Gartner is Soooooo Wrong about Gamification…

Brian Burke just published an updated definition of Gamification, trying to clarify what gamification is and what is not. According to this new “official” definition of Gamification by Gartner, gamification is “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”. And, as many other important voices in the gamification world (see the comments by Andrzej Marczewski, Mario Herger, Roman Rackwitz, etc. in the comments of the post), I find this new definition both wrong and confusing.

Digitally Engage?

I agree with most of the comments in Brian Burke’s post. If we limit gamification to what is in the digital world, we are loosing a lot of interesting applications of gamification, for example gamification in the classroom, where it’s usually implemented using physical and not digital technologies (because they’re cheaper in most cases, and easier to understand by kinds).

Brian defends this limitation by telling that “We limit of definition of gamification to being digital to distinguish “what’s new” about the trend”, but that’s even more wrong.

I don’t think that we have to separate what’s new from what’s old in a new trend. All the trends get old ideas and transform them to be adapted in a new environment. But when something gets trendy, it helps people to understand the underlying concepts, and most times people discover the trend but finally uses what is less actual but more convenient for their needs. It doesn’t make sense, as it wouldn’t make sense to limit the “Internet of Things” to devices that doesn’t use RFID because RFID technology is old. What is important is the underlying concept, and the mainstream acceptance of those concepts, not the technologies used.

In fact, a simple but pretty old technology such as a spoon and simulating an airplane to engage our kids when they don’t want to eat is, probably, the biggest application of gamification in terms of “number of players”, so if we limit the definition of gamification to the digital world, we will be loosing past and also possible future examples that will impact the life of thousands of million of people.


In fact, I think we don’t live in the digital or the real world. Nowadays, our reality is mixed between two realities, and we need to mix those realities in any trend. As an example, Commerce evolved to eCommerce as Internet got mainstream, and now most retailers are trying to create what they call omni-channel experiences. That means that they are trying to mix all the possible channels to create a unique experience, not matter how the customer connects to us. And most pure online retailers are opening algo physical retail stores to be able to provide a more meaningful experience. So, in the eCommerce world, we are moving to the Commerce Era, an era with no separation of digital and physical challenges.

But that example of the eCommerce evolution back to connect to the physical commerce, is a trend that we will see in the next years applied to everything. In fact, most of the most interesting trends we are starting to analyze are trends that connect the physical and the digital world: 3D printing, wearable devices, internet of everything, etc. So if we live in the era where both realities are connecting, why limiting any trend to only part of our reality?

Gamification includes Games?

I have read Burke’s definition a lot of times, and for me it’s a confusing definition. According to that definition, a videogame is gamification, a serious game is gamification, and advergame is gamification. Although I consider that serious games must be considered part of the gamification trend, because they use game elements to engage users for a purpose that is not the game itself, I don’t like advergames and games (including videogames) to be considered gamification.

In fact, that would contradict Brian Burke’s response to the criticism about Gartner’s definition, because ogames are pretty old too! Games are games; games are the seed of gamification because the have been able to create mechanics that are able to engage players in such a form that make them really powerful. Videogames can’t be part of the gamification definition as traditional education can’t be a part of eLearning definition. We need a definition that clearly states that videogames are not gamification, because the purpose of gamification is not to make people play and get fun, but to engage them using game mechanics so they can achieve goals that are not in the context of the game itself.

Other definitions

In the comments of Burke’s post, there are several other definitions of gamification that I think are better than what Gartner proposes. Mario Herger, proposes a traditional definition of Gamification: “Gamification is the use of game design elements in a non-game context“. This traditional definition lacks on an important element that is addressed in Burke’s definition: the need for an experience design to describe how players interact with game elements to achieve their goals.

This definition is similar to the definitions proposed by Andrzej Marczewski:

  • The application of game mechanics to non game tasks to improve motivation, promote engagement or to drive desired behaviours
  • The application of gaming metaphors to real life tasks to influence behaviour, improve motivation and enhance engagement

Herger also proposes a more elaborated definition: “Gamification is an empathy-based process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences to teach, engage, entertain, measure to support players’ overall value creation to indirectly support entities’ overall value creation” which I think is a pretty good definition but hard to understand for a more general audience.

