Guild Research today released a new white paper, Confronting the Dragons: How to Overcome Myths and Misconceptions of Gamification and Promote Gamified Learning. The goal of this white paper, which I co-authored with Brenda Enders, is to identify the most common myths and misconceptions about gamification and to clarify, as much as possible, the reality behind each myth. In addition to confronting these myths, we offer practical suggestions and guidelines to help you better articulate the benefits and limitations of gamification, as well as convince your decision-makers, leaders, and colleagues of the real nature and value of gamified learning solutions. Controlling and correcting these misconceptions right from the start will help you manage expectations throughout your gamification project and beyond.
Gamification can be an exciting and effective approach that enables learners of all ages and backgrounds to become engaged in and enthusiastic about learning. For all of the glitter of this shiny new object in the world of learning and development, it is not surprising that many people still operate with a limited knowledge of the subject and, as a result, are often prey to others who believe in a number of gamification myths and misconceptions, both positive and negative.
In fact, many people—experienced learning practitioners and laypersons alike—have uninformed or inaccurate ideas about gamification based on their personal experiences, previous education, popular media, or peer culture. However, upon further examination, many of these commonly held ideas turn out to be misconceptions or myths about the true nature of gamification and the tangible value of gamified learning.
Hic sunt dracones (“Here be dragons”)
We used the dragon metaphor to make a point about confronting popular myths and dealing with widespread misconceptions. As is the case with most dragons, everyone is better off when the misconceptions have been found and eliminated. The real power of dragons is to create fear and apprehension; this power lies in unfounded beliefs and popular folklore. The same can be said about myths related to the highly popular (but often misunderstood) topic of gamification.
Figure 1: The “high dragon"
Before we look at the lesser dragons of gamification myth and misconception, let us begin by confronting one of the biggest dragons of them all—in other words, the “high dragon” (Figure 1). If you are familiar with gaming terminology and have played classic games, fighting a “high dragon” (for example, in Dragon Age) is equivalent to what is known as a “boss fight” in most gamification designs. See our Gamification Knowledge Check and our recent eBook The Art and Science of Gamification for more details.
The “high dragon” myth says: Gamification is just hype and will be gone tomorrow. This is a powerful myth that attempts to draw upon recent industry research for strength and persuasion. In fact, Gartner Research has helped make this myth into a powerful deterrent for decision-makers who are contemplating a journey into this dragon’s den. However, before we look at Gartner’s research and opinions on “gamification as hype,” let us briefly review its methodology for categorizing various technologies.
Gartner's Hype Cycles
As noted on the Gartner website, Gartner Hype Cycles are graphic representations that depict the “maturity and adoption of technologies and applications.” As the website explains, Gartner clients use hype cycle diagrams “to get educated about the promise of an emerging technology within the context of their industry and individual appetite for risk.”
Figure 2: Gartner Hype Cycle (source: Gartner)
From Gartner, descriptions of the five phases shown in Figure 2 as “key phases of a technology’s life cycle”:
- Technology Trigger: “A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.”
- Peak of Inflated Expectations: “Early publicity produces a number of success stories—often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.”
- Trough of Disillusionment: “Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.”
- Slope of Enlightenment: “More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious."
- Plateau of Productivity: “Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.”
Gamification: still stuck in the “trough of disillusionment”?
Gartner’s widely quoted 2012 report on emerging technologies predicted that 80 percent of poorly designed gamification initiatives were on track to fail by the end of 2014. More notably, Gartner also classified gamification as one technology, which (in its view) was still stuck in the hype cycle’s “Trough of Disillusionment” (see description above).
This might be seen as a discouraging finding, but we should also remember that things are improving rapidly in the quality and sophistication of gamified learning solutions. The point is that today’s “hype dragon” may remain persistent but is beginning to evaporate into more of a myth than reality. Industry observer Ivan Kuo, writing in 2013, was of the opinion that this dragon might soon fade into memory. Kuo writes:
“Gamification is maturing, and while people are still stuck on the semantic argument of gamification and ‘wondering if it’s a fad,’ we’re still seeing tons of compelling evidence from big companies about how gamification can work. It’s just looking like those dedicated to using gamification are doing a lot of testing and designing very specific and personalized solutions as opposed to [the] shallow implementations of yesteryear.”
Confronting two types of gamification myths and misconceptions
In this report, we separated gamification myths and misconceptions into two categories: “negative” and “less negative.” This was because we believe that some gamification myths are truly negative, in the sense that they may disparage or misrepresent the reality of gamified learning in a manner that discourages people from using games to achieve their learning objectives.
