The Economist thinks Gamification is a “fad” rather than a “trend”.


As video games have grown from an obscure hobby to a $67 billion industry, management theorists have begun to return the favour. Video games now have the dubious honour of having inspired their own management craze. Called “gamification”, it aims to take principles from video games and apply them to serious tasks. The latest book on the subject, “For the Win”, comes from Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter, from the Wharton Business School and the New York Law School respectively.

Video games may not have been entirely mainstream but to call them an obscure hobby highlights a thorough lack of understanding of history. Almost since they appeared, video games have captured the imaginations of young and old. Whether the operation was in an arcade, at home on a console, using a PC or, more recently on your phone, the games market has been anything but obscure.

Does gamification merit the hype that has quickly surrounded it? The idea is only a couple of years old, but it has already spawned a host of breathless conferences, crowded seminars and (inevitably) TED talks.

The name “gamification” is only a couple of years old but the concept and the practice go back more than thirty years. Major UK retailer Sainsbury’s launched their Homebase reward card in 1982. Air Miles, possibly the most well known international brand, started operating in 1988. Collecting points for rewards is the simplest form of gamification but we’re supposed to ignore it because they didn’t invent the name?

Does the Economist merit the hype with this kind of shoddy research?

The problem is that, after the authors have finished instructing their readers in what not to do, the concept of gamification is left looking somewhat threadbare. That is a shame, because their central idea—that the world might be a better place if work was less of a necessary drudge and more of a rewarding experience in itself—is hard to argue with. But then perhaps it is called work for a reason.

If all you want to do is paste achievement badges and point collecting onto drudgery, then yes, the concept is threadbare. But that’s not gamification. You have to use game concepts and gameplay to entice better performance.

If all you want to do is produce some poorly researched and barely understood fluff about Gamification, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you contract whichever Schumpeter journalist produced this article. They deserve an Achievement.

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Matt Johnston

Technologist, Futurist, Humanist

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