This year alone, gamification platforms have raised over $30 million in funding and hundreds of startups with game mechanics at their very core launch almost every week
Gamification is a polarizing and divisive topic with many proponents and vocal skeptics and cynics. But it is not bullshit. Gamification is real and its benefits are tangible. Gamification is here to stay.
Some say that gamification is a "perversion" of games, their mechanics twisted into a magical marketing pill for big, evil corporations. This overlooks all the good that gamification does, and has the potential to do more of -- while conveniently ignoring that the critics themselves work for giant corporate interests of their own.
Gamification is helping real people with real issues -- promoting fitness, reducing waste and helping improve education are only the start
But even as we acknowledge that some corporations might have nefarious interests, we must recognize that the fundamental purpose of all organizations is to create as much value as possible. This value may be measured in assets or lives saved, children made healthier or kilos of trash diverted from landfill. Regardless, there is no evidence that any of the passionate designers using gamification have ill intentions, but a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Is there truly deceit in gamification's fundamental nature, as some claim? Let's take Nike+ as an example. In Nike+, players are provided with clearly disclosed encouragement to improve their physical fitness using a gamified system. And while Nike would like for you to buy more shoes, they don't trick you into doing so by any other method than wearing them out from exercise. Conversely, advocates of persuasive games tend to bury their real message without full disclosure (see Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker or Dean for America as examples). By comparison, which application is more deceitful? The one trying to get you to vote for a candidate you might not like or one designed to help you get healthier. The question is really more subtle -- hinging on issues of truth, disclosure and self-determination rather than who designed the product and what it's advocating.
It also must be said that gamification is about much more than marketing. While the trend first took root in the marketing and advertising industries, it has spread to industries trying to solve social issues like obesity, education, good government, sustainability and the like.
In education, game mechanics are proving to be very useful tools within the classroom. Ananth Pai, a one-time business exec turned elementary school teacher, found that by adding games to his curriculum and using leaderboards and social challenges in the classroom his students improved dramatically in reading and math. In 18 weeks, his below-third-grade level class is now performing at a mid fourth-grade level in reading and math.
By implementing a gamified waste diversion program, Recyclebank has increased recycling rates and reduced landfill rates by 16 percent. Simultaneously, NYC-based NextJump has convinced 70 percent of its employees to work out regularly using gamified techniques like leaderboards and team challenges. This has resulted in improved health and reduced absenteeism and healthcare costs both for the company and its employees. These are only several of the dozens of examples that can be found across the spectrum.