The (short) prehistory of “gamification”…
Here’s a little story that hasn’t yet been told, hope you find it interesting!
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Though I wrote my first computer game waaay back in 1981, by 1999-2000 I’d grown disenchanted with the near-abusively one-sided way things worked in the industry. Given that one major games publisher tried (unsuccessfully, thank goodness) to sue me for £2.56m while another cancelled a big project days after approving a full-on milestone, you can see why that would be. Hence I decided to do an MBA: this was partly to try to salvage anything worthwhile from the bruising experiences I’d had, but mainly as a form of lightweight business therapy. 🙂
At the same time, I also started to move away from games into an unfashionable mix of embedded development and business analysis. So at some point during late 2002, I put all these pieces together [in a buggy-whip ‘core competency’ kind of way] and began to wonder whether the kind of games user-interface I had been developing for so long could be used to turbo-charge all manner of transactions and activities on commercial electronic devices – in-flight video, ATM machines, vending machines, mobile phones, etc. Unsurprisingly, this was the point when I coined the deliberately ugly word “gamification“, by which I meant applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast. Note that I was much more interested in applying gamification ideas to electronic devices than to the Web back then: just as now, I wanted to build physical things and to make them fun and effective to use.
All of which is why in 2003 (9th April) I founded a one-man consultancy called Conundra Ltd specifically with the idea of pursuing gamification, though I eventually dissolved it in 2006 (17th October) after eliciting no significant customer interest. Here’s a copy of the original 2003/2004 Conundra webpage, which should give a fuller idea of what I was aiming for (though note that the email link there doesn’t actually work, I gave up the conundra.co.uk domain loooong ago.)
Ultimately, the little genuine gamification work I did was essentially restricted to developing a couple of 3d casual games (3D Pool, 3D Chess) for a mobile phone platform that was never directly released (the Alphamosaic VC01). Sure, these games coupled particularly easy interfaces with high-gloss rendering technologies (direct-maths raytracing on a 16-bit array processor!), but the particular vision of gamification I had briefly glimpsed back in 2002 was simply a decade too early. Besides, the whole MBA mindset that tends to drive such high-concept business ideas was already on the downward slide by then… but that’s a story for another day.
So as far as “gamification” goes, I devised [I believe] the term, tried to make money from it, failed miserably, pulled out long before anyone else used it, and that was pretty much the end of my involvement. Oh well! 🙂
…but there’s a follow-on. Having then joined the CCTV industry and then started to develop my own innovative kind of small ‘speed dome’ security camera (hence ‘nano-dome’, doh!), it only struck me a little while ago that what I was doing was at heart a curious kind of culmination of the gamification path I had started out on way back in 2002. For PTZs – keyboard-steered cameras – are essentially a kind of industrial videogame, and one of the key things I was aiming for with the control software in my own camera was to make it what I would call ‘properly interactive’. And what would that make it but a truly gamified device?
Of course, I may have missed the biggest gamification boat of all (mobile phones), because in many ways Apple picked up the whole gamification UX ball and ran further with it than anyone else. So however much I like Dieter Rams’ designs, I’d argue that maybe the real secret behind Apple’s iWhatever devices isn’t Jonathan Ive’s aesthetic but the underlying idea of gamification – making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use. Automating sprezzatura, one might say. Put in those terms, perhaps the full societal rollout of gamification has only now just begun, hmmm?