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.
"Why not call it a new kind of analytics?" says Professor Bogost, a founding partner at Persuasive Games, a firm that designs video games for education and activism. "Companies could say, 'Well, we are offering you a new program in which we watch your every move and make decisions about our advertising based on the things we see you do.' "
Gamification may not sound novel to members of frequent-flier or hotel loyalty programs who have strategized for years about ways to game extra points. But those kinds of membership programs offer concrete rewards like upgrades, free flights or free hotel stays. What's new about gamification is its goal of motivating people with virtual awards, like a mayoralty on FourSquare, that have little or no monetary value.
What would Amy Jo Kim or Justin Hall have said ?
"It's deepening the engagement and exposure to the brand through something that has intangible value," says Emily Murphy, a researcher at Forrester Research where she was a co-author of a recent report on gamification.
You've Won a Badge (and Now We Know All About You)
By NATASHA SINGER
Published: February 4, 2012
More companies are turning to gamification -- offering games that let their customers win points for certain activities -- as a way to build both loyalty and a trove of data.