The Trouble with Gameification

Recently, I decided to try and lose a few pounds, and in addition to some more exercise, I decided to pick up a calorie count app. Once I had completed my first day, it told me that I was on a one day streak, and in the following days that number only continued to increase. Then I inevitably let that streak hit zero, and was filled with a total loss of motivation. I noticed a lot of apps in both self-help and other areas have started gameifying their services in similar ways.


Snapchat streaks




Gameification is simply trying to make your service give users the feel of playing a game while you are using an app/ service/ or other. This has been picked up in a lot of productivity platforms and social media to put users into a positive feedback loop. This positive feedback loop is useful in making the user feel like they are accomplishing something greater than a simple task, and for service developers by keeping users on their platform for longer. This can be very useful initially but can have some harmful effects. One of the biggest ones can be demotivation after losing one of these streaks. I experienced this in my calorie app when I stopped using it for a day, and many others experience this in productivity apps. Productivity apps can have a similar streak or point methods, and not using these apps for a few days can cause a loss of those points.


The Upvote System on Reddit Image




If you lost all of those points, you can easily feel like all of that progress you made was for nothing. This demotivation can kill progress when the earliest stages are crucial. Things like my weight loss app are created with the intention of building habits, and if you can’t build up a habit quickly, you will feel like you aren’t making progress. Productivity apps have the biggest problem, with the intent always being to help people reorganize and reprioritize their lives. This can be a long process and nobody really wants to make large changes in their lives, so at the first sign of no progress, many people will just up and quit.


The Todoist Karma System






I chose a productivity app with this in mind, and the one I use (Todoist) has a good, forgiving point system. However, even the relatively benign point system I have has still presented problems. I essentially pavloved myself after months of using the app to depend on that satisfaction to get anything done. If I don’t put something on the list, even if I remember to do it, I most likely won’t even do it. I am especially dependent on positive-feedback loops, so I know I am not everyone, but many people have similar problems.

I am not saying to never try to make boring things in your life fun, but always remember the points are just there for fun and not an indicator of your progress. Don’t worry if you miss a day or two in the beginning, and just keep at it.
See more from Drew O’Brien

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