Why I Don’t Like Gamification

Originally posted elsewhere in October 2012. Thank you to Timehop for resurfacing it. Still as true for me today as ever.

The other day, I tweeted this:

Do X years of experience make you an expert? Is your whole reputation reflected in # of status points? This is why I don’t like gamification.

Here’s the story behind the tweet:

The customer community that I manage has a built-in status points system (we use Jive). Status points are earned by different activities done in the community, such as posting documents or having an answer you provide marked as “correct” or “helpful”. Different status levels, from “Getting started” to “Super Cyberhero”, are reached as more points are earned.

An employee who is a community member emailed me to request:

My status level is at Level Two out of Five and I’m not able to change it. This can be misleading to customers who may not know who I am, and who may judge my expertise based on my status level. Can you override the point system and update my status to the highest level? This will give them more trust in my expertise.

My response to this has two parts: one part technology, and one part earned trust.

On the technology side, the status level graphic can be replaced with another graphic, such as “Employee”. This is something we have considered implementing, but haven’t done so.
Pro: This would clearly mark which community members are company employees.
Con: The indicator of how many points an employee has earned would be removed.

Which brings me to earned trust. Even if I *could* override the earned status points* and change the person’s status to the highest level, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Should I update his status to “Expert”? I don’t know – *is* he an expert? I don’t feel qualified to make that designation. Does having built a product make you an expert on it? Maybe…. or maybe not. Should all employees be marked as Experts? Probably not. Then how would we decide who is, or who isn’t, an Expert? Who would decide?

The points system reflects a member’s *actual* activity in the community. Points are earned when content is contributed, and when other members provide recognition. I think it would be appropriate to mark employee profiles with a graphic in addition to reflecting the points earned. To simply change the status to the highest level would be more misleading – it would imply that the member was more active in the community than he actually is.

Maybe I am biased. I don’t consider myself a gamer, and am not particularly motivated by points and badges. I do understand that game mechanics can provide excellent support for desired behaviors, such as healthy eating or getting household chores done. My favorite gamification success story is Speed Camera Lottery: instead of just penalizing speeders, the camera captures drivers who obey the speed limit and rewards them with the potential to win cash (funded by the speeding ticket fines). Brilliant! This is a game I can get behind!

But racking up numbers just for the sake of numbers – number of LinkedIn connections, Facebook ‘like’s, badges – seems to be missing meaning. What is the desired behavior that is being supported? Or, whose desired behaviors?

And to elevate a member’s status points so that his contributions will be more accepted or respected… sorry, no can do. Those points – that trust – must be earned.

* I’m sure the points can be overriden. Thank you in advance if you want to teach me how. But I’m not interested in going there.

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