Playability Vs Gamification: Do We Really Have To Gamify Everything?

Playability Vs Gamification: Do We Really Have To Gamify Everything?
Giuseppe Cammino/
Summary: Gamification is considered as a silver bullet for all challenges people face. The problem is that there are not so many really good examples of processes which were positively influenced by gamifying them. Piano Staircase, Speed Zone Lottery, Nike, FitBit – you know them all, as for at least two years they have been used as justification of this idea. But even knowing them (plus some more non-standard ones) you usually end up with PBL: Adding to your gamified process points (P), badges (B), and leaderboards (L) hoping that they will influence people. My question is: Do we really have to gamify everything in order to maintain playability?

Playability Vs Gamification 

The goal of gamifying processes is to change people behaviors in a desired way. We try to reach this goal directing activities of people by creating an environment heavily engaging. We try to create such an environment by… what? Giving points? Providing badges? Placing somebody on the third place on a list of his/her colleagues? Don’t you think that, in the long run (when we are exposed for such an incentive for the 5th or the 10th time), these triggers are so weak that look hilarious?

There are many activities which introduce us to the process of heavy engagement and concentration and which intrinsically force us to do things. They have nothing in common with points, badges, and leaderboards, and sometimes they are quite far from the “game” idea.

  • Why do you enter into the flow process while playing with you son with LEGO?
  • Why do you like to play piano?
  • Why do you lose control of time while watching the next, long awaited part of Star Wars or reading the next Harry Potter book?
  • Why do you like to color the coloring book?
  • … or to play Solitaire?
  • … or to play basketball? (OK – some of you maybe do it for points and winning the game, but I like to do it just for the pure fun of playing).

Even Piano Staircase is not about PBL; rather it is about curiosity and experiencing something unexpected and fun.

These activities (you will easily find many more) are more about play than game. OK, some of them (you may say every single one of them) have some game artifacts embedded in the activity (story, mystery, cards, etc.). The most important part for all of them, however, is that they are playable for some people; they are tightly connected with the fun factor.

Words Matter

You may say: “This is a pure semantic dilemma; we think about the same, but call it in a different way”. I don’t agree with that and have a great argument for that.

How many of you, in your experiences as eLearning professionals, met a person who was heavily biased by hearing the word “eLearning”? I have talked with hundreds of people whose thinking was immediately shifted to eLearning courses, which are long, boring, not effective, etc. The situation is completely different when I talk about “effective use of new technologies to develop skills”. This statement is much longer but opens the box and brings fresh thinking to the table.

I start to see the same with the gamification thing. When we use this word, the first, natural association is connected with the most common game artifacts like points, badges, and leaderboards.

Words matter not only while talking with people, but also while thinking about ideas, brainstorming, and designing processes in your mind. You can do an experiment – take any challenge you can imagine (e.g. how to convince people to use bikes instead of cars while commuting to work) and ask yourself two questions:

  1. How to gamify riding to work on a bicycle?
  2. How to make riding to work by bicycle more fun?

I bet responding to these two questions you will get two different (to some extent) sets of ideas. I can imagine that in the second set you will find better solutions for the challenge than in the first one.

The Reason For This Reflection

As we are selling Learning Battle Cards (more information here: we are being asked about the nature of this product. We used to promote this idea as “a way of gamifying the Instructional Design process”. Yesterday it came to my mind that we were wrong…

We just make the Instructional Design process fun (playable).

Not more, not less.

And, based on opinions of early adopters, this is it: It is not needed to gamify Instructional Design. Adding the fun factor to increase playability is powerful enough.