Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

John Ferrara on “gamifying” experience


John Ferrara, author of Playful Design, is the subject of today’s mini-interview. If you find John’s answer interesting, you might check out the longer interview he did with Jenn Webb of O’Reilly Radar. Or, of course, buy John’s book.

RM: What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to creating game experiences in everyday interfaces?

John Ferrara: Paying insufficient attention to the quality of the player experience. It’s important to understand that there’s an innate selfishness to gameplay. People don’t play games out of loyalty to your brand or because they want to solve world hunger. They play because they value the experience. To the extent that designers trade off enjoyable gameplay to serve their own purposes, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

This is what concerns me most about the gamification fad. Too often, “gamifying” an experience means adding points and leaderboards but leaving it otherwise unchanged. This is even implicit in the word “gamification”, which suggests an experience that is by its nature something other than a game but dressed up to resemble one. These kinds of approaches will not survive because they don’t value gameplay, and so players will not value them.

Successful implementations recognize that games need to be games first, and give the highest priority to the player experience. These are intrinsically rewarding games that are enjoyed for their own sake. Their designers value play and understand it as a fundamental function of living.