Thoughts about “Exploitationware”
As part of my intermittent quest to understand gamification, I read Ian Bogost’s excellent critique of the term. http://bit.ly/jFNULl
I also sat in on yesterday’s terrific Video Game Studies Colloquium at the University of Washington, at which similar views were expressed by some of the participants. http://bit.ly/kt1s8H
Here are a few thoughts from the perspective of a former corporate marketing guy (Apple, NEC, Medtronic) who is now building a game company.
1. Gamification as a buzzword will soon be extinct. Waiting is probably the best strategy for those who perceive that the term is being exploited.
The term’s value will weaken from overuse and misuse. Gartner, for example, recently made the forecast that “50% of innovation processes will be gamified” by 2015. Gartner is a company that packages corporate marketing hype, so I take their prognostication as a sign that we’re close to the peak of the gamification wave.
The field of corporate gamification will evolve. As marketers assess results from gamification campaigns they will focus on leveraging discrete elements of gamification that work and discard the elements that don’t work. This refinement of marketing process will result in the elements achieving their own buzzwords.
As with other fads, the term will start to seem dated and will gradually be dropped from use by marketers and consultants.
The following are a few examples of buzzwords that were once abundant in tech PR and advertising but are now past their prime.
2. Rather than fighting it head on, academics might do better to embrace the term by helping non-gamers to clearly define what it means.
I sense a lot of hype is being generated about concepts that are either impractical to deploy or that were not intended to be “gamified” when they were designed. Game studies academics have a unique opportunity to influence marketers by clarifying what gamification actually is and what it is not. They could:
- Lay out various definitions of gamification and evaluate them.
- Explain the roots of the concept.
- Define what a game is and is not.
- Explain whether the concept of a “game layer on everything” is a bunch of bullshit.
- Establish a bright line between what gamification is and isn’t. For example, is a Prius dashboard an example of gamification? If so, why, and is an analog speedometer therefore also an example of gamification?
- Establish whether the intent of the designer is one criteria to determine whether something is gamified or not.
As part of a corporate engagement strategy, game academics could establish and promote ethical values and a code of conduct for marketers to follow when using game elements in marketing or other business processes. To my knowledge this doesn’t exist, so even a draft document would be a significant contribution by game academics to helping ensure gamification isn’t misused.
3. Stop complaining about corporations being evil and engage them on their terms.
As I write this I’m sitting at a cafe in Seattle that is a “high end” Starbucks: an experiment in delivering higher-quality products, and a broader range of them (including beer and wine), in a space tricked out with much better furniture than you see at a typical Starbucks.
I happen to think Starbucks shares a good deal of blame for the creeping homogenization of global culture. I also believe the company contributes to our national epidemic of obesity with every venti caramel latte it hands to customers.
Is Starbucks evil, and if so, why am I giving them my money?
Those are questions for another colloquium. Suffice it to say that I enter into purchase agreements with Starbucks because it suits both of us.
My point is that whining about evil corporations doesn’t get one anywhere. Everyone makes bargains with people or entities they don’t like. Corporations are merely networks run by humans who are each looking after their own self-interest. These humans can be engaged and influenced.
I sat in on yesterday’s colloquium because I need to understand games inside and out in order to run my business. I know from personal experience that game academics have a tremendous amount of insight to offer those in the corporate world who wish to integrate game elements into business processes. As Bogost and others have said, leveraging games to improve non-game processes is hard.
Because marketers are engaged with just about everyone, the inevitable evolution of gamification offers game academics the opportunity to broaden their influence in the world by engaging with corporate marketers instead of reviling them to their peers in academia.