inessential by Brent Simmons

‘Gamification’ sucks

I protect the word “gamification” by placing quotes around it. The quotes stop me from sneaking in with my knife, flicking the dot off the middle i, cutting the c in half, flensing the g, gutting the f like a fish.

“Gamification” is a word and concept invented by idiocrats who confuse humane with manipulative.

Theory about how the mistake gets made

Everybody sees the trend toward simpler, more-focused, better-designed software. Enterprise developers see the consumerization of IT.

You could look at this trend and say, “As software improves, it respects its users more. It works better and looks better, is easier to learn, and leaves out the things that waste a user’s time.”

Or you could look at this trend and say, “As software gets simpler, it gets dumbed-down — even toddlers can use iPads. Users are now on the mental level of children, and we should design accordingly. What do children like? Games.”


It should be obvious that one conclusion respects people and one doesn’t. It should also be obvious that the first conclusion is correct and the second is incorrect, cynical, and low.

I can’t prove that good software respects people, but I can look at good software and show how it respects people. I can look at bad software and show how it doesn’t respect people.

“Gamification” treats people like children — children who need to be manipulated, who need to be tricked into doing what’s good for them.

And it makes bad software.

My hope

If you ever think of adding “game mechanics” (don’t use that phrase) to your app, please take a moment and consider your ground. What is your outlook?

Do you want to make good software?

Or do you want to impress a boss, client, or VC with your trendy expertise?

Or is this just a hail-Mary play? You’re hoping that this finally is the key to “going viral?” (It’s not.)

I bet, having thought about it, you’ll do the right thing.

An exception

If you’re writing a game, write a game! Games are fun.