6 Examples Why Not All Gamification is Bad

Gamification has a bad aura surrounding it. One thinks of Gamification as being best done by Zynga and its evil time-devouring demon called FarmVille. But a recent crop(just mentioning FarmVille has infected me!) of apps have affirmed this belief that not all Gamification is bad.

What is Gamification?

Before we dig in, here is Wikipedia’s definition of Gamification

Gamification is the use of game design techniques[1], game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.

Good definition but I think we could add a little more color. Before I reveal what it is, let me share details of a few apps that have influenced my thinking.


Zite is a online magazine that lets you subscribe to news on specific topics you select. Zite is like a smart sister to the pretty Flipboard. Zite absolutely shines when it comes to the quality of articles it recommends. It does that by taking feedback on the article you read. It tackles the “how to get feedback” by asking three questions i) Do you want to see more from same site/author? ii) Did you like this post? iii) Do you want to see more articles on the topics like this article?. Between these three questions it captures a nice overview of how a user feels about the content. I did not take this mechanism seriously for a while but once I started giving it the feedback, I found quality of new articles become really really good. To summarize, Zite uses Gamification to improve quality of article recommendations.


Newsle is a new breed of recommendation system. It does one thing, to show news articles about people you care about. It picks the list of people from your social graph and also provides means to add ad-hoc names. Imagine you could keep track of your friends, competitors to see if they get mentioned on any news articles. Newsle deserves a bigger post because they use entity recognition algorithm to solve a practical problem(how do I see news about people I care about?) cleanly. Newsle takes feedback from you on whether the person entity it has recognized in an article is the same person you care about. So, Newsle uses Gamification to improve its people recognition algorithm.


Cargobot is an ingenious game designed to teach programming principles. You instruct a robot to move in certain predefined set of ways to accomplish task of moving cargo boxes. I found this an absolute delight to play and even got my kid interested in instructing the robot to do things. This could a nice first step before getting kids onto bigger stuff like Lego’s Mindstorms. You play a game but the side effect is to learn programming principles. Clever use of a Gamification to teach programming.


Lift, an iOS app, is yet to be released. From the reviews I have seen its helps accomplish changes to your habits by having a virtual group of friends to motivate you. Simple app and am sure there are many like it. I really like how Lift, and similar apps, use Gamification of social interactions to influence old behavior or acquire new ones.


Contactually is CRM for your email. It takes your email contacts and helps manage each relationship by reminding you to stay in touch with people. The reason it finds a place here is in how it make you categorize your contacts. Getting your contacts grouped by what they mean to you is a chore. But Contactually makes it into a game by asking you to bucket contacts. I found ‘bucketing’ to be more palatable than just calling it categorizing contacts. The feature would have remained they same in function and UX if it had been called categorization. Contactually have tweaked your perception of categorizing to make it more enjoyable.


ReWire is an app to help build attention/concentration skills. Disclosure – this is a game my firm did the development for. Essentially what it does is to take a conventional audio or video signal and interrupts it and looks for action from you on whether you have recognized the interruption or not. Deceptively simple mechanics but it produces a zoned in state where your senses are tuned in. This is almost like a regular game but what makes ReWire different is that it tries to focus exclusively on the negative spaces and not the actual audio or video signal that is going on in the app. It helps you to stay mentally at one place without being distracted. Exactly the state you need to be in to solve hard problems or do meditation or any activity that needs concentration. Again good example, I think, of Gamification to improve concentration.


In all these examples the key element was to influence the user to take an action. Whether it was by making an activity into a game, or by game-like rewards for taking a specific action. This is conventionally called interaction design but I feel some of these examples go much beyond that. So here is my definition:

Gamification is the process of engineering or eliciting a certain behavior. Gamification uses a combination of interaction design techniques and understanding of human psychology to accomplish its goals.

What do you think? Does my definition capture what Gamification means to you? What other apps do you know do this better? Let me know in the comments.

ReWire, Weak-ties and Serendipity


ReWire is an app to help train your attention/concentration skills. ReWire is the first product that my startup developed and it is out on the AppStore. I say developed because the idea and spirit was the brainchild of Mike Redmer, we only played a technical role. Anyway, the topic of this post is how this partnership between Mike and I came to be. And you should check out ReWire, it’s an awesome app which is sort of obvious given its pedigree..well you surely don’t expect objectivity from me on this 🙂

ReWire Day Zero

It was many months ago, I was lazily reading through some blog post and monitoring twitter. The question occupying my thoughts were around which idea to focus on in the startup I had launched. It was the typical problem of plenty, when you could choose anything to work on what do you choose? Of course the standard questions around technical feasibility, resource availability, monetization concerns were all there but still its a tricky question to answer.

Given the set of people I follow on twitter there was the usual mixture of technology, spirituality and hindu nationalism related tweets that were flying past. In case you did not know, I follow a lot of Buddhist practitioners on twitter. Like thirsty men who drink from every available stream, I too dig into every path to see if there is an insight or technique that will refine the animal within.


As tweets were whizzing past I noticed a tweet that said, and I paraphrase, “Looking for iOS devs to help build a meditation app“. That held my attention immediately but the tweet was from nobody I knew. It was a retweet by Vince Horn. Vince, if you do not know, runs the Buddhist Geeks podcast, of which I have been a fan for long because of the sincerity and insight with which he conducts himself and the show.


I could not resist, and replied to the tweeter saying our fledgling startup could lend a hand. Of course I also told him we have built products before but not on iOS and not within our startup itself. There were tons of unknowns between Mike and our firm. The funding situation, the scope of work involved, our relative inexperience on iOS platform and more. But we barged our way through based on trust and common spiritual interests. Staring with a simple proof of concept we did several iterations to get to a mature beta. As mentioned at the top of this post, the app is ReWire and it got approved by Apple early in the day today.

It is an amazing feeling to see this little app go live. It is such insignificant thing in the larger scheme of things but very important to me and Mike because of the way it came about and how we have grown as people by learning from and trusting each other.

Looking back

I think this is a good example of serendipity enabled by weak-ties. You don’t think so? Well, imagine I have to be a technology person(to have the courage to think I could build it on my own if I can’t hire an iOS developer), I need to have the freedom to work on what I want(which essentially means a startup or some free time if working full-time elsewhere), I need to have interest in spirituality and follow Vince Horn’s Buddhist Geeks podcast and I had to watch the twitter feed at that exact moment in time. Damn..that is near impossible right! Yet, here we are.

I can’t help but be reminded of this quote by Steve Jobs.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.


So Mike, if you are reading this..awesome work and thanks for trusting us with ReWire. You have a unique vision on how technology can help contemplative practices, so keep plugging away!  And to my wife and family who give me support to even attempt this, a big thanks.

Finally to those few who answered my call, “who will come with me, who will walk with me“, you have my gratitude. And yes, we are taking this baby places.

[Note: Our primary product is still in development. We can’t wait to show you what it does. We believe it will simplify how people collaborate with each other and help catalyze serendipity, just as I described in this post. Subscribe to this blog or register your email at Tataatsu to hear more on our progress.]

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