A world of sloppy thinking

Apparently as part of a larger orchestrated move into “gamification”, Saatchi & Saatchi S recently released the above marketing study deck on the topic. Kevin Slavin has essentially said all there is to say, so I’d rather quote him in full and then add some supportive footnotes.

So, Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story …

In a world filled with sloppy thinking, this “Gamification” deck from Saatchi is the sloppiest I’ve seen in a while.

There are simple errors in taxonomy, including the fact that “Gamification” is not “games”, and “Social Games” are not what 99% of people are playing on their tablets, but even more broadly: what does it mean to discuss the effects of something not only on Business and Brands, but also Loyalty, as if Loyalty was some parallel constituency?

Purporting to give insight into “gamification,” the study opens on social games — which are themselves simply one type of game. Why not open on console games? Or board games? (A: because those aren’t on techcrunch.)

On page 4, there are two points that follow each other: how “heavy social gamers” are interested in “in-game ad campaigns” and then a note about consumers who are “most willing to take a salary reduction to work for a social responsible company.” As if the use of the word “social” preceding “game” and “responsibility” brings those two concepts together.

There’s no basic understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in gameplay. But Saatchi doesn’t seem to understand what games are, so that’s unsurprising. Even this survey question is broken in at least 3 different ways:

“You indicated that you own a smart phone or a tablet and you like to play social games. How familiar are you with the following types of game-based “social challenges” that you play on your smart device while in a public space (i.e., restaurant, bar, park, store)?”

1. Social games aren’t played on “smart phones” or “tablets” and in general, people don’t even play the same kinds of games on smart phones and tablets to begin with.

2. I have no idea what a “social challenge” is and I don’t imagine most of the survey respondents did either. But since the “social challenges” are “game based,” they must be fun, or?

3. Whatever these game-based social challenges are (BGSCs) they are evidently played on “smart devices” (since tablets are just big phones and phones are little tablets) and have something to do with public venues.


For the first five years of Area/Code, we were working with agencies and brands and companies to develop games that built new forms of engagement. That was very difficult, because basically, no one had any idea what we were talking about, and we had to spend a lot of our time educating clients as to what games did, and can do.

Now, however, it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

Because now, you have agencies like Saatchi producing reports like this, as if theydo understand what they are, and what they can do. There are a few who do. But mostly, this is the butter being smeared across the industry, all on the client’s nickel.

Clients pay their agencies to make things clearer. This is muddy, irresponsible, and will make everyone’s dollars that much less efficient. It will create more crappy, poorly considered “gamified” bullshit, and insofar as we were fighting, this is the opposite of what we were fighting for.


Executive Summary finding: “Three of the top four reasons why people play social games can be attributed to boredom. This trend of gaming to fulfill pockets of boredom is particularly true among females, while males indicated a stronger preference for competition.” So there’s a trend? Compared to what previous data point in time you took? Games weren’t used for the alleviation of boredom before?

“Q1. How often do you play social games? Social games are games that you can play on social networks or apps.” Angry Birds is a “social game” (according to your definition)? Interesting.

“Q4. You indicated that you own a smart phone or a tablet and you like to play social games. How familiar are you with the following types of game-based “social challenges” that you play on your smart device while in a public place (i.e. restaurant, bar, park, store)?” These challenges are:

  1. “A multiplayer game challenge with a game you already own”
  2. “A trivia game where you would need to correctly answer a few questions”
  3. “A physical game where you would have to make movements with your smartphone to complete the task”
  4. “A probability or guessing scenario where you could wager points with another player”
  5. “A scavenger hunt where you would need to complete a task (i.e. send a photo) at a specific physical location”

Note that item 3 and 5 are essentially the same, that item 4 (guessing scenario) conflates three game mechanics (“probability” = chance, “wager” = betting, “guessing” = estimating), as does item 5 (“scavenger hunt” and “completing task at location”). Also, did anyone do some cognitive pretesting what people imagine a “social challenge” or “game-based challenge” to be? A challenge taking place within a game perhaps? Or test what people think those different typies of challenges would entail?

“Q9. You indicated that you might be interested in participating in a social challenge. How compelling are the following incentives to you if you were to win the challenge?” Maybe, just maybe, people would also do challenges if/when they are fun? But why is “fun” not on the list of incentives you mention?

“Q14. How long would you spend to play a clues-based challenge for the chance to win a prize of around $100?”
Put otherwise, “For a game you don’t know, a prize you don’t know either, and an unknown situation you’re not in right now, please estimate  how long you would play that game”. Oh questions about hypothetical future behavior, we all know how well you work. (The same goes for question 4a., which essentially translates into: “So even though you don’t know what we’re talking about with “social challenges”, how interested would you be in participating in one?”)

“Q13. Would you be interested in participating in a clues-based challenge with your smart device (like a scavenger hunt) to compete with others to find hidden treasures or win prizes?”
“Q18. Do you recall seeing any of these brands while playing social games recently? Please select all that apply.”

Result: “Heavy social gamers are significantly more interested in participating in clues-based challenges … and are also more likely to be aware of in-game ad placements from recent campaigns.” So if you play games more often, you are more likely to be interested in games and to have seen and remembered an in-game advertisement. Incredible.

“Q20. Thinking about your experience with brand promotions and advertisements, how important is it for the communication to be fun and playful?”
Result: A whopping 58% think it’s important that they are fun and playful. Who’d have guessed people don’t like humorless, dry, matter-of-fact advertisements?

“Q25. How interested would you be in working for a company that offered games as a way to increase productivity within the workplace?”
Again, did anyone do a cognitive pretest what people imagine “games as a way to increase productivity” would mean? Brainstorming games? Games as office breaks? Also note: Productivity games are not the same as gamification.

PS. For a little update, Kevin has expanded the dissection of his dislike in this comment: http://goo.gl/0Y8T9.