When to Avoid Gamification

Gamification is a powerful motivational tool that can transform the engagement in your classroom, company or website while increasing the enjoyment of the task. If it can do all this, why wouldn’t we want to apply aspects of gaming to everything?

While gamification can bring spectacular results, there are 3 situations when it can actually cause more harm than good.

  1. The task has no clear start or end point
  2. There is already enough motivation
  3. Happiness is not increased

Reason #1 – It isn’t a start-end task

A start-end task is any assignment that has a clearly identified starting point, and a definite end point. Gamification awards users for reaching specific targets or goals. If there is no clear goal, adding game mechanics will not only be pointless, but it will add unnecessary elements that will waste the user’s time.

Is it a start-end task?

  • Is there a reason for doing this task?
  • Is there a specific starting point?
  • What tasks must they complete?
  • When will the goal be accomplished?

Reason #2 – Sufficient Motivation

Gamification excels at increasing motivation, but sometimes the task already has enough motivation.

Not everything adds motivation
Does it increase motivation?

If you are kayaking down a raging river, you probably don’t need any additional motivation to keep your boat upright. In fact, any manipulation to gamify the experience will likely lead to the opposite result.

Adding gamification to tasks with ‘enough’ motivation will actually decrease productivity, happiness, and the intrinsic motivation to finish.

Is there already enough motivation?

  • Will adding gamification reduce the seriousness of the task?
  • Is this a critical situation?
  • Are there extreme time constraints?

Gamification adds delays, and often extra steps. In most situations these delays are a reward for the user, but in critical moments the last thing your user wants to see is a message informing them “You have earned the 5 min before the deadline badge.

Reason #3 – The Happy Factor

Gamification should bring an increase in happiness.  The increase in happiness leads to the increase in motivation. Adding badges, points, quests, or levels just because “gamification is cool” could lower their worth, and certainly will not be effective in the long run. In order for gamification to increase happiness, reward mechanics need to be meaningful and well thought out. It’s a double edged sword. On the one side, if well designed it will increase motivation, boost happiness and improve results. On the other it can waste user’s time, increase complexity, and lead to a higher failure rate.

  • How will this increase a user’s happiness?

When we stop and ask ‘how’ a gamification mechanic will increase our user’s happiness, great things start to happen. Instead of meaningless points and badges, we begin to create meaningful rewards that provide the gift of dopamine to our user’s brains. 🙂

Before concluding, there is one important aspect that deserves being mentioned…

Bonus: Unethical behaviors

Gamification must only be a tool to promote ethical behaviors. Triggering the gambling gene to manipulate users into the desired behavior is an example of an unethical use of gamification.


With great power comes great responsibility – Benjamin Parker

The Open Gamification Code of Ethics is a great place to learn about the proper use of Gamification. We will also be writing about this on our own blog,

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