“Less negative” myths, on the other hand, may seem to paint a positive picture but actually contain inherent dangers. A good example of a less negative misconception is the notion that “gamifying anything makes it better.” Adopting this myth typically leads to the “I told you so” scenario in which gamification—when used in inappropriate circumstances—fails and is therefore considered “proven” not to work in any situation.
Read our report for a detailed list of the negative dragons and their cousins, the less negative dragons. For each dragon, we identify the myth or misconception, provide an explanation of the truth about this dragon, and offer our advice for overcoming its threats. Here is one brief example:
- Myth: Gamified learning is really suitable only for Millennials and younger learners. The “Millennial Dragon,” named MARVIN, does not seem to fit in with the older dragons. Maybe they are jealous of his trophy case brimming over with participation trophies and ribbons. You will not be able to miss Marvin. With one claw, he is texting on his smartphone, and the other claw is working a game controller, all while he is wearing a headset and barking out what sound like random commands to his team members in the game. Do not allow Marvin’s intense focus on technology to trick you into believing that gamified learning is really his learning preference. This is a scary dragon indeed; after all, he is a next-generation dragon and nothing like his dragon elders.
- Truth: We now know that games appeal to the masses regardless of age or gender and that almost half of the US population is actively engaged in them. But Marvin goes a step further and swoops down to assume that an individual’s learning preferences are based upon his or her age. Marvin followers will believe the following: If you are under 34 years old, then a gamified learning experience is perfect. However, if you are between 35 and 50, asynchronous eLearning is for you. And I’m sorry to inform those of you over 50, but it turns out that your learning preference is an eight-hour instructor-led training session. Ludicrous! If learners are given a choice of learning experiences, gamification will not be the first choice for everyone, but neither will the full-day ILT session. In both cases, it has nothing to do with age or generational grouping.
- Advice: To slay Marvin, the Millennial Dragon, do not select (or design) any learning solutions based upon age or demographics.
Selling gamification to decision-makers
We conclude our report with a series of practical recommendations for selling gamified learning to your company decision-makers. One of our recommendations is to craft a business case that addresses each of these essential questions:
- What problems will you solve by leveraging gamification, and how much are the problems costing the organization today?
- What gamification approach are you recommending?
- What are your goals?
- How does gamification provide unique value?
- What are the main benefits or outcomes you expect to achieve?
- How will gamification provide value that other approaches will not provide?
- How will you define and measure success?
- What technology resources do you anticipate needing?
- What is your team’s existing skill set as it relates to gamification and game design?
- What are the risks, and how will you mitigate them?
- What is your communication plan to ensure that stakeholders are kept in the loop and on the same page throughout the process?
Ludification and gamified learning
By reading this report, you will take the first step toward successfully selling gamification to your decision-makers: You will become better educated on the myths of gamification and you will prepare yourself to disarm all of the “dragons” described in this report as they arise.
This is important reading because gamification is such a hot-button term and virtually everyone has an opinion. Unfortunately, many of these are based on stereotypes, misinformation, or exposure to gamification through marketing and advertising campaigns.
As you prepare to explain your gamified learning initiative, anticipate the myths that may arise and arm yourself with the facts. In fact, you may want to proactively address some of the more common myths before you actually begin the process of requesting your gamification project. Remember, you will need to educate your decision-makers in addition to selling them on accurate information and real concepts.
Finally, use this report as a framework for educating your decision-makers in a playful (i.e., “ludified”) manner that is enjoyable, non-threatening, and counters each of these “dragons” with clear explanations and practical suggestions.
Note: The term “ludification” (explained in our report) describes the process of becoming playful, and it describes a society in which play is a central element. To design playfulness into gamification solutions means including such things as social elements, skill-based learning, self-directed goals, achievement-based elements, puzzle solving, and big wins.
Gartner. Gamification: Engagement Strategies for Business and IT. 2012.
Gartner. “Gartner Hype Cycle.”
Grebow, David, and Sharon Vipond (eds.). The Art and Science of Gamification. The eLearning Guild, 2015.
Kuo, Ivan. “Gartner: 80% of Poorly Designed Gamification Initiatives Still on Track to Fail by 2014.” Gamification Co. 18 December 2013.
Kuo, Ivan. “Gartner’s Latest Gamification Research for 2014 with Brian Burke.” Gamification Co. 3 February 2014.
Vipond, Sharon. Gamification Knowledge Check. The eLearning Guild. 14 April 2016.