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Refining Gartner’s Redefinition Of Gamification

Refining Gartner’s Redefinition Of Gamification

Rajat Paharia


By Rajat Paharia, Founder and Chief Product Officer

How do you define gamification?

At Bunchball, we’ve been answering that question definitively since our founding in 2007. To us gamification is defined as motivating people through data – capturing the big data that your customers, partners and employees are generating as they’re interacting with online experiences, and using that data to motivate better performance.

We’ve always been quite clear on that definition. But outside of Bunchball, there’s been an ongoing debate about what exactly gamification is… and what it is not.

For instance, I’ve heard gamification incorrectly defined as “games created for a business purpose” – and yet, to reiterate, gamification is not about games, and it’s not about creating something new. Gamification is about amplifying the effect of an existing, core experience by applying proven motivational techniques, ones that increase high-value interactions with customers, employees and partners, and help you drive more sales, stronger collaboration, better ROI, deeper loyalty, higher customer satisfaction and more.

Because there are still so many misperceptions surrounding gamification, I was eager to read Gartner’s recent research note, Redefine Gamification to Understand Its Opportunities and Limitations. In it, analyst Brian Burke acknowledges that confusion leads to missed opportunities to leverage gamification solutions, and he reports that Gartner is redefining gamification as "the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals."     

Does that definition achieve its goal? Does it improve our understanding of gamification’s opportunities and limitations?

I’d argue that yes, it does …although –and those who know me well won’t be surprised by this at all – I’d like to tweak it just a bit.

On the plus side, I commend Gartner for recognizing how important it is for the business world to agree on a definition. The gamification market can’t evolve unless we’re all on the same page, using the same terms, with the same expectations.

I’d also wholeheartedly agree that, as Burke writes, “The goal of gamification is to motivate people to change behaviors or develop skills, or to drive innovation.”

But after reading the note, here’s what I’d like to see:

  • Less emphasis on game language. Continuing to use terms like “players” and “play space” perpetuates the notion that gamification is about games. Again, gamification is not about “play.” Burke even goes so far as to note that “. . . gamification is not about fun.”
  • Less emphasis on digital engagement. The important thing to keep in mind is that gamification is data-driven, not necessarily digitally-driven. “Digital” implies that the experience happens completely online, which isn’t always the case. Our customers are motivating physical activity, meeting attendance, and many other “analog” behaviors. Technology enables the more efficient capture and distribution of that data at scale, but it isn’t a requirement for motivating people through data.
  • More emphasis on business results. Businesses don’t implement gamification because they want to help employees and/or customers achieve their short-term goals. Businesses implement gamification because gamification drives value. Gamification increases the performance of customers, employees and partners, which in turn improves your business performance through more sales, stronger collaboration, better ROI, deeper loyalty and higher customer satisfaction.

Burke ends his note with this: “The opportunities are vast, with many yet to be exploited, but before embarking on the journey, a clear understanding of the opportunities and limitations of gamification is needed.”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. And I’m glad that we’re continuing to refine the true meaning –and the true business value – of gamification.

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