Learning from Games

Brent Simmons:

«Gamification» is a word and concept invented by idiocrats who confuse humane with manipulative.

There are many problems with «gamification», but I don’t think this is one of them. Essentially, all UI design is about manipulating users, whether you’re coming up with the most easily understood button labels that will get people to click on the correct button, the most readable typeface that will get people to read your essay, or design ideas taken from videogames.

The goal of UI design is to get people to use our products successfully. That’s «manipulating people».

I suspect that «gamification» makes people uncomfortable because it’s associated with Skinner box type games like FarmVille and World of Warcraft, games that can be actively harmful to their players, and manipulate them into doing things that go against their own best interests. But the idea of taking design hints from games itself is value-neutral.

Like all UI design, it can be used for good or evil, to help people or to hurt them.

Presumably, users of apps like EpicWin or services like RunKeeper actively demand to be «manipulated». Stackoverflow «manipulates» people into being productive citizens and contributors. Is that really bad, or disrespectful, or even fundamentally different from UI design that doesn’t take cues from games?

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If you liked this, you'll love my book. It's called Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web. In it, I cover the whole design process, from user research and sketching to usability tests and A/B testing. But I don't just explain techniques, I also talk about concepts like discoverability, when and how to use animations, what we can learn from video games, and much more.

You can find out more about it (and order it directly, printed or as a DRM-free ebook) on the Pragmatic Programmers website. It's been translated to Chinese and Japanese.