Rethinking Gamification Failure: A Model of Gamified System Maladaptation Behaviors

Heshan Sun, Shih-Lun Tseng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the increasing interest in gamified systems and excitement about their potential positive impact on user engagement, a few studies have started to note gamification failures, which can result from user maladaptation behaviors, or behaviors directed at misusing or misappropriating the gamified system. We examine how such maladaptation behaviors can result from the design of gamified systems, which by attempting to satisfy both instrumental and game goals at the same time, are likely to misalign these goals. To date, little is known about design issues which may drive users to maladapt, and how they maladapt, gamified systems. Hence, we systematically conceptualize gamified system maladaptation behaviors (GSMB) as having three dimensions: technology maladaptation, mechanics maladaptation, and gamified task maladaptation. Based on goal-setting theory, we develop a research model of GSMB. The model depicts three drivers of GSMB: game-task goals misalignment, game-task complexity, and gamification structure injustice, and is focused on the negative impact of GSMB on one’s task performance. We tested the model with an empirical study of users of a gamified system, “Pocket Points.” The results largely support the proposed multi-dimensional nature of GSMB and the research model, highlighting that game-task goals misalignment is the main driver of GSMB, and that GSMB can lower task performance. Findings from this research have implications for both IS research and gamification practices.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Systems Research
StateSubmitted - 1800


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