Two years ago, “gamification” was a hot buzzword in the corporate world. Executives and consultants cheerfully asserted that dull and demeaning tasks would be transformed by adding points and level-ups. They were wrong, and you don’t hear much about gamification any more, but every so often you see game-like features creeping into applications that have nothing to do with games. Case in point, DrawQuest.
Let’s get this clear from the start: DrawQuest isn’t a game. There are goals, but they aren’t measured. There’s no conflict, no victory, and almost no rules. The app’s daily quest is an assignment that you don’t have to follow, because you get rewarded for completing it no matter what you draw.
What’s interesting about Drawquest is that even though it isn’t a game, it’s one of the most playful activities you’ll encounter on your iOS device.
The app sets its tone with its first quest. You see a simple stick-figure head, two eyes, and the instruction “Give him a smile!” You don’t have to draw a smile, but most people do.
Many users do more than that. If you look at the gallery of images– visible after you have finished your own drawing– you’ll see all kinds of elaborations. People draw in hair and clothes and ears. They change the “him” to a “her.” They turn the face into a bear or a penguin. The most ambitious artists erase the face and draw a completely new person — and that person usually has a smile on her face.
DrawQuest encourages you to explore what the other users are doing. You can star the drawings if you like them. There’s a playback feature that lets you watch how a user created a drawing. (The playback is in real time, which is fun if you’re watching a fast, decisive artist. If the artist was indecisive, though, there are long stretches where all you’re doing is watching pixels dry.) None of these pictures are fine art, but it’s fun to see so many different imaginations at work.
Aside from this social feature, there’s not much to distinguish DrawQuest from the dozens or hundreds of other sketchpads in the App Store. The drawing tools are easy to use, but simple. There’s a paintbrush, a marker, a pencil, and an eraser. The palette offers a variety of colors, and you can buy more with credits earned from completed quests or bought via in-app purchase. These tools are well-designed and accessible, but nothing special.
What’s special about DrawQuest is the quest system. Even though the app isn’t a game, this game-like feature makes the app into a shared experience. We see the quests as a challenge, just like a level in a game. We’re curious how other users “beat the level,” even though there are no points or score. This one feature borrowed from games is what turns a sketchpad into a community.
Despite the overheated rhetoric of thinkers like Reality is Broken author Jane McGonigal, gamification is not going to save the world. Adding a scoreboard to a dull task usually makes it more stressful, not more interesting.
On the other hand, DrawQuest shows how a well-chosen game-like feature can guide users by focusing their creativity and encouraging them to interact. The daily quests make a good app into something exceptional, and we’d love to see more of that kind of innovation.