Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 21, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 21, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Gamification Design vs Game Design
by Andrzej Marczewski on 04/22/14 07:45:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


It is no secret that I would love to get the games industry to become more involved in gamification and have spoken to many people in the industry about it. Ian Bogost refered to my original plea as a “gentle form of terrorism” saying that  it was like me saying to the games industry

If you don’t like me crapping on your shoes, then teach me how to use the toilet.

However, generally there is a feeling that there is a middle ground, but that it may be too hard to find for it to be beneficial to anyone.

This got me to thinking why? Then it hit me, it is all in the purpose of design. I know this should have been obvious, but I can be slow at times.

As well as designing gamified concepts, I also dabble in game design. My wildly popular game Cops ‘n’ Robbers was a huge hit in my living room in the early part of 2000. I have made little games that some of you have played here and am in the process of creating a card game with the help of my 7 year old daughter. With this in mind, I have a pretty good vision of both design processes and they are pretty different in parts.

Game Design.

When creating a game, you tend to start with a basic idea. It may just be a theme you wish to explore, it could be an interesting mechanic you want to flesh out into a full game or you could have the whole game in your head start to finish. However the idea starts life, you pursue it because you think it will be enjoyable for you or others to play.

You then start to put the idea together into something coherent. You prototype the basic mechanics and game-play elements.

Next you experiment with how they fit together, why dynamics appear out of what combinations. You work out the themes and the story. Basically you put the meat on the bones of game, then the polish.

Along the way, depending on how you want to manage the game, you will consider collecting metrics from the game. This may be part of a continual improvement plan, it may be part of a monetisation plan.

Eventually after play testing and multiple iterations you have a final game ready for the mass population to play.

You measure the success by how much people enjoy the game. Depending on the scale of the game, you will also have to measure sales.

Gamification Design.

When creating a gamified system, you start with an objective. This may be employee engagement, it may be increasing sales of a product. However, the goal is to meet that objective.

Next, depending on how you feel you can best meet that objective, you start to design your system. First and foremost in many systems will be the metrics you need to collect. The metrics are what will allow you to know if you are on target to meet the objective or not.

You consider what gamification elements and mechanics will best help you achieve the goal and start to put them into your system.

You will probably take into account how different user types react to different elements and experiment with them on test groups of users. Using the metrics you are collecting you will balance the system to drive the best and most efficient results you can.

After multiple iterations you release the product.

You measure success by how many people reach your original objective.

At least this is how all game designers think we do things – sadly in many cases, they are right.


It looks from this like there is no middle ground at all. Game design starts from the desire to make something that people will enjoy. In Gamification design, you are making something that will achieve a particular goal.

In game design, metrics are not always a main focus of a game – at least at the initial conception. In gamification design, metrics are what your system will live and die for.

In game design you use mechanics, themes and more to help to make the game more enjoyable. In gamification design you add things that will help drive the user towards your business objective.

Gamification design vs Game Design
Gamification design vs Game Design



However, I still feel that there is a commonality. Whilst it seems the goals are mutually exclusive, they may not be in reality. Game design does have an objective – the objective is to create a game that is enjoyable, even if it is only you who finds it so. So everything you do is driven by this goal. You add and remove ideas as you find they work or don’t work.

Gamification design is no different. The goal may not be “fun”, but it is to make something less difficult or tedious to do. Gamification is often about lowering a barrier to achievement in some way.

Working together, we could re-align parts of the journey. Yes, the reason for creating a gamified system will always be different to creating a game as will the general process. However, there is no reason we can’t meet in the middle and maybe push mechanics and gameplay design a little higher in the minds of gamifiers.

Related Jobs

Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Senior UI Artist (temporary) Treyarch
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Lead UI Artist
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

UI Artist/Visual Designer (temporary) Treyarch
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Senior Character Artist (temporary) - Treyarch


Bannister Nicholas
profile image
I've been following Gamification from a Games Designer point of view for some time, but the last 6 months, I've been noticing more and more that the key problem is what you have addressed, Metrics.

Games are not designed to make Metrics, the fun is not in the metrics, people don't play for score, they might re-play to compare score, but often score is an arbitrary value after play... its an appendix of Arcade times when the designers needed a reason to bring you back to play again.. to defend your title. You knew for yourself how 'far' you got, because you got that far yourself.. Score was only if you needed to prove it to someone else.

Often, games evolve around these metrics, and wonder why their lifecycle is so poor, Zynga games often have a 3-6 month cycle before the bulk of their users have moved on.. I'm not the first to say this.. games built around Metrics and Business Models are usually bad games with shiny covers.

Never judge a book by its cover, needs to upgrade to Never judge a game by its graphics & metrics. It has to stand alone on its fun.

Gamification needs to do the same, not introduce metrics to motivate, but understand the task as a game in the first place. When Gamification can get rid of that whole red line (in your diagram) It'll start becoming something meaningful and less of a groan point when people bring it up.

