Gamification is Harder than Games

Cartoon of people climbing on game controller

Ludogogy has entered into an agreement with Gamification Journal, based in Seoul, South Korea, for the mutual exchange of articles. This is the fifteenth of those articles we are publishing and it was in exchange for Micael Sousa’s article on serious games for spatial planning.

Gamification and Games

What’s the relationship between gamification and games?  Some people think that the term ‘game’ includes gamification. On the other hand, other people think that gamification includes games. From the gamification researchers’ perspective, they generally think that the wider meaning of gamification includes games. I have a slightly different perspective on this. Gamification and game are not mutually inclusive, but are different concepts with some relatedness.

The definition of gamification which I use, is that it is a way to improve achievement by changing unamusing or boring things into interesting ones, through applying game formats or elements in non-game settings. The prerequisite in this definition is that it happens in non-game settings. The picture representing this definition is as follows.

A diagram showing applications for gamification including medicine, education and the military

From the gamification design perspective, game elements are used. So, a deep relationship with games is required. However, the game industry itself, doesn’t have much need to have a similar and reciprocal relationship with gamification. In terms of expanding games into other areas, it’s positive and encouraged – games are often seen being used in other fields. But currently, games have little to gain from gamification. So, in most cases, it isn’t necessary for game designers and developers to get interested in gamification.

If gamification means adding parts of game formats or elements in non-game settings, it follows that adding game elements into games is not needed. In terms of the definition of gamification, gamification and games are related but separate. In addition, there is a limitation that the relationship is not bidirectional but unidirectional.

For developing gamification, the broad participation of game developers or researchers is necessary. But, I think that this participation is small. The reason why gamification doesn’t get much support from the game industry, is because the gamification side thinks that gamification includes ‘games’ in its broader meaning. From a game industry perspective, it can be viewed as insulting that games are seen as just part of gamification.

So, I think that gamification and games are currently separately considered. But if there will be more cooperative and equivalent stances between gamification and games, the games industry may get more interested in gamification.

Purpose and Fun, Gamification is harder than games

Gamification has to seek both objectives and fun, unlike games. Therefore, in considering my background as a game developer and Ph.D. in games, game development itself is very difficult, but gamification development is even harder than game development. The game just covers pure fun and play characteristics without achieving specific objectives. Gamification aims to make achievement easier, for the end user, by iterating the objectives in a fun way through the addition of game elements. But, for the designer, satisfying both objectives and fun is very hard. I think that’s why there aren’t many successful gamification use-cases.

Although many areas try to seek gamification by applying game elements, the most important thing is the objective that should be achieved. In the education sector, learning effects are the most important ones. In the medical sector, health improvement is paramount. If there aren’t many effects of learning or improvement in health, despite being fun, it’s meaningless. So, game elements in gamification are auxiliary tools to prompt the achievement of objectives and make it easier.

In current situations, it’s hard for the game industry to get attracted to gamification. If many successful gamification cases are made, the game industry may be interested. But, I think that the gamification industry itself has to learn about games deeply. People should learn the game theories, apply them in various fields, and make many successful gamification cases. This is a starting point.

If possible, I want to share various stories as a game researcher in the future. I hope that shared game information will be helpful in making many successful gamification cases.

** The above article may not match the opinion and editorial direction of Ludogogy (or the Gamification Journal). It intends to show various perspectives on gamification in the game industry and its academics in Korea.

Professor at School of Game Studies & Creation, Dongyang University, South Korea
(Current) Professor, School of Game Studies & Creation, Dongyang University, South Korea
Ph.D. in Game – Sangmyung University, Seoul, Korea
Game Critic & Analyst
President & Founder of Global Game Research Society (GGRS)
Regular member of the Korea Game Society
Planning Director of The International Society for eSports Studies (ISES)
Information Director of Korean Cultural Contents Critic Association (KOCCCA)
(Former) Game PD, PM, Development Team Leader, Client Programmer
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