For companies, the premise of gamification is that it engages people in the kind of reward-seeking behaviors that lead to increased brand loyalty, not to mention increased profits. By tracking the online activities of people who sign up for such programs, companies can also amass more detailed metrics about each user — the better to identify the most active customers.
“People use gamification to measure and influence user behavior to meet their business goals,” says Kris Duggan, the chief executive of Badgeville, which designs game-based programs for companies, including Samsung.
Game techniques, Mr. Duggan says, prompt consumers to spend more time on company Web sites, contribute more content and share more product information with Facebook and Twitter adherents. One of his clients, he says, uses a gamification program to collect information about 300 actions — like posting comments or sharing with a social network — performed by several million people.
But critics say the risk of gamification is that it omits the deepest elements of games — like skill, mastery and risk-taking — even as it promotes the most superficial trappings, like points, in an effort to manipulate people.
Ian Bogost, a professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, refers to the programs as “exploitationware.” Consumers might be less eager to sign up, he argues, if they understood that some programs have less in common with real games than with, say, spyware.