When gamification creates addiction and not engagement

Summary : gamification is often shown as the best way to engage employees and customers in a digital world where they are subjects to more and more appeals. But the mechanism has it weaknesses and simplistic short cuts can lead to failure. Gamification remplaces engagement or follows it but does not precede it. And when it replaces it, its effects will seldom be perennial : as soon as people will end playing with the system to understand how it works and manipulate it, it won’t work anymore. This is an evidence that a system that’s supposed to rely on human nature can see human nature backfires.

A few points to introduce the question. Internauts are subjects to more and more appeals, their attention goes away so businesses need to engage them. And the best way to engage them is gamification. So gamification := engagement and all issues will be solved, as well on the customer side (make them loyal, attract them) than on the employee side (make them do what they would not do naturally).

That inspired me two reactions :

– on the customer side : if everyone uses gamification we’re back to the initial problem.

– on the employee side : gamification can make employees do the wrong thing when gamification is used to influence their time an task allocation, sometimes to the detriment of critical tasks.

Gamification is a promising concept but looking at it in a too idealistic and simplistic way may cause harm.

The other day I saw this infography.


Source: flickr.com via Bertrand on Pinterest



It does matter it aims at promoting one their product because it can apply to any social system. Where do we find gamification ? At the top of the pyramid. What demonstrates that it comes at the end of the process, not at the end. Gamification values involvement but does not cause it.

Gamification can be a guide or a driver once someone decided to join a system, in a logic of engagement, but does not create the logic. It guides employees in their discovery of a new social tool but does not make them feel like making the first step. But once this step made, it can help keeping the employee in the system. I do no think either it works for brands. People are engaged toward a brand or not. But gamification can help them supporting the brand the right way, participate in crowdsourcing or customer communities.

So gamification does not create engagement but addiction. The problem with addiction is that we feel we’re being forced to do something and can’t say no…except by finding a stronger one. Bottom line : internauts pseudo-engaged through gamification has no feeling about the brand or task you want to promote but about the game, what is different. As a matter of fact if they’re really engaged, they will never leave, whatever the promise coming from elsewhere. Engaged through gamification they will leave when a nicer and more funny game will start elsewhere.

By the way, is gamification the only thing that may make people take interest in anything ? We can think that the more creative the game is the more it will retain people. But that’s not all. Gamification relies on the assumption we all love games, so it relies on a part of the human nature. But human nature can also backfire.

Facing such system, human nature makes us want to understand the system and its levers to know of to cheat, manipulate it, hack it. Once the user gets the logic, he has no more interest in game anymore.

Gamification can be powerful. But it relies on very subtle mechanisms that requires precaution if we want the system to work, not to have side effects and keep working over time without collapsing after a certain time.


Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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