Gamification: Press Button, Receive Bacon?

Disclaimer: The author is not a professional psychiatrist, psychologist, or even a degree-holder in psychology. If you think you might be a button-pressing rodent, seek professional help.

Part of my role at my real-life job is to suggest how various tools of the game industry might be leveraged for uses outside the game industry. One of those tools is "Gamification". This term is actually pretty loaded, and - especially among game designers - can carry a negative connotation.

Game designers often pride themselves on telling a story through narrative and immersion. However, in the mid-2000s, a school of "behaviorist" game designers - largely from marketing and advertising backgrounds - began large-scale adaptation of of gaming's mechanics to make things that they were working on more interesting, more engaging, and more immersive. Game designers, on one hand, saw this as a shallow, hollow version of what they did, and resented that it soon started generating interest from corporations eager to make their products more effective.

Gamification experts, on the other hand, saw this as a critical tool to reach customers and help them through things that might otherwise be dull, difficult, or unmotivating. Gamification also had the advantage from a business perspective of being relatively repeatable and reusable. And besides, implementation after implementation of mechanisms like scoring, leaderboards, achievements, and the like showed provable improvements in concrete measurements, from completion of tasks to website traffic to enrollment in services.

So what does this have to do with EVE Online? Quite a bit actually. The term "Gamification" has evolved quite a bit since those early days to mean anything game-related, from game usage for ends other than entertainment, to social interactions, to forum recognition seeking. But for the purposes of this discussion, we'll stick to the original emergent definition of the term, circa 2006. In short, it heavily leveraged what psychologists call operant conditioning - a term coined by psychologist BF Skinner in 1937. EVE - and many MMOs - leverage operant conditioning mechanics to keep you coming back.

Rhavas is the author of the Interstellar Privateer blog. He is a wormhole pilot with Sleeper Social Club, an EVE Online lore geek and a former Lowsec pirate.