That was the tech buzz word of 2011, but in recent months, the term seems to be waning. Largely inspired by viral videos featuring game designers like Jesse Schell and Jane McGonigal, the mush-mouthed neologism was coined to describe the use of game-like mechanics such as RPG leveling to increase consumer and employee engagement online.
And while a number of gamification-related startups like Badgeville and
still seem to be doing well, general excitement around the category has evidently ebbed. According to Google Trends, “gamification” as a search term has plateaued over the last 12 months and, in the middle of 2012, news references to it are in outright decline.
As an advisor at this year’s South by Southwest conference, I saw a noticeable decrease in panel pitches about gamification, and I heard the word a whole lot less during SXSW party chatter. During her 2012 appearance at SXSW, I heard McGonigal strongly distancing herself from the term.
Jane McGonigal. Photo: Joi.
According to Rajat Paharia, chief product officer at Bunchball, there is no dearth of gamification at all: “I haven't looked at Google Trends in a long time,” he tells me by email. “But I do have daily Google Alerts on ‘gamification’ and… I can't keep up.”
He cites reports by firms like Gartner and M2 Research, which have predicted the gamification industry as a $2 billion to $3 billion market. As for Bunchball in particular, the company has enjoyed “a series of record quarters and the addition of many Fortune 500 customers,” Paharia claims.
Indeed, Kevin Akeroyd, VP of field operations for Badgeville, points out that the company just announced its Series C funding round (an impressive $25 million). “VCs were clamoring to take part in our Series C, because the gamification market is skyrocketing,” he says.
Akeroyd also says that news the term is waning on Google Trends isn’t surprising. “Like any new technology, the term itself went through a quick phase of heightened attention in searches, but from a business perspective, we see nothing but growth for the industry based on sheer volume of inbound leads and sales.”
He says his company increased revenue 300 percent year-over-year, adding clients like Deloitte and NBC, which now use Badgeville to power their gamification programs. He added: “Some of these businesses do not even use the term gamification, and focus more on reputation and reward, but this doesn’t change the fact that the techniques are gaining mass adoption across the enterprise, with no signs of stopping.”
This suggests an interesting interpretation: It’s possible the term "gamification" itself is waning, because as large companies add gamification systems to their infrastructure, it’s no longer necessary to use the word as a way of explaining what they are. (And it’s such an awkward mouthful, I doubt many people enjoy saying it anyway).
Beyond this, there’s probably another trend at work. As I see it, the dominant social networks that consume most of our time online already have enough implicit game mechanics built into their designs. Hardcore Twitter users push to raise the number of their followers and the number of times they get retweeted. Avid Facebook users enjoy seeing the number of “Likes” their latest vacation photos earn, or how many times the latest Internet meme they shared is subsequently reshared. For most, this level of gamification is probably sufficient for their daily Internet use.
A number of new startups are leveraging these existing social media mechanics. Witness Klout, which is not a gamification company, but a social media analytics firm that converts your Twitter and Facebook activity into a numbered ranking that signifies your overall influence online.
Klout is pretty much an MMO-style leveling system. And its growing popularity suggests just how seamlessly gamified structures have already merged into our everyday lives online -- because, according to Google Trends, interest in the term "Klout" is currently outstripping the heck out of gamification (and good riddance).
— Wagner James Au is a writer and consultant in social media and gaming. Follow him on Twitter: @SLHamlet.