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Gamification is not gaming

tetris-308986_1280By Cyril Fievet for AllTheContent News Agency

Adrian Hon, the creator of several highly successful mobile games, questions the widespread use of gamification, but sees a bright future for innovative fitness apps.

‘A good product does not need to be gamified. A book does not need to be gamified. Nor indeed does a game’, says Adrian Hon, CEO of Six to Start. The young CEO, who has also written ‘A History of the Future in 100 Objects’, spoke at LIFT15, an international event about innovation and digital technologies, held in Geneva in early February.

Gamification is the use of game mechanics in areas that might appear unrelated to the gaming world – marketing, learning, task optimisation – generally through reward systems acting as a tool for increasing engagement. More and more companies are now using this approach, with apps which are to a greater or lesser extent game based, targeting customers and prospects or seeking to improve worker performance.

‘Gamification is manipulation’, is Hon’s basic argument. He believes that gamification does not work in the long term and often simply serves to mask the poor quality of an app. By saying this he seems to be going against mainstream thinking.

Hon’s company, Six to Start, made a name for itself on the games apps developers scene with ‘Zombies, Run!’, a smartphone game for fitness enthusiasts. Users experience a virtual obstacle course (with zombies as the main obstacles), while practising their favourite physical activity. According to the company, more than 1 million copies of the game, available for iOS and Android devices, have been sold and users have clocked up more than 20 million km, duly recorded by the app.

Six to Start intends to keep breathing new life into the genre, exploring new ways of combining gaming and fitness, without falling back on ‘gamification’ gimmickry.

Late December saw the arrival of the Android version of ‘Superhero Workout’, a fitness app for smartphones designed to motivate users who are tasked with ‘defending Earth against alien invaders’, while counting the calories burnt by each exercise. And last month, the British company launched an online magazine called ‘The Burn’ that looks into the future of fitness, in the light of changing technologies and how they are used. ‘What does the future hold? It is certainly not the umpteenth way of counting how many steps you have taken today. But it could well be games which encourage your family to walk together more or gyms which know exactly how to motivate you or how to make your workouts less of a chore and more fun in a whole new way’, Hon writes in the magazine.

The way he sees it, extreme gamification is not the only false move in today’s digital world. The other threat comes from ‘newsfeedication’, that is the pervasive presence of continuous news feeds on apps and on the web, Hon argued in Geneva. The trend is now to play on the user’s fear of ‘missing something important’, which itself creates new addictions and even obsessions, he chastised, going as far as to compare Twitter to slot machines in casinos: users must watch hundreds of pointless news items scroll in front of their eyes before they alight on something that interests them – the jackpot.

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