One of my buddies and fellow SAP Mentor Ethan Jewett wrote a thought-provoking piece about a topic currently seeing a lot of hype (especially here on SCN): gamification. For a change - I mostly agree with Ethan that points, badges or achievements are not the silver bullet to keep people engaged or motivated. At least not in the long run!
From my personal experience I can confirm that good storytelling and creative game-design is what keeps me engaged. One of my all-time favorites is Mass Effect: brilliant story and a great interaction design. What really makes the game special though is that it remembers the decisions you make throughout the game and there are multiple story lines, so no pre-determined path to trot down - but 'find your own'.
Another game that kept me up late at night has been the Forza Motorsport series. I spend a little fortune on hardware (wheel, club-sport metal pedals, ...) and it got really competitive at some point. I even ended up co-founding a racing team with players from all over the world. We participated in competitions and started to take over the leaderboards just to get our team handle on there. As Ethan said, you can really make friends that way! What fascinated me about Forza was the depth of the game, the complex game physic, which made you actually feel the car (especially once you got a buttkicker!)
But I'm getting carried away here... back on the topic: gamification.
The thing that separates great games from the rest of the pack is just the right level of difficulty. I want to be challenged - not bored! The right level of difficulty results in the fact that people feel they have accomplished something. Take sim-racing for example... boy, I sure spend hours on a particular track with a particular car just to get the perfect lap. I mean, not the #1 time or whatever, but my own personal perfect lap. It felt like Zen... you repeat something over and over again, just to make it (as) perfect (as you can.) It sure was a dang good feeling once you hit that lap and got your name (and your team's name) in the top 100 for everyone to see... Was that the motivating factor for me to spend all that time - to make it to the leaderboards? Sure not, but it added to it and it was a good feeling getting KUDOS from the rest of the squad (and the respect of the other players.)
So, no... you don't play games for these achievements (well, some do!), but if done properly they add in keeping one motivated. Just like work... I mean none of us works for the respect of our managers or peers, but out of intrinsic motivation (if not, find another job!). Yet, it sure is nice to get a 'well done' email once in a while.
Points, badges, awards, achievements (or any kind of perks for that matter) only add to the experience, but they won't be sufficient to make you keep your long term motivation or engagement. Yet, sometimes they can be the trigger to make you try one more time or just a little harder.
See at Forza for example there are several categories of car classes and plenty of tracks. There are leaderboards for every possible combination and even roll-ups (e.g. all tracks for a particular car class.) Now, I surely 'invested' some time to pull off a somewhat decent lap in some of my less favorite tracks/car classes just for the sake of a good overall time. If there would not have been an overall leaderboard I may would not have bothered (and would have never mastered some of these tracks.)
Same with other games: if I was only missing one or two badges I completed the related missions, just so that I got a perfect score and I sure would have missed out on some great story plots if I would not have done so. Consequently I believe that gamification of the enterprise does work - to some degree. If you do not like your job, no gamification system in the world can motivate you (for long!) Yet, if done right (and in a clever way) it may just be the motivation one needs to go the extra mile.
Let's take SCN for example: I do know of people who just wrote that extra blog to get 'Active Member' status. If there would not be such a status, they may would not have written that extra blog post (at that specific time.) To sum it up, gamification can work in the enterprise as it helps to encourage certain (wanted) behavior.
Example: assume we would have a 'good citizen' badge on SCN, which people would get for marking correct answers on questions they raised. I'm sure we would see more questions being marked as 'answered'. Now... would there be people gaming the system by posting questions so that they (or their buddies) can mark them as answered. Sure, there would. (All I can say to such people is "Common, get a life, folks!")
However, in total I think it would benefit the community as people would be more willing to answer questions raised by 'good citizens'. Add a 'help a newbie' badge to make sure that new people have a chance to get their questions answered as well. [Insert your own badge ideas here!]
So - will gamification help us to get all the people contributing to SCN? Probably not! But it may help to make the whole experience more pleasant for everyone by encouraging certain behavior that is in the best interest for the community as a whole.
PS: Oh, and that 'Journey' game sure looks interesting