Ian Bogost shines a dim light on the recent trend in product and service development around quantifying user experience, a trend he calls “exploitationware.” He begins his article by speaking about this trend by its more commonly used name, “gamification,” and focuses his argument on the “game” as well as the “-ify” qualifier added to it. I see issues with both aspects of his argument but will limit my provocation to just one: the linkage between gamification and games, and Bogost’s treatment of games as magical and powerful entities.
First, I’d like to point out that the type of exploitative behaviors that Bogost condemns in the implementation of gamification is widespread in game design itself. Studies have shown that many “free-to-play” games – a pricing model that rakes in millions despite the use of the term “free” – are structured around techniques employed by gambling services to entice their customer to spend as much money as possible over a long period of time via small impulsive payments that cumulatively grow beyond what the same customer might spend in a single large sum. Considering that many of these games are marketed towards children, I consider this the epitome of exploitation.
Second, while the terminology around gamification does include many game-related concepts such as points, I do not see games themselves as being the motivators of non-gaming industries adopting gamification techniques. Whether in the case of frequent flyer miles, the number of followers on your Instagram, or the leaderboards your smartwatch displays after every run, these services and products are not being “gamified” but, rather, are being made more interactive through the quantification of the level of interaction that the consumer engages in. These techniques exist in simple methods such as the card from the coffee shop that records — and rewards — my purchases and are not at all directly linked to games themselves. Games can avoid using those methods and are just as likely, if not more so, to be exploitationware when they don’t.