Of the many excellent sessions at this week’s Swipe Conference, the one titled “Build Better Cocoa Apps Using Game Mechanics” by Paris Buttfield-Addison was unique in its topic. In it, Paris outlined how gamification is currently viewed as something that can be quickly slapped onto an existing product in order to increase its appeal, whereas in reality, successful gamification requires carefully thought-out integration, for when done correctly it should form a core part of your app’s user experience.
In case you’re new to the concept, gamification is the application of game-like mechanics to non-game products in an effort to increase engagement with the user, motivating them to spend more time or money on your product.
The current trend in gamification is rather worrying, with seemingly everyone adding it to the list of things their product needs – as though it were a requirement for being successful. The reality of the situation is that these ‘gamification grafts’ do nothing to enhance the user experience at all, providing mainly virtual badges for completing rather menial tasks – for example, pushing a button. This lack of challenge contributes to a failure to keep a user engaged, for they quickly become bored and move on.
A better approach to gamification would be to find a way to enhance the core functionality through the use of game-like mechanics. An example of successful gamification is Stack Overflow. The core functionality is to provide people with a place to both ask and answer questions. However, game play elements come into it by rewarding users with a reputation system; the more you participate on the site, the more your reputation increases. Your reputation is then an indication of how helpful you are in the community. With higher reputation comes privileges that extend to helping with moderation of the site. This reputation system sets itself up in a unique way so that it encourages people to actively take part in the community and rewards them in the process.
Perhaps the most important point that was made during Paris’ session was that not all products are suited to gamification. An app that displays the weather has no use for leader boards or an elaborate point system – they bring nothing meaningful to the user experience. However something like Foursquare, whose core functionality is to provide you with a means of sharing your location with others, benefits greatly from the addition of game play elements, effectively turning an otherwise dull concept into an engaging experience that rewards and encourages exploration of your surroundings.
In conclusion, the concept of gamification is definitely here to stay, but as developers and designers, we need to be vigilant and not give in to the urge to simply slap on a half-baked implementation. Instead we need to take the extra time to evaluate if it will actually enhance the existing user experience.