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A demolition of GAMIFICATION by Design

By on September 16, 2011

Sebastian Deterding is a good speaker and thinker on gamification. He has just posted a comprehensive demolition of Gabe Zichermann’s Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps .

I haven’t read Gabe’s book, although I have met him a few times. Sebastian is withering in his conclusion:

A hundred-or-so pages of other peoples’ ideas hastily copied together, incoherent, often contradictory, and riddled with errors (as happens in hasty copying); lacking due credit to an extent that borders on plagiarism; mixed with claims that are boasting, unfounded, false, even positively dangerous; misunderstanding games and their appeal; promoting a flawed and unsustainable “loyalty-for-cheap” philosophy; artificially pumped up with a long advert (read: sponsored tutorial), and littered with further ego-adverts to go and visit GamificationU.com, “The #1 expert resource online for gamification best practices and methodologies.”

Sebastian’s review is worth reading, if only for the enormous amount of explanation and references on psychology and game design that litter the text. You can learn an enormous amount from his post.

On the other hand, I also think that this is what happens when someone who focuses more on the academic/intellectual reads a popular book in his subject (although I do think that Sebastian is a marvellous communicator on gamification and game design, as his post demonstrates). Gamification is a buzzword of enormous value to marketers; it is of even more value to people who can make marketers understand even a tiny bit of the complex discipline that is game design.

I can’t comment on the plagiarism issues or the errors that Sebastian has pointed out. I can say that marketing professionals – who have limited time to engage on this topic – seem to be crying out for a simplified overview of the concepts of gamification.

If Sebastian is so critical of Gabe’s attempt at one of these, maybe he should offer to write one himself.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • http://twitter.com/dingstweets Sebastian Deterding

    Dear Nicholas,

    thanks for the invitation to write an introduction myself :). Liz Lawley made a similar point at the Wharton Gamification Symposium: Less complaining that others capture the discourse with flawed versions – if you truly want to reach people, you have to write “Game Design 101″ yourself. Though if I now announced that I’d be writing an intro myself, the reasons behind my review would appear somewhat questionable, no :)?

    One part of the “clash” is certainly between academic depth/detail and actionable recommendations. But that is also partially a false dichotomy: The core point of my review was that if the underlying concepts of that actionable introduction are flawed. Thus, the recommendations flowing from them (and the business decisions people make based on them) will also be negatively affected. Put differently: What use is a good summary of bad thinking?

    Apart from that, if you’re looking for a good intro, I recommend Stephen Anderson’s “Seductive Interaction Design”, which has a 50 page section called “The Game of Seduction” and pretty much covers the bases, or, if you need a whole book targeted at gamification, Aaron Dignan’s “Game Frame”.