I've bought the book Gamification by design authored by Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham thanks to a daily deal of O'Reilly. The deal consisted in an early release of the book and the videos Gamification Master Class. I like games, notably board, role playing and video ones. I am interested in game mechanics, especially for role playing games. I was naturally curious to learn about this new buzzy, trendy topic: Gamification. It smells like serious games but with more background. I wanted to make my own opinion. So, I bought it.

In the following, I'll not talk a lot about the topic - perhaps I will in a future post - but about the book and the videos. It is a simple review from a neophyte. If you want reviews made by experts, please check this post listing several reviews, debates and discussions - even by Gabe himself.

I've started with the videos. I've enjoyed them a lot. Gabe is a good teacher and the course is very well structured with many examples and exercises. The whole course is divided in fourteen chapters from basics to some technical considerations, by explaining deeper some classic game mechanics. The exercises  are simple and allow you to get the principles Gabe exposes. But Gabe doesn't teach you a true methodology to design gamification in your application, i.e. the engagement of users and how to resolve problems by using game mechanics. It's true that you can include all those mechanics in your application. But what you have, in my honest opinion, is just a bunch of technics. You can replicate them and mimic some gamification, but it is not a true design. I mean you have no plan, convention, or methodology to build a gamified system and resolve engagement issues such as user conversion or participation. Gabe only gives you some tips, ideas, concepts, and  technics, but no abstract approach to effectively and objectively build the gamification. I then thought it was an introductory course, a very great one. I hoped that the book would give me the answers I waited.

The book is composed of eight chapters, about 150 pages in total. Well, enough pages to go in details. But the first fifth chapters deal with all the topics presented in the videos. Sometimes, it is exactly the same content and structure. It was very boring to read again what I've watched before, especially with no real additional and worthy information. After you read those chapters, you have some good idea what Gabe means by gamification. You can even list some technics allowing to resolve some specific issues and illustrate them. But the design in itself is still not explained. When I reached the sixth chapter, after more than a half of the book, the title Gamification Case Studies let me believe the design will be finally tackled. But the chapter only presents and details several real world cases thanks to the concepts and technics presented in the previous chapters. I still read until the seventh chapter. I was champing at the bit. The seventh and eighth chapters have titles beginning with the word "Tutorial". Probably, the good ones to talk about design. But it is not. Those chapters talk about programming and how to implement specific technics. I was very disappointed. The book doesn't really talk about design.

As I said above, I mean by design a method, a way to build a given system. Software architects design softwares thanks to

  • concepts: abstraction, modularity, data structure
  • considerations: availability, security, robustness
  • language: UML, flowchart
  • patterns: common way to resolve specific problem

But there are just design blocks. It is not enough. Software achitects can design a software thanks to a methodology that describes the software life cycle, i.e. how and when the design occurs and interacts with other development steps. When I've finished this book, I have some concepts, some considerations, and nearly some patterns. But I have no clue how to proceed, which plan to follow, what to measure or to test, where I can begin, or how to exactly state the problem.

As conclusion, it is a good book introducing the gamification, and some of the theories behind. It gives you the elements to study farther this field, and allows you to build your own opinion about it. That's all. Maybe the field is too young and not yet well defined enough to talk about design. I don't know. But it's definitively not a book about design.