For the Win v.2 is Coming Soon!

Dan Hunter and I are excited to announce that a revised and updated edition of For the Win, our best-selling gamification guide, will be available soon from Wharton School Press.

Since the book was released in 2012, it has become the standard text for practitioners and academics on the foundational principles of gamification and game thinking. A great deal has happened over the past eight years! We’ve gone through and identified important new trends related to gamification, incorporated references to some of the major academic research addressing what were previously anecdotal claims, and updated the case studies. At the same time, we’ve kept the book short and actionable. We want it to be a useful resource, not a compilation of theory.

We’re excited to share the new For the Win with you. Stay tuned for an announcement on this blog!

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Teaching Gamification

A few weeks ago, Dan Hunter and I wrapped up the first-ever MBA course on gamification.  One of the joys of teaching is that it pushes you to organize and present your thoughts in a way that makes sense.  It forces you into conversations involving perspectives you may not have considered.  When the process is successful, the students aren’t the only ones who learn something.  That was certainly true of our Wharton gamification course.

The course was an experiment in many ways.  Just dealing with such new subject matter was challenging enough, but we also decided to make this a project course that incorporated various elements of technology, as well as a pre-release course management system.  Some of our ideas worked brilliantly; others fell flat.  Bugs in the course software caused pain for everyone.  We and the students both realized early on that we were cramming too much into a half-semester course.  Some of the industry luminaries we brought in for live video chats didn’t seem as knowledgeable as the students.  There weren’t pre-packaged case studies like most other MBA courses, because no one has written them yet in this field.

We took all of that as an indication that we’re on the right track.  We learned a tremendous amount, which we’ll use to revise the course next year.  Our students mocked up real-world gamification projects, and learned the basics of game design, the psychology of motivation, the state of serious business research on games, the legal and ethical dimensions of gamification, and why it’s so hard to define “fun,” among many things.  For me, the course reinforced that gamification will soon be a common business practice in marketing, management, and operations, but we still have a long way to go in understanding it.

If you’re interested, all the course discussions, student projects, and class session videos are available on the course website.  We’ve made it all public because our educational mission doesn’t stop with our students.  We’re already using what we’ve learned from the course in other contexts.

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Video: Nicole Lazzaro Interview at For the Win

Gamification expert Nicole Lazzaro, founder of XEODesign, interviewed at the For the Win symposium at the Wharton School.

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Who’s exploiting whom in the gamification game?

A quick hit at the end of the first conversation resonated for me – let me see if I can accurately paraphrase:

When we talk about gamification, do we allow for the potential that the corporate/governmental/institutional motivations to explore gamification can be aligned with the interests and/or motivations of those being gamified – the players, so to speak. Because if our basic perspective is that gamification is the exertion of will (on the part of the corporation/government/institution) over the individual free will of the player, then there’s not a lot of room for those seeking to build “gameful” ways of engaging with tasks to speak with those who reserve “gamefulness” for games.

Sheesh. That’s a lot of air quotes for a paraphrase, but such is the nature of speaking about gamification. We’re just not comfortable with the terms we’ve settled on yet, and so we qualify our commentary to protect ourselves.

The give and take between Ian Bogost and Gabe Zicherman and Jesse Schell certainly foregrounded an issue which we’ve seen in other settings – the question of how much we should attribute good intentions to large organizations when they turn to playful or gameful techniques to engage their audience. On one level or another, we know that General Motors or IBM didn’t get to be multi-national corporations through divine intervention – somewhere, sometime, they must have produced something that we individually or collectively desired, in order to grow and become successful. On the other hand, there is a healthy historical tradition (and not just in the U.S.) of suspicion toward corporate motivations – we say “Big Business” pejoratively, not admiringly.

Today’s conversation had echoes of the recent discussions in different settings of what Julian Küchlich and others have termed “playbour” – a critique of user-generated content (videogame modding, for example) where end users produce content for corporately-owned and developed products for little or no payment. The “playbour” critique, grounded in Marxist critiques of labor relationships, seems similar to the conversation about whether it’s possible or acceptable for organizations (corporate or otherwise) to co-opt the mechanisms of games in service of other ends.

Yet the question in both settings, and which Gabe Zicherman seemed to be speaking to, is about what constitutes exploitation. If Very Big Evil Corporation decides to produce Sneaky Marketing Website using game mechanics, and end users participate in the website to whatever degree they freely choose, who ultimately bears responsibility for that decision? And if, for whatever emotional rational, the end user doesn’t object to being marketed to using game mechanics, does that absolve Very Big Evil Corporation?

And to take it further, if we as consumers are so inured to pro-social messages such as “lose weight” or “turn off the lights to save electricity” that it takes wrapping that message into a voluntary space free from even the illusion of personal responsibility in order to engage with it, is it particularly fair to decry it when our democratic institutions turn to gameful tools to circumvent our resistances? It’s hard to know. Ian’s position – sure, provocative to prove a point, but still valid – is that we’re using something which could be, might have been in the past, somewhat more pure or free from external trappings. On the one hand, it might be that this is what it takes now to get our attention. Or, it might be that this is what we WANT, in order to get our attention.

It was an entertaining exchange, of course, but an important one, too. I’m not personally clear on what the line is between “pro-social” and “marketing,” but clearly, it’s a vexing issue for folks considering gamification and wanting to avoid the trap of empty trendiness. Perhaps more will come from tomorrow’s discussion that help illuminate that question.

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…And We’re Off!

The opening sessions at the symposium have been pretty intense, and covered a great deal of ground. As one participant pointed out, having a diverse group of experts from different communities necessarily produces healthy confusion. We often use different words to describe the same things, or the same words to describe different things. Surfacing those tensions is an important step forward. But only a step!

We’ll be posting detailed notes on all the symposium sessions on this blog. In the meantime, follow the Twitter account @gamifyforthewin and the hashtag #forthewin for real-time reactions.

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