I was reading several blogs posts over the week or so, and an interesting little pattern emerged. Several different people posted varying items regarding doing things fun vs. doing things for a reward. This harks back to a discussion I carried on with MMOGC, Elementalistly, and others not long after Rift came out, regarding what is content vs. what is grind.
Points, levels, achievements, and badges are tools. Like any tool, each can be used in positive ways or negative ways. In most cases of gamification, BLAP is being used as an external reward to get players to do something. While this can be effective in the short term, there are long-term consequences to focusing behavioral change around external rewards.
In The Risks of Rewards, Scott notes, "Using rewards to control behavior is how we treat animals. Humans deserve better." Chris Hecker explicitly states, "Tangible, expected, contingent rewards reduce free-choice intrinsic motivation." Beyond the Skinner Box of leveling, many MMOs have jumped on the "Achievement" bandwagon, giving aspects formerly of only intrinsic value (i.e., pet collecting, exploration, or guild membership) extrinsic rewards like titles or even loot. In his most recent entry on the topic Meaningful Gamification, Scott points out, "Rewards used in a controlling manner undermine internal motivation, and thus applications of gamification to create long-term change can do more harm than good in the long term." Reputation grinds and the like keep people playing for now, but eventually they burn out, because what had been fun has become a chore.
Of course, both Scott and Chris are discussing applying game-like rewards to non-gaming situations, but the same hypotheses seem to hold true within game systems, as well. Keen is tired of doing chores in games. "Anything that mimics a checklist of activities that must be done before doing what you would rather be doing is most likely chores." So is Jewel the Laughter Zombie's husband, wanting "to know why WoW punishes him for playing the game."
In a separate post where he encourages Blizzard to remove levels from WoW, Keen notes, "Time to level has been reduced so much that much of the content is now missed/skipped/worthless." This was a problem I encountered while playing through the Cataclysm content with my newly-recruited gaming partner, Sctrz. We skipped entire zones because we had out-leveled them before even arriving. GW2 solves this issue by down-leveling characters to the zone, keeping everything a challenge no matter the level.
In a guest post on Penny Arcade, Jamie Cheng details the pitfalls encountered by the developers of Don't Starve in trying to assist players in playing figuring out how to succeed at the game. Too little structure, and the testers simply did not know what to do next. Too much structure (quests), and players spent too much focusing on those short term goals to the detriment of long term enjoyment. And worst of all, when the quest lines ended, the players assumed the game was over. I'll let you read that article to see what their eventual solution is, the game is currently
in closed beta currently available to try here.
A lot of games I have enjoyed—and the ones I enjoy now—involve extrinsic rewards in many ways; that is, rewards unrelated to the task at hand. Not to pick on WoW, but I've heard that many players are not happy with heroic-dungeon/raid gear being placed behind reputation-grind gates in MoP. I recall the TBC era furor over the "of the Shattered Sun" title; at the time purchasable with a 1000-gold "donation" to Anchorite Kairthos. Players who decried that move by Blizzard ignored the time/money equation, and the time-sink/grind for other titles available at the time. I am sure you, Dear Reader, can recall several examples of grind, or fun that turned into a chore, from your own gaming experiences. If I am doing something for fun and relaxation—say, gardening—then it is a hobby. If I am doing it for some other reason—say, to feed my family and keep clothes on my back—then it is farming, and work. Going back to Keen's quote about chores, if I have to do something not exactly pleasant, in order to be able to do something I want to do, then it is a chore and a grind.