I love both, to a certain degree, and if it were up to me I would use gamification almost everywhere. But it isn’t and that’s a good thing.
What is a game and gamification?
Game is an “unproductive” activity which people do for their own pleasure. The reason why I say unproductive is that playing a game will not produce a tangible result.
Learning how to code can and is fun but there will be code behind and gained skill which can be used productively. Knitting can be fun but it will create tangible results, scarves and sweaters. Knitting competition between friends is not a game but a gamification of certain activity.
There is a question if playing games can boost our skills which are not directly related to the game, like more precision skills for surgeons or language skills for mostly non-English speaking people. Those can be tangible but they are not the primary objective of the games, just a byproduct.
There are games which try to make learning boring things like chemistry more interesting. Personally I don’t consider them as programs with heavy gamification elements. They are an exception to the “unproductive” rule. They are productive and the product is knowledge.
Too little gamification and…
Too little gamification can be ignored by a lot of users. I have met couple apps which had just a homeopathic amount of gamification elements. May be it was my wishful thinking. One of those which are on top of my mind is “Learn Japanese!” by James Peebles. I like that app but it’s no fun to use it.
…and too much gamification
Since I started with a language app as an example I’ll continue with Duolingo which I am addicted to. I can see my daily progress, weekly progress, overall progress and some weird percentage.
Making some icons in color (to be completed), grey (locked) and gold (completed/practiced) makes a great sense. For me as a user it’s great because I know approximately where I am at, similar to paper textbook. Weekly and daily graphs are more than awesome because I can see my daily and weekly score. How much time I have left and daily streak are great too.
Everything in previous paragraph was great because it was clear and simple to understand. Now that weird percentage. I also learn Spanish and I have different strategies for German and Spanish and four (one of them isn’t on Duolingo yet) other languages. But for the sake of simplicity lets use just those two.
If you remember how fluent I was in German, 9%, where I am almost finished with making everything gold and with Spanish where I am somewhere in the middle and not fluent at all. (I probably could participate in German conversation because I learned that language at school but didn’t practice much.) There’s just something weird in the Danish kingdom.
Plus there is also my level which corresponds to the point awarded for doing exercises. Which is more important?
Shouldn’t level be more accurate when talking about how good I am?
Luckily the only relevant test is how am I able to understand written German/Spanish and if I am able to find bathroom and order in restaurant. And stuff like that.
Just enough gamification
If there is an app which has found a sweet spot with gamification then it has to be Todoist. It’s simple and easily accessible and one can pretend that they play RPG, almost, it takes a lot of imagination. A year ago I had complained a bit because their title/experience system was quite limited but they saw it and expanded it.
Users can easily see how their karma is affected. My only small problem with it is that subtraction is very small compared to addition. But that’s how the system is set up and I suspect, hope, that they tested it a lot before they chose this solution.
When I said that I can create my own RPG with Todoist, I meant it. Users can choose to put certain activities in projects and assign them colors. Now imagine that each color is a certain attribute, strength, stamina etc.
If you do a lot of things from a certain color you’ll be stronger at it. So the upside is that you can choose your class, like sorcerer or warrior, every day, downside is that you won’t get class bonuses as you level up.
Gamification and games are awesome but both need moderation. Too little can mean boredom and too much in case of games, problems in life and in case of gamification confusion for users. Be playful!