Gamification, Schamification: Reality Isn't Broken. Your User Experience Is

Gamification. Dontcha hate that word! Along with controlled authoring and machine translation, gamification is a self-sabotaging handle ready-made to alienate stakeholders; a sure-fire inoculation against viral acceptance of the obvious, and another obstacle thrown in the way of winning over the masses.

Who wants to be 'gamed' in work? What CIO buys very expensive enterprise applications that overtly claim to do just that to its employees?

Gamification is immediately conflated with play and gaming concepts; problematic in the enterprise applications domain. From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification” (Deterding et al 2011) explains the origin of gamification and proposes a new definition: “The use of game design elements in non-game contexts.”

In the applications user experience (UX) world, I'd prefer to think of gamification as matching how users think as they work with the best design that will achieve task goals and business objectives. It’s not about how users play games with applications. It's about knowing user roles, tasks, goals and giving users a self-motivating experience that takes engagement and participation to a higher level, making application usage more satisfying. Sounds familiar now, huh?

Deterding et al (2011) are on board with this:


It is not possible to determine whether a given empirical system ‘is’ a “gamified application” or a “game” without taking recourse to either the designer’s intentions or the user experiences and enactments.

Without this user centered insight, gamifying an existing flow or application with an already rubbish user experience is a case of putting lipstick on the pig of work, and guaranteed to redline the BS meter.

Could I come up with a definition for gamification? No, but I can't define an elephant either. I’d avoid using the term altogether where possible.

Beyond the definition issue, of practical UX significance in Deterding et al (2011) is this table about levels of game design:

Levels of Game Design Elements table

Reproduced from Deterding et al (2011)

There is potential for a strong (UX) methodology there. Acknowledgement of the place of patterns, mechanics, heuristics, and so on, means UX professionals can construct reusable design solutions to common software problems. Such solutions are no different to what we have already published, for example, the Oracle Applications UX Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition design patterns or the Oracle Applications Development Framework (ADF) Rich Client User Interface guidance. These solutions readily leverage what is provided by Oracle ADF and Oracle Fusion Middleware to deliver scalable, easily developed out of the box, and extensible user experiences. Except that this time, those artefacts reflect the motivations of the user and how they think about themselves performing, engaging with, and participating in work.

By the way, to read more about gamification heuristics (albeit in the mobile space), I recommend Playability heuristics for mobile games (Korhonen and Koivisto 2006). However, it needs to be carefully nuanced for the enterprise applications world, especially the notion of “playability”.

So, if you’re done with all that literature, and want to play along, find the comments.

References

Deterding, S., Dixon D., Khaled, R., and Nacke, L. From game design elements to gamefulness: defining "gamification" (2011). Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, ACM, New York.

Korhonen, H. and Koivisto, E, M. (2006). Playability heuristics for mobile games. MobileHCI '06 Proceedings of the 8th Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, ACM, New York.

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Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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