Gamification is one of those relatively new terms that describe something marketers have been doing for years –enticing customers with a level of interactivity.  Recently the old tactic of putting the baseball card with the gum has breached into the web in. Web professionals have been borrowing concepts and philosophies from the gaming industry to create user experiences that actively engage the user vs. passively present information. Introducing badges, point systems, or leaderboards make users want to actively participate in the site which can be used to convert users to customers.

And therein lies the problem with gamification. Users, when introduced to game elements in websites, become hyper aware of contrived attempts to make them buy things. Gamification is best dealt with lightly, a subtle approach that doesn’t explicitly exist to create conversion. A duplicitous approach that tries to get users to do something they might not otherwise do could wind up hurting in the long term, and goes against concepts of good user experience philosophy.

Instead, gamification should be used like spice, just enough to enhance the dish, not enough to overpower the main ingredients. Take a sign up process. Part of any game is a goal, in this case it’s going to be the completion of the sign up process. In order to get a little more content, break the sign up form into segments, and add some emotional design to really get some resonance with the user.  Add in a status bar that keeps track of the user’s progress and make certain parts, like learning how to use the service the site provides, interactive.

Typically making a process more complicated goes against traditional user experience, but I don’t think we lose too much by breaking up the process into easily digestible chunks, especially if we add in things like emotional design and gamification to make the user want more process to explore. Also, it’s not as if this exact process hasn’t been tried before, some site are using a similar model to teach new users how the site works.

Ultimately, gamification should be used to add a little special something to the user’s experience of a site.