Roman Rackwitz proposes the definition they use at Engaginglab: “Gamification means to reverse-engineering what makes game-like engagement successful and graft it into business environment“. From my perspective, this definition, as the more classical definition proposed by Mario Herger, lacks on the need for a experience design so we can distinguish from applications that add game elements because “they are cool” from applications that make use of game elements because they solve some of their engagement problems.

When talking to people that doesn’t know what gamification is, I like to use a vague definition that helps me to connect the audience: “gamification is making everyday tasks fun“. I know that can’t be used as a definition of the trend, because it lacks precision and it’s really ambiguous. But I think it can be used to generate a more precise definition, that should be understandable for most people, but precise enough to stablish what is gamification and what is related to gamification but is not gamification itself. So, I propose the next definition:

Gamification is the process of designing fun user experiences in non-game context by means of game mechanics and experience design

What’s good about Burke’s post is that it has enabled a discussion about definition of gamification in the community of gamification professionals, and I think it would be interesting to organize a session in the Gamification World Congress to discuss about this definition.

Update: Andrzej Marczewski has posted a similar post also discussing his opinnions about Gartner’s definition of Gamification. Must read:

  • Andrzej Marczewski
  • jccortizo

    Thanks, Andrzej! Just linked your post to allow further discussion!

  • Andrzej Marczewski

    I actually quite like the current definition on Wikipedia – it used to be terrible, but “Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.” is pretty good.

  • Juan Valera Mariscal

    I agree both, Gartner is a limited definition.
    Pues 🙂

  • Michiel van Eunen

    I do like this definition, but why would you limit the definition to ‘solving problems’. Isn’t it in core about ‘changing behaviour’?

  • jccortizo

    I think that Gamification is more related to motivation and engagement (to solve problems, achieve goals, etc.) than to changing behavior. Most gamification applications have as main goal to change a behavior, but for instance, when you apply gamification to sales force, you don’t want to change the behavior of the people, you want to give them additional motivation to continue doing what they do, or improving the results of their tasks, but their actual behavior is going to be the same

  • Andrzej Marczewski

    I think it is all a matter of perspective. I view most things as problem solving lol. With behaviour change, the problem is the behaviour. So you have to solve that problem – gamification is one method 😀

  • Christian Buckley

    While it may be a semantic point, I too dislike the ‘solving problems’ description alone, but prefer the more inclusive ‘solving problems and influencing behaviors.’ I suppose you could say that motivating people to more proactively fill out forms based on their leaderboard placement or lack of points solves the “problem” of people not following process, but in my mind its more about encouraging people to change their behavior to better align with the business policies and processes.

  • Andrzej Marczewski

    Hey Christian. I agree and yet have just changed my definition to remove almost everything I used to include. This is a personal preference though!
    The use of game elements and design metaphors to solve problems.

    With clients I would probably add “such as engagement, motivation and compliance” 😉

    Andrzej Marczewski
    Sent from my mobile device

  • Var Sahakyan

    I am an artist, social worker, marketer, salesman – I have studied 6 times and have a collection of degrees across fields. After all this- what has brought me to gamification is the potential to unite all of it – because it is all possible. And someone can come and say that gamification is about digital. That’s just like taking all the beauty away from this fantastic engagement engine.

  • Lennart Bolduan

    Do not let them put us in the digital corner! Gamification is not about “new media” (<- Love that, soo oldshool) infact it`s as old as humanity and is so much more. It's somhow magic like chinese medicine – it works, it's hard to explain, it's about a holistic approach to engage and to make tasks worth doing – EVERYWHERE, your kichen, your classroom, your car, even in a relationship or of course at work.

    The Gartner Institute is one of my favorites – but this definition is killing first mover movement and putting an end to the gamification boom!

    Please change it Gartner! …or we'll start a Game! 🙂

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  • Chris van den Berg

    I don’t agree on the “Fun” part. Frustration can be a big motivator within game design. If i should make an definition, the next keywords should be in: Feedback, Communication (an language everyone understand), Game elements, tasks….

    I will write also on blog on this 🙂 Nice work!

  • jccortizo

    Totally agree, Chris, there are other motivators such as frustration. But for me frustration and other motivators can also be used to create a fun experience in the long run. Create a short fun experience is “easy” but when you want to create a more deep experience you need to make it tough for the user sometimes (that’s the flow) and that’s when frustration (for example) can be used.

    Looking forward to read your post 😉