For The Win has many superior features. For someone, like me, who is relatively new to the topic, it serves to break the ice and make initial introductions. It is easy to read in the sense that it contains almost nothing in the form of high-level geek speak or business jargon. The inclusion of a glossary was a superb idea.
The authors are careful not to present gamification as a magic potion for every business ill (p. 43). They are clear in their definitions of what gamification is (p. 26, 36) and isn't (i.e. building a game - 27/8). They insist that a certain type of game thinking lies at the basis of successful gamification projects, not just a throwing in of a lot of game elements ('PBLs'). This game thinking is hard work, as much an art as a science.
Werbach and Hunter are explicit and brutal on what gamification can become at its worst ('pointsification' - 105-7). "Don't think of gamification as a cheap marketing trick: think of it as a deep and subtle engagement technique. A substantial percentage of the gamificatione exmaples in the wild today are just pointsification." (107)
But, I'm left wondering, with all these qualifications, is gamification that revolutionary after all? Well, it turns out, gamificaiton "may" turn out to be revolutionary, although it is at least fascinating (13). OK, so I admire their honesty, but my initial enthusiasm is somewhat dampened. This doubles when I learn that "some examples of gamification are only game-like in the vaguest sense." (40) Their "impact varies" (45).
As they put it, "If gamification is just a gloss on existing marketing or management practices, or traditional rewards in shiny packages, it won't produce any added value." (11) True story. If we are to avoid this and use ganification successfully, we must attain an understanding of both game design and business techniques (9, 124). It is rare for someone to possess both skill-sets.
There's enough familiarity here to stop me feeling completely out of my depth. I play some games. I know Richard Bartle's four player types (92) and Nicole Lazzaro's four kinds of fun (98). As someone interested in game studies, I've read the works of James P Carse (38) and Johan Huizinga (39). Perhaps the best chapter/level is 4, on motivation, where the authors cover my main men Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Daniel Pink, whoop whoop!
So what's my problem? Why only three stars?
The book is dull, dull, dull. Its authors are academics, professors of law no less, and it shows. They've made some attempt to sex up their book by 'gamifying' each chapter, so that Chapter 1 represents Level One etc. Epic fail. The tone is one of seriosity, not play. Thankfully, since For The Win is a slim work, reading it is made bearable.
Some of its throwaway comments sound funny peculiar to me, perhaps explaining the lack of funny ha ha. For example:
"The essence of games isn't entertainment...it's a fusion of human nature and skilful design." (p.9)
False dichotomy, surely?
"The aspects of games that make them fun, addicting, challenging, and emotionally resonant can't be reduced to a list of components or step-by-step instructions." (p. 29)
Then why write a book the bulk of which consists of lists (chapter/level 4) and steps (chapter/level 5)? It may be that the best material in the book are the lists, such as the list of reasons why businesses should consider gamification (30), the list of areas where gamification can help satisfy business needs (44), or the list of lessons about feedback (65-6).
"Your players aren't there to escape from your product into a fantasy world; they are there to engage more deeply with your product or business or objective...[Yet] somehow, magically, it still [feels] like a game." (p. 29)
Aren't fantasy and magic kind of the same thing? Isn't a game "what happens in the magic circle"? (p. 39). And, since reading is a type of play, doesn't designing a book as much as designing a game require a little bit of magic too? But reading For The Win feels like reading a watered-down textbook for analogue undergrads, not an invitation to experiment and explore.
But it's a start, I suppose.