Gameplay is “a series of interesting choices”

Ivanka Menken has asked me to take part in a beta offering of a new course on Gamification. In this Blog I will detail some of my thoughts as I progress through the class and try to answer the questions when and how is Gamification significant, and is it an enduring feature of just a trend?

I found Sid Meier’s definition of gameplay interesting in its simplicity and completeness. Gameplay is a series of interesting choices.

It is also a brief summary of the concerns I’ve had about the idea of gamification of non-game interactivity. If the choices are not interesting, then adding achievement badges or levels, leader boards, and progress bars are not helpful. In fact they are distracting. Witness Exhibits A and B from the Audible iPhone app.

I listen to audiobooks from (part of for the content of the books. The interesting choices are in selecting and reading the books. To the extent Audible makes it easy to browse titles, see the reviews, and preview audiobooks (which I seldom do, I admit), I will enthusiastically continue buy their audiobooks. I will not listen to audiobooks in order to progress from AppNewbie to AppNovice, or to earn a All Nighter badge.

This seems obvious to me, but why did Audible gamify the app in this way? The simplest answer is: to try something new and see what sticks.

The more complex answer may be that Audible is trying to build a community around audiobooks the way Amazon builds communities through reviews, lists and discussion forums. Audible might be able to connect, for example, people who have done All Nighters or run a marathon using the same book or similar sets of books. But note that the “social networkfication” of the book experience does not depend on its gamification, which is a weak tool for that job.

The idea of gameplay as a series of interesting choices implies that uninteresting games or uninteresting choices cannot be gamified with any success. An example is Empire Avenue. I know a number of my Twitter followers have joined Empire Avenue. Judging by the low rate of their activities, the site isn’t very interesting, but it does stick a badge in your face every 5 minutes. This is distracting and may simply be an acknowledgement that the underlying concept isn’t viable. Gamification is a crutch and a weak one at that.

I do acknowledge that in some cases progress reports are helpful. This progress chart from the same Audible app is interesting, and additional charts by type of book would also be welcome. Progress charts are also useful in areas that aren’t necessarily interesting but where the viewer expects to receive benefits in the future. For example, Empire Avenue could benefit if their members could expect to win real rewards for superior trading activity.

Other examples might include profile completeness on professional sites such as LinkedIn, or in traditional job search site, or activity progress in educational software or sites, such as Khan Academy. Gamification in these areas shows a lot of potential.