Alan Barton
profile image
"people don't play for score" ?

So what do they play for these days? ... Maybe I'm too old school and maybe I like arcade games too much, but saying "people don't play for score" doesn't compute with me?

If its not score, what do they play for these days?

Robin Gash
profile image
PSN/Xbox live/Steam achievements/trophies do serve as score as described. (metric for game progress/ bragging rights). A small subset of players do play for them. They cause other issues; massive time sink, completing some will break game balance (thus making the game less fun) e.g. due to overleveling.

Players of competitive multiplayer games often compete for metric values, either a ranking value or Kills to Deaths (or win:loss) ratio. League of Legends has a system gamifying players' good behaviour (you can award players a medal post match for being friendly/helpful, with indicators to fellow players if you receive a high number of them).

In a single player game, advancing the games narrative is often the main objective/reward mechanic. If you finish the game once that's it. It's either disposable or engaging enough for you to play again, like a TV series, film or a novel.

Josh Foreman
profile image
Most people play for an experience. That experience can be competitive, narrative, puzzle solving, etc. And sometimes beating scores. But as stated above, the arcade game is mostly a niche nowadays.

Ara Shirinian
profile image
You can also consider there is middle ground whenever players are intrinsically taught to perform the given activity with increasing skill. A system successfully accomplishing that creates interactions that people tend to say are fun and engaging. Of course this presumes both the gamified activity and the game activity are matters of skill in the first place.

John Donovan
profile image
The real problem is not that it is especially difficult but that the risk is too great. If a company funds a gamification project fine, but in general to do a project without a certain level of ROI and without spare resources to do so, is too risky. I devised a way to teach language using the FPS format, and doing it in a way which makes the learning fold into the background. It's clear from prototyping it needs several iterations to perfect, however, there's no market for it. It could take a year to create but it is anyone's guess as to what the sales would be although market research suggests not that great, anyway too great a risk to invest time and resources to do. So I don't believe gamification is that hard, it is more that it has several constraints that prohibit innovative design, one of those being financial, the other being a lack of understanding amongst clients who might commission a gamified design and the third being a difficulty in being able to research and iterate innovative designs without external pressure, be that a lack of funding, or interference from those who have no understanding of this type of process.

Andrzej Marczewski
profile image
Great comments. I was tempted to add another line for zynga style games but it was so close to the gamification line it was pointless!

Gamification is often missing heart, that is the biggest problem. It is used a solution to a problem that no one knew they had - rather than as a way to improve things.

Michael DiPonio
profile image
I don't think they're mutually exclusive goals at all; in fact I think it's the exact opposite.

All games have a goal, whether it's to finish the game, amass the highest score, or learn a new skill. The key to serious game design (not gamification) is developing the right mechanics and experience in order to get your player to want to reach that goal. Just as a game designed for non-business needs will fail if it's not fun, so too will it's business analogs.

People have to want to play your game, not have to play your game; otherwise there's no reason the goal couldn't be accomplished just as easily with a boring computer-based training module.

Nik Blumish
profile image
Thanks for the article. This is a topic that I'm actively researching within my company.

I see no logical reason why gamified systems can't be "fun", and why pure games can't have a metric-driven purpose. The issue appears to be a lack of communication between the game designers and business folk, who don't always understand that they can combine their strengths, achieving their individual goals while creating an all-around better product.

As one of those business folk, I understand that gaming has incredible potential for business applications precisely BECAUSE games are fun. Fun games lead to an engaged audience, and building an engaged audience is the first step for many business and marketing goals.

I think you're dead on, and that we'll start to see a lot more convergence between these two schools of thought over time.

David Serrano
profile image
This is slightly off topic but I have a question about the grey area between games and gamification.

If a game is a form and a subset of play, and if gamification is the use of game-play mechanics for non-play and non-game applications... if the rules and requirements of a game force the act of playing it outside the gamut (the complete range or scope) of what the average person in the audience can objectively define as play... is it still a game? Or will the game's rules and requirements transform it into a form of gamification?

In other words within the context of the reasonable expectations and preferences of an audience, if the majority of the people who buy or play a game can't objectively define the act of playing it as "play," did the designer / developer create a game? Or did they unintentionally (or intentionally) stray into a grey area between games and gamification?

Andrzej Marczewski
profile image

I have written about this sort of idea quite a lot. I think it comes down to intent. People can make a game out of anything really - just watch children playing with a penny!

I see the split as the intention of the design. So if it is meant to entertain and be played by people to entertain them - it is a game. If it's purpose is to change a behaviour by using parts of games in traditionally non game contexts - it is gamification. If it is deliberately designed as a game, but one with a "serious" purpose (like genes in space) it is a serious game. Those are just my thoughts though!!