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Kevin Werbach, For the Win

Gamification put simply, involves bringing game elements and design techniques into non-game contexts. After reading up on the concept for the past couple of years, I’m still not sure how it works.

So I thought it would be fun to talk to one of the key thinkers in this area, Kevin Werbach. Kevin is a business professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and he’s also a technology analyst and consultant. His new book, For the Win, really examines what gamification is, and explores its upsides and downsides. I figured he’d help me make up my mind once and for all as to just how useful gamification really is.

In this interview, Kevin and I discuss:

(Scroll down for more in-depth podcast notes.)

Listen to my interview with Kevin Werbach.

0:01:37: Michael and Kevin discuss what gamification entails, and how applying game design techniques, elements or structures into non-game contexts, such as work, school or exercise, can create a more immersive and engaging experience.

0:5:28: Kevin explains that gamification provides valuable insights about what motivates people on a psychological level. He touches on self-determination theory, pointing out that people have been found to be motivated more by internal rewards (e.g., fun) than external rewards (e.g., money). Michael observes that, when it comes to incorporating gamification into business design, it’s important to strike a balance between meeting measurable objectives and facilitating fun.

0:10:46: Kevin distinguishes between appropriate, or necessary, motivation vs. unnecessary motivation. He and Michael discuss the notion of “high-fructose corn syrup” motivation, and point out that gamification is best applied when it can offer “fun for a purpose” and lead to long-term success, rather than a short-term “spike” that isn’t inherently engaging.

0:15:39: Michael asks Kevin why feedback is important to gaming and gamification. Kevin explains that feedback helps encourage learning and progress by outlining parameters and letting people know that they can engage and experiment without fear of failure.

0:17:56: Kevin recommends a number of resources for people who are interested in deepening their understanding of gamification. He points out that “fun is one of the most complex, challenging concepts in the world,” and that getting better at creating and understanding fun can lead to greater success in non-game contexts.

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