Gamification Can Hurt A Community

October 14, 2013Comments Off

A gamification expert used these graphs to
prove gamification works:

Gamification1
Gamification2

Once he added gamification, activity
skyrocketed. You see, gamification works!

Clearly, this isn’t the full story.
Activity did skyrocket, then it plummeted. The introduction of gamification
elements was accompanied by a promotional push. Any promotional push will
increase community activity (at least in the short term). 

The data above is consistent with reward
theory. When you incentivize activity, people do more of that activity until
the effect of incentives fades. Then members are less motivated than before to
participate.

You see this in academic
studies
too. Activity rises and then falls.

Gamification3

Many communities use gamification and are
successful. Does this mean that they are successful because of gamification? They might be more successful without
gamification, there is no data to prove either statement.

There are also communities that use
gamification and fail. There are few (if any) studies showing communities that
introduced gamification as an isolated variable and saw a long-term increase in
activity. Yet, right now, many organizations look towards gamification as the
solution to their community problems.

In some communities, gamification may
reinforce existing behaviour and increase activity. In others gamification
might switch motivations from intrinsic to extrinsic and decrease activity.
This is the danger in our work.

Gamification, like many topics, rides on a
success bias. We only hear about the successful examples. Only those that use
gamification successfully are invited to speak at events, write books that get
published, and otherwise merit attention. The reality (and the data) is
murkier.

Introducing gamification might help your
community. It might also hurt your community. It’s one of many possible tools
in the toolbox. It should not be the first tool we reach for. It’s certainly
not a default tool.

Gamification is not a silver bullet. It
won’t magically fix major activity problems in your community. It might do more
harm than good. Be careful. There are more reliable and more successful methods
to improve communities. 

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