ A behaviour change

    technique is “an active component of an intervention designed to change behaviour ... the smallest component compatible with retaining the postulated active ingredients” (Michie & Johnson, 2013) behaviour change (design) is the new gamification
  54. this is coming from health …

  55. spreading across design

  56. not just old wine in new bottles Engagement design Gamification

    Behavioural design
  57. chapter 4 Summary

  58. gamification *can* work

  59. but most current research findings are crud 2005 theory: Most

    findings are false 2015+ data: 39% of studies replicate, mean effect sizes half
  60. successes are not necessarily replicable

  61. we have mostly stories not data on what works when

    & why
  62. good design process likely matters more than gamification

  63. in fact, gamification has disappeared from the map

  64. and been replaced by behaviour change design

  65. though there are some potential markets incumbents regulation buyers users

    task structure production
  66. So if you want to get into gamification today?

  67. if you want to get into gamification today … 1.

    Don’t trust the science. 2. Read up on and consider reframing your work as behaviour change design. 3. Practice your fundamentals: game and UX design. 4. Consider your market fit: go in-house with an incumbent (educational publisher, health tech, energy provider, …) or startup if you have an uncrowded market niche that is not captured by incumbents, and a partner with deep domain expertise, or consultant in an agency that looks for behaviour change expertise.
  68. sebastian@digitalcreativity.ac.uk @dingstweets codingconduct.cc thank you.