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What’s your motivation for gamification?

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Written by: Stefan Ferguson
My mobile service provider has built a mobile game. I know this because they keep sending me notifications about it.

‘Bored on your commute home? Play our new mobile game.’

Ask a marketer, I can appreciate the timeliness of these little messages. The consumer in me, however, is deeply irritated. Even if I had five minutes to spare on my ride home I’m not going to fill that time messing with something cooked up by a marketing team for the sole purpose of generating traffic. I’m going to turn to one of the hundreds of thousands of actual games out there that I already know are quality products. Whatever they’ve managed to build, I’m willing to bet it isn’t more compelling than Angry Birds.

And herein lies one central problem with gamification; if you move your offering too far into the realm of actual games, you’re competing in a market you’re never going to win. Gamification only really works as an accent to a product that has value in the first place. If your mobile app isn’t useful for me, I’m not going to use it. It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles you attach.

Interestingly, this issue unveils a much deeper confusion about the value of a product and the motivations we have to use it.

Games are the sort of things that have intrinsic motivations attached to them. It is essentially its own reward – we play because they’re fun and because we enjoy them. They’re innately compelling because they’re designed to be that way from the outset. It’s understandable, then, why so many product developers and marketer see games, and gamification more broadly, as a way of enticing customers to try out their offering.

Most of the activities we spend our time with, though, don’t have intrinsic motivations. We do our taxes, not because they’re fun, but because we’ll get fined if we don’t. This is what’s called extrinsic motivation – something compelling us to take part that is separate from the thing itself. Most of our world is made up by things that have extrinsic motivations, from washing clothes to our jobs. They’re a means to an end.

As consumers, we’re smart enough to understand the difference between these two motivation types. When a company tries to disguise one as the other, it’s transparent and patronizing. However, it is possible to blur the line between the two. It’s just a little more complicated than sticking a flash game on your landing page. Your customer needs to understand the extrinsic rewards of your product as a foundation for their willing participation in a series of intrinsically motivated actions. This is where gamification starts to show its true power in creating compelling products.

One of my favourite examples of this is Habitica – a to-do list application that uses elements of computer games in order to motivate users to tick off their list items. The beauty of this app is that users already see the value in achieving their daily tasks. Gamification just adds another level of interest to help make the day-to-day process a little more fun. When extrinsic and intrinsic motivations work together in this way you have a recipe for an addictive product that really helps your audience achieve their goals.