Cover Image for Chris Crawford's definition of game and Gamification.

If we want to learn about Gamification, what best than studying what people that make games? Chris Crawford is a legendary game designer who has come up with this constructivist definition of a game:

  • Creative expression is art if made for its own beauty and entertainment if it's made for money.
  • A piece of entertainment is a plaything if it is interactive. Movies and books are examples of non-interactive entertainment.
  • If no goals are associated with a plaything, it is a toy. If it has goals, a plaything is a* challenge.
  • Finally, if the player can only outperform the opponent but not attack them to interfere with their performance, the conflict is a competition. However, if attacks are allowed, then the conflict qualifies as a game.

The term "Gamification" has been widely adopted to mean either the adoption of gamelike mechanics or a general "Ludification" of any system. But I'm interested in exploring this definition. It gives us a clear framework to categorize ludic experiences and provides a way to be more precise on what the intervention to the system is.


Not everything is a Game, nor can it be gamified. A toy has no goal and is fun to use, and that's it. Therefore, to toyify, a product should mean adding functionality that has no use, but it's fun and drives usage of the product.

You can find great publicity stunts that work under this concept, but as with any toy, retention is low. Interaction fun is hard to maintain, and most of these solutions fail once the novelty fades away



Puzzlefication is the act of creating a single-player challenge.

When designing, you don't need other users to make things fun. By adding a challenge and some things to discover, you can create a product that gets people excited! Take Zombies Run! a great audiobook that requires you to run to get the story moving forward.

A game requires other people; a puzzle does not. To puzzleify is to add a new layer of challenge to any task, making it harder yet more engaging. A Rube Goldberg Machine it's always fun!


Want to boost performance in tasks? Turn it into a competition! The easiest way? Create a performance indicator (or a goal) and rank with each other.

Most gamification "canned" solutions, those that rely on leaderboards, are not creating a game but a competition.


* Prizes can be counterproductive.

* You will foster a "us vs. them" environment.

* There is no fair way to measure anything complex.

* Competitors will maximize the performance indicator, and not the thing is meant to boost (exploits happen).


According to Crawford's definition, a Game is a competition where the players can affect each other performances. The definition talks about attacks, but it means any form of interaction that affects a competitor's performance. SuperBetter is an excellent example of this. This approach to Gamification has several advantages over competification since interactions between players make a system fun. Think of the differences between Yahtzee! and dungeons and dragons.

Thinking in these terms, instead of a general "Gamification" (or more correctly, "ludification"), will help you be more precise on what is the intent of the modifications proposed for the system and work with each step strengths and weakness.

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