Gamification difficulties: why you should say no to fun sometimes

Since the moment gamification became a buzzword, I now see it everywhere.
Gamification in education, e-learning, business, marketing, advertisement…

You can probably find signs of gamification on different websites including e-commerce and sometimes even application forms. Aren’t you are happy when you click a button and a cute animated monkey says that you’ve done a wonderful job?

Cute twitting birds and jumping animals, shining buttons, messages of congratulations, stars and leaderboards promoting competition. It’s that fun, right?

We are all so tired of boring tasks, unimaginative assignments, and unclear goals. Gamification is a lifebuoy for all those drowning in the sea of dull responsibilities people with lack of motivation.

However, this is where the biggest problem arises.

We’ve been looking for motivating people to do boring things for ages. And the solution with gamification seems to be clear and obvious: “We add some fun to boring, and it will automatically become fun.” People love games. So we just make them think that they are playing a game while doing something boring.

It’s a simple math, which is wrong.

Boring things are boring. Period. You cannot make them any fun. No matter how much fun you want to add here. More importantly, this fun will be a real distraction for everyone already struggling with the boring tasks.

Granted, apart from performing a boring task, you have to also spend time on the fun, which also takes times and distracts you from the main reason you are here — to do the job.

Nobody wants to do things that are boring and irrelevant. But you cannot change it with gamification. It’s like serving rotten eggs with cream and candy. Cool, and even sweet sometimes, but rotten eggs…

You can object that some people engage themselves in boring games, which are, for example, office related. And I’ll even provide you with the link to find 10 of them. Some are quite popular, to be honest. But you can’t say that people love doing boring things. The fun of the game remains fun until you enter it and follow the rules voluntarily. You don’t have to play a game. It doesn’t make any sense. When it’s work or job, it’s a different matter. You have to do the job. You cannot say that you won’t today because you are tired or do not want to. Games and jobs, although some games simulate job routines, are different things.

So, before you dive into using gamification anywhere you want (and it’s especially important in e-learning and EdTech, as well as staff training), just think of these aspects:

1. If you want to create a tense feeling of competition so people would feel eager to do the work and boring tasks with greater enthusiasm.

No, I’m sorry, it won’t work. First of all, not being morally right — you are somewhat deceiving people into doing something promising some non-tangible reward — it will not help you at all.

Just the opposite. Eventually, tired of useless competition, people become even less enthusiastic than they were from the very beginning. It’s like giving steroids to athletes. They’ll need more, and it’s damaging them.

2. You just want to use gamification because it’s trendy/others do/it’s fun/good for business/insert your reason.

It’s great to follow the trends. And it’s fine if you want to be in trend. However, gamification should not change your core value.

If your core value is to help — help.

If your core value is to entertain — entertain.

If your core value is to provide a user with information and resources — do this.

Don’t just substitute whatever you do for plain fun. Fun should help you here, but it’s not always a case.

For example, if you want kids to learn math, you can create a game, like, for example, SpaceRace. It’s a nice and engaging game with animation and even competitors (played by computers) which encourage you to do simple math.

Is it fun? Yes. It is.

Does it encourage you to learn math? Well, it does force you to count.

Is it clear for you, what the goal you have? No really. Well, you have to choose all the right answers. Is your goal to choose the right answers?

Games are fun, however, looking at the game you can say: math is not fun and engaging enough, so we have to substitute it with fun and thrill of racing. And add some spaceships, because just racing is old-fashioned.

You should never create a game or gamify something just to make it fun (race and play), because the initial base of it (math) is not really engaging.

What you say is: the game is interesting, the rest is not.

3. You think that gamification will help you simplify already existing complexity in the product or process.

That’s not true. If your reality is broken, it’s broken.

Does your product or service need 55 exploratory videos on how it works and 2 manuals? I’m afraid even if you gamify them all, it will not help one bit.

Simplicity is always better than any complicated game structure. So before you make the long and boring process fun, just make sure you can make the process short. It may save you a fortune. Eventually, you will see, that you short, 2-minute manual video doesn’t need any gamification to help people understand how it works.

Clarity is better than any gamification and fun. People love feeling and seeing that they get something, that they understand the process. Nobody likes to feel dumb!

4. Everyone uses gamification. You should do. Otherwise, you are off the market.

Not true whatsoever. Even if you create an online course and everyone in your field uses gamification. Even if the platform you want to upload the course does it.

Gamification or “fun elements” is not a path to success. You will not get more views or clicks if you have gamification. It doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it, but you shouldn’t have it as your main purpose.

Here are some good aspects of gamification in a different sphere

Good gamification in education helps:

  1. Kindle and nurture interest in the process and the core of the subject;
  2. Setting personal goals for each students;
  3. Have a clear message about the value of the subject;
  4. Support, engage and help in discovery.

Good gamification in business/staff training helps:

  1. Make employees feel that they are valued;
  2. Understand that their work matters;
  3. Be able to deal with tasks and arrangements faster and with ease;
  4. Understand their goals and potential.

Good gamification in marketing helps:

  1. Hook people and make them interested in the product/service;
  2. Offer a tangible value to their purchase;
  3. Clarify and simplify the process for the funnels;
  4. Be happy with the actions made and completed.


Ever thought of using gamification for your business, product or training? How did it work out and what did you do? Let’s share some stories!



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Oksana Ivanova

Head of Customer Experience at iGMS, UX specialist with a background in Information Science, product marketing fan.