Why SuperBetter is Not a Gamification Company

gamification, gameful design

SuperBetter is known for using the science of games to improve real lives.

Over 1 million people have played SuperBetter to improve their resilience, mental health and social-emotional skills. The SuperBetter methodology empowers success by bringing the same mindset and psychology used in game play into the real world. The approach behind this methodology is called “Gameful Design.”

Gameful design is different than gamification.

It’s not surprising that SuperBetter is sometimes considered a gamification company and even a pioneer in the field of gamification. Media and bloggers regularly post stories about the effectiveness of SuperBetter for gamifying health and wellnessselfhelp and pretty much everything in life. A recent market research report includes SuperBetter as a major player in the healthcare gamification market. And Jane McGonigal’s books Reality is Broken and SuperBetter, The Power of Living Gamefully are considered essential reads by many in the gamification industry.

What is Gamification?

The term “gamification” was coined by computer programmer Nick Pelling in the early 2000s to signify the application of game mechanics, particularly from video games, in non-game areas. 

Gamification is now a big business and growing rapidly. A recent research report projects that the global gamification market will triple in size from $9.1 billion in 2020 to a whopping $30.7 billion by 2025.

Gamification badges, gameful design does not start with game mechanics

Game mechanics are tactics commonly found in games — like badges, points and leaderboards. These elements borrowed from games are typically added to non-game products to incentivize a desired behavior by adding a bit of extrinsic reward or competition.

For SuperBetter we find that the mechanics of games is the wrong place to start.

Gameful Design, A Different Approach

The philosophy that underlies the SuperBetter methodology is called gameful design. 

Jane McGonigal, the inventor of SuperBetter, coined the term gameful design in 2010 to represent a particular approach to applying game design principles to real world situations. Gameful design is the philosophy of applying the deep, intrinsically motivating elements of games to non-game areas, not just making use of game tactics like badges, points and leaderboards.

As humans we are naturally attracted to playing games. 2.7 billion people around the world now play video games – more than a third of the planet’s population. 

Gameful design starts with game psychology. Gamification starts with game mechanics.

When we play games we take on a different mindset. We are focused on a goal. We are optimistic, determined, creative and courageous. We recruit allies for support. It’s ok to fail in games – in fact we fail 80% of the time – and each time we build our resilience and mental flexibility as we try new strategies to succeed.

Instead of the tactical elements of games, gameful design starts with an understanding of the psychology, mindset and deeply satisfying properties that make games so attractive to so many people in the first place. Some of these properties include the way that game play fosters autonomy, agency, meaning, emotion, flow, immediate feedback and sense of competence. These properties attract people by helping them do what they really want to do – whether that is to feel better, reach their goals, or connect with others.

As you play SuperBetter you’ll recognize game tactics like badges and points. Rest assured that these tactics are in service of the bigger philosophy of gameful design.

Please know that we’re never offended when people call SuperBetter a gamification company. It usually leads to a rich conversation about differences between gameful and gamified, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators, and the untapped potential of game science to solve real problems and change the world.

Your allies at SuperBetter