When a new buzzword like gamification comes along, the term can be thrown around so much that it loses meaning. All of a sudden, a once-useful term describing the use of mechanics borrowed from video games in improving processes becomes tainted by misunderstanding and negative connotations. We have picked out the biggest issues around gamification, and highlighted how to fix a broken system.


What is gamification?


At its core, gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems. As such, it has been used in a variety of contexts such as education, advertising, health policy, and scientific research. It rests on the assumption that on some level, everyone is a gamer—that it is part of our intrinsic nature. So if this is the case, why has the concept failed so largely to achieve what it set out to do?


Gamification has been poorly executed


All too often, the proponents of gamification lack an understanding of what really makes games work. Leaderboards, points, and badges are prioritised as the essence of gaming, but while they are clear signals that a game is taking place, without proper execution or context they become meaningless. If a game no longer feels rewarding then player numbers will soon dwindle.


Gamification is a short-term concept


Much to the dismay of ardent players, most games do have an end point, and if the player does not make it that far it is probably because they have lost interest. Unsurprisingly, it usually doesn’t take too long before the novelty of earning that next badge or token begins to wear off. 


Leaderboards have been a part of gaming from the very beginning, and seeing yourself at the bottom can prompt one of two reactions: it’s either a motivational boost to strive for the top, or a discouraging hindrance to your efforts. How it’s perceived depends on the context in which it is applied, leading to inconsistent effects on players. Does the short-term, competitive nature of games actually build a sustainable working or learning environment?


Gamification perpetuates a broken system, rather than fixing it.


Gamification has picked up speed in recent years because it theoretically addresses the problem of disengagement. Disengagement occurs when people lose track of the  purpose of a given activity, otherwise known as its North Star. Whether it’s a system designed to help with workflow, school homework, or exercise routines, if someone is disengaged this is often down to the absence of a clearly defined purpose.


With this in mind, why use gamification at all? If it aims to increase engagement, is that not a bit like putting a plaster on a broken leg? If we ignore the root cause of the issue, then the broken system will only become more entrenched and harder to fix. A quick fix promise of engagement through gamification masks the need to rethink management approaches at a deeper level.


Why is Quell different?


For Quell, dull exercise is the problem. We believe it should be immersive and, well, engaging—so please pardon our previous comments. Gamification should have been an obvious answer years ago, but in practice poor execution in other contexts has hampered the idea. We want to get straight to the heart of the problem: making exercise enjoyable and effective for people who don’t care for it, in a way that is sustainable enough to yield long-term results.


Existing gamified products have the right idea that humans can learn a lot from games. By harnessing what makes them so engaging, there is huge potential for solving motivational problems that we struggle with. At Quell we’re taking the essence of what makes games great as a foundation on which to build the future of fitness gaming.


The Bottom Line


Gamification—good in principle, too often poor in execution. There are some fundamental axioms of game design that can be applied to make everyday tasks more manageable, or ideally more enjoyable! Despite the negative connotations attached to the term that have derailed the conversation and tainted a potentially revolutionary idea, we believe that gamification is an incredibly powerful way to help people commit to healthy habits.


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