As Christmas comes hurtling over the horizon, many of us will be dusting off the Monopoly and Cluedo in preparation for the arrival of family and friends. It got me thinking about that oft-quoted – actually, over-quoted – thing called gamification. Cited by some as the holy-grail of employee engagement and others as a load of old twaddle (<- I sit somewhere in the middle! :-) ), what exactly is it?
So, I raided the internet and stole ideas and information from experts … er … I mean did some research … and, below is my unbiased (<- is that possible?) view of what it is and some simple tips for using it effectively and some things to avoid …
What is it?
Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications, for example, in the workplace … or, put another way, turning ‘work in to play’.
When has it been used for in business?
Gaming has been used in a variety of scenarios in a business context, for example:
- When rolling out a new initiative, such as new values or ethics, where you want people to actively engage with information to understand its implications for them as an exercise in shared understanding.
- It is used widely in ideation systems.
- As part of mass collaborative events to encourage participation.
- To help build communities by recognising contributions.
- As part of training or learning packages.
Top 6 tips for getting it right:
- Keep it simple
- Start with clear objectives
- Understand the three principles which underpin successful games:
- Autonomy (people can play when they want not when you want them to)
- Mastery (shouldn’t be too hard and players need to see they are progressing)
- Purpose (players need to understand why they are playing – what the point is).
- Scores aren’t everything – people prefer validation through prestige to simple number scores which can alienate people particularly if a small number of players get way ahead of everyone else on points.
- The game should be about the journey and not the end result – players need to enjoy the process of playing.
- Make it social – i.e. let people share their progress/successes with colleagues.
The four basic characteristics of gaming are:
- Simple, recognizable cues for next actions.
- Clear, instant feedback for actions taken.
- Easily identifiable markers for ranking and performance.
- Streamlined, accessible paths to further achievement.
It’s not as easy as it sounds!
Getting gamification right is harder than it sounds. Gaming is best used to amplify existing behaviours rather than introduce new behaviours, particularly if these feel unnatural to players. Gaming won’t make people do something they don’t want to do (i.e. it has to be a part of something that players already have an underlying, intrinsic interest in doing).
Common pitfalls when setting up gamification include:
- Thinking gamification is ‘pointsification’ … i.e. simply allocating points to a set of activities. This will fail very quickly.
- Ignoring the multi-generational workplace and different technical skill levels can alienate large numbers of employees.
- Intentionally designing for addictive behaviour. If a player knows when to expect a reward based on their actions, this is predictable feedback and acts as a motivator. However, gamification becomes addictive when feedback is not entirely predictable. For example, if a player receives predictable rewards most of the time, but sometimes receives an extra reward for the same action, this encourages the player to repeat this action more to receive the disproportionate reward. Casino fruit machines are a good example of this. You don’t want your game to be addictive!
- Gaming for gaming’s sake without a clear purpose.
- Ignoring cause and effect. This is not understanding potential unintended consequences. This means that just because you design a process to achieve a particular outcome, you may unintentionally design for a different outcome entirely.