Book Review: Gamify

gamifyI admit it: as someone who blabs on about the psychology of video games and as someone who is an industrial-organizational psychologist, I should know more about gamification. But I don’t. So I picked up this book.

Burke isn’t a psychologist or a game designer. He’s an analyst with Garnter, a very large marketing research and consulting company. He specializes in gamification, which he defines as the the application of game mechanics and experiences to motivate people. GAMIFY is meant to teach you how to create a gamified experience for employees, students, customers, or anyone else with a common interest or goal. The front half of the book goes through each of these groups and explains how gamification has worked for them, citing examples and case studies. The back half of the book details Burke’s 7-step process of “player experience design” that aims to create an effective gamification …thing. I still don’t know what the propper noun is here.

I think the first section is just full of example after example of gamified systems, and it could have been pared down quite a bit. At just 162 pages the book is already slim –probably intentionally so– but I think much more attention could have been given in the back half to the nuts and bolts of gamification. Burke lists out a lot of sub-steps and topics to keep in mind, but their treatments are always cursory –just a paragraph or two each. The book would have benefitted from exercises, case studies, tools, forms, and other practical aid. As it is, it’s a primer on gamification at best.

Burke also eschews any discussion of how fields like psychology, communications, economics, human-computer interaction, user experience design, or even game design could help the gamification process. Probably because he’s not trained in any of them. Nor does he really engage in any kind of evidence-based or data driven argument, which IS odd for someone with his background. The book would have benefitted from it, and I’m left dubious about what is truly understood about gamification by those with an empirical bent.

Finally, and this probably stands out to me because of who I am, but I’m kind of irked about how little Burke understands video games and how dismissive he is of them. I understand that the goal of gamification is NOT to turn something into a video game. But I think successful video game (and board game) design has a lot to illustrate about effective gamification. Instead, the author just seems to hand wave them away with generalities like “Video games have a constant barrage of lights and sounds that make playing the game an exciting experience.” Which depicts only a surface level familiarity with games and a limited understanding of why they are appealing (hint: it’s not just the pretty graphics). Indeed, perhaps someone should write a book about what video games can teach us about effective gamification…

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