In fact, the very idea that cramming "game-like" elements into a product is enough to attract users is misguided; the proposal of using "game mechanics" as the primary way to drive and maintain user engagement is a short road to failure. I think these misconceptions come from a lack of understanding of two key concepts:
- Gameplay psychology
- The role of game mechanics
The first reason that game mechanics probably won't work for you is that you don't understand game mechanics. Before you go off and add a leader-board or badging system to your next product, please take the time to go through Sebastian Deterding's superb presentation "Pawned. Gamification and its discontents". I'm embedding it within this blog post as the presentation beautifully covers the many mistakes and misconceptions about what gameplay is really all about:
One of the key takeaways from this presentation is that most people don't understand motivation. Think of the most common game mechanics you see in most products today: badges, scores, and progress bars. foursquare has it, so it must work, right? Wrong. These "external rewards" are rarely effective because gamers and humans in general are typically not motivated by external factors, but rather by intrinsic ones. In fact, studies have shown that external rewards and pressures can often act as de-motivators. If you're not convinced, it would be well worth your time to watch Dan Pink's talk on The Surprising Science of Motivation.
The role of game mechanics
If you fail to grasp the key principle of motivation, your game mechanics have no chance of being effective. But even if you do get the mechanics right, there is still no guarantee of success. To understand why, you need to understand that game mechanics are not your core product (unless you are building a game, of course) and have no value in and of themselves. All they can do is act as a "multiplier", encouraging some existing behavior by increasing the behavior's value in the eyes of the user. If that value was originally zero, game mechanics won't help.
To put it another way, if you have a crappy product to begin with, gameplay will not save it. It doesn't matter how many badges, progress bars, leaderboards, achievement scores, or collectibles you add, if the user doesn't see any value in your product, you will not be successful. Moreover, the more obvious the value proposition, the less you need to bother with game dynamics. All of this is best illustrated with a few examples:
|cubeduel: great gameplay, 0 value|
|Pandora: crystal clear value, no games|
|StackExchange: clear value, good game mechanics|
Stop playing games. Start building awesome products.
|Kniffel: game mechanics != fun|