Note — Sep 27, 2020

The Gamification of Games

Most people tend to think of gamification as using gaming tricks and concepts to make other products and services more interesting. Ulysses Pascal positions it also as a series of techniques to extract more data from players, and argues that most gamification is added on top of games and not necessary for the functioning of it. It’s a form of quantification of our lives through games, like so much of digital these days, it’s always about getting more data. Pascal starts with a history of games and gamification and, to my mind, makes it a bit too nefarious. As I’ve mentioned before around capitalism, it’s not a grand scheme from the beginning, making it look like it just weakens the point.

With games, measuring performance and adding tricks to keep people engaged was fine as long as we bought games and they were not communicating back to the companies making them. When the context changes and games are connected to the net, sometimes even provided and only available through it, then companies start splitting their intent; delivering a great game on one side, and finding other monetization avenues on the other. That’s where they start edging into Zuckerbergian territory, which is very well explained and sourced in the piece.

Achievements and rewards reduce the heterogeneous experience of different players playing different games to a common currency, allowing platforms to gather and compare data across all the games their systems can run. […]

The company GameAnalytics boasts the ability to collect and analyze data on 850 million monthly active players across 70,000 game titles. […]

In fact, every gaming platform is now designed to collect numerous data points, as their privacy policies specify. This includes account information, payment information, user content, messages, contacts, device identifiers, network identifiers, location, achievements, scores, rankings, error reporting, and feature usage as well as maintaining the right to share or resell the data to third parties. […]

Numerous academic papers purport to have discovered statistically significant relations between users’ behavior in games and outside them. Several academic research papers have concluded that “a video game can be used to create an adequate personality profile of a player.” […]

Google and Amazon’s move into cloud gaming integrates the data-generating power of games with their existing data-collecting empires. Games are important assets because of the unique affordances they offer to attention retailers: surveillance, control, and undivided attention.