Gamification by Design by Gabe Zimmerman and Christopher Cunningham – Book Review

Gamification is a controversial area, and a current hot-topic in the world of marketing. Based on the idea of utilising concepts lifted from games in non-gaming contexts, it claims to allow businesses to engage customers to a much greater extent, through the creation of ‘sticky’ experiences.  In this new book, Zimmerman and Cunningham (Z&C) aim to teach the reader how any brand can implement the techniques learned from games to create loyal and engaged customers.

As noted early on in the book, Gamification can, and has, often been done badly. The idea of ‘just sticking badges’ on your application or site has been seen across the board, from sites such as Ripple or the Huffington Post, and, when not thought out correctly, does little to increase customer engagement. Through an understanding of player types, including Bartle’s theory, Z&C describe how a successful implementation of gamification needs to align with the player’s own intrinsic motivations. Hence in Bartle’s player types, badges will be of interest to Achievers, who like a visible display of success and progress, but not socialisers or killers.


Achievement whore...

Z&C explain how the key to successful gamification is therefore to ensure that the core actions being taken by the player are both fun and link with the player’s own motivations. Gabe’s example of this being successfully applied is cute – smothering broccoli in cheese sauce, so that a child will eat it. The unpopular task of eating the vegetable is mollified by the extrinsic reward of the cheese sauce, and both the child and the parent are happy with the final interaction. When this example is recreated commercially, and amplified by factors such as positive feedback and social recognition, a loop is theoretically created in which the customer becomes increasingly engaged with the product or brand, whether it is broccoli, or Nike.

Gamification by Design is slim, but well written, giving a complete introduction to the core concepts and theories behind gamification. As a relatively new subject, the core concepts and theories can only be introduced superficially; however these are reinforced through the book by the use of relevant examples and case studies, including Nike and Yahoo, and exercises for the reader, inspired by the work of Amy Jo Kim. The audience therefore seems to be for start-ups and SMEs who are looking to integrate game concepts in order to make their product ‘viral’, and have the power to implement and iterate relatively untested ideas.

The book suffers from a relatively abrupt ending – the last two chapters are code examples, ironically sponsored by a company who add badges to websites, and the book lacks a conclusion or motivational end-note to inspire the reader to forge ahead with implementing gamification.

Regardless, the book introduces many interesting ideas throughout, and answers many questions about the relatively new field, for example the benefits of dual currency models in games such as Farmville or Tiny Tower, that cash is less of a motivator (for some player types) than recognition and status, and the benefits of a good tutorial (a topic that Vertical Slice have been talking about recently).

Ultimately, Gamification by Design is a very digestible introduction to the field of gamification.  Regardless of gamification’s validity, it’s undeniable that many companies have invested heavily in these techniques to great success, and the authors are highly knowledgeable. This book is enough to get the reader up to speed on all the leading theories that influence gamification, and allows the reader to start planning how to implement similar mechanics in their own products. Therefore, as an introduction to gamification, I cannot recommend it enough.


150 150 Steve Bromley
1 Comment
  • Hey Steve, thanks for this pointer. I can see how this is becoming a hot topic, particularly in e-learning for example.

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