I’ve been spending a portion of the week at the Casual Connect conference in downtown Seattle, a three-day extravaganza which highlights everything you could possibly imagine about the casual games business. This year, one of the hot topics of discussion has been “gamification,” the concept of rewarding users with virtual coins, badges or more for participating in online communities.

Nearly everywhere I go, the buzzword pops up. And, it is worth noting, not always in a positive way.

PopCap CEO Dave Roberts

PopCap CEO Dave Roberts kicked off his keynote address on Tuesday with 10 things he hates about the casual games business.

The #1 item on his list?

You guessed it: Gamification.

On Wednesday, at a press event, PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka elaborated on Roberts’ remarks, telling GeekWire that he doesn’t have a problem with the concept of gamification.

In fact, he said rewarding customers has been around for a longtime, stretching back to the frequent flyer programs which are still very much in existence today.

What Kapalka can’t stand about gamification is the name. After all, he holds games as sacred products.

Creating a term like gamification does more to harm to the business because it actually dilutes down what a game means. And, in his view, a game has one simple goal: to be fun.

Foursquare and other similar services might be popular (and even useful for some), but they aren’t necessarily games, he said.

The term certainly has come on strong in the past 12 months. Scott Dodson, chief operating officer at Bobber Interactive, a Seattle company that brings game mechanics to personal finance, recalls doing a Web search for the term about two years ago. Google returned just four results, he said.

Now, according to a recent search, there are about 1.6 million results.

At this year’s Casual Connect conference there’s no shortage of panels about the concept: “Smart Gamification: Seven Core Concepts for Creating Compelling Experiences:” or “Gamification for Everyone: What’s your Strategy?” or “Gamification and Social TV: The New Way to Watch.”

The term has gotten such a bad rap that venture capitalist Tim Chang — an investor in Badgeville — called gamification the “dreaded G word” during his talk on Wednesday.

I thought I had actually escaped the gamification concept when I cut out of the conference on to do some work at a Starbucks.

Some folks from the conference sat down at the table behind me and started talking about their new service. And what was it about?

That’s right: Gamification.

Previously on GeekWire: “Keith Smith, BigDoor CEO, on the economics and future of gamification”

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  • Anonymous

    We had some great conversations yesterday at Casual Connect and at BigDoor we’re really glad for the debate and the attention on the space!  But in terms of things that are “dreaded,” I’d leave that to mowing the lawn; going to the the DMV, or waking up in the middle of the night with my 2 year old.  Someone please gamify those things for me!  ;-)   

  • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

    I think Dave and Jason are completely right, though I do find it funny that Jason says the predecessor to gamification is frequent flier miles. The roots are much older — incentives for frequent customers, and even shared customers, have been around for centuries. 

    That said, I think gamification as we know it today is dead already. Sure, it looks interesting and exciting. So did the idea that every web site and every store should have a portal and we all know what happened there. Just like users don’t go to any old web site to search the web or read the news, they won’t go there to play games either. The games just get in the way of the actual purpose of the site visit. People who want fun games (or puzzles) will go to a company that is dedicated to them and is providing great titles.

    In the end, I think the only companies that will make money on gamification are the ones providing it as a service and there’s a horizon there.

  • http://twitter.com/TheRedCritter RedCritter

    There tends to be a disproportionate focus on the gamification of web sites and consumer applications. The fact is business gamification represents a huge potential to enhance the bottom line. Simple game mechanics, thoughtfully implemented, can clearly enhance employee morale and productivity. It can help in employee retention and also create a culture of increased cooperation and interaction. You can see a real-world example of badges, points, leaderboards, rewards and ribbons in project management gamification in the video at http://www.redcrittertracker.com 

    Images attached as well.

  • Wanda Meloni

    Hi John, it was great meeting you at the PopCap luncheon last week briefly before I had to head out to present at Casual Connect on the Market for Gamification. Yes, gamification is one of those things that is loved by some and despised by others. Looking forward to staying in touch.

  • http://johnrougeux.com John Rougeux

    I completely disagree. If game designers are making great games, they shouldn’t have to worry about other experiences borrowing the term. I don’t “play” frequent flier programs – there’s no way I’m getting this mixed up with Angry Birds. This would be like Ferrari getting anxious if Ford called its new hatchback a “sports car”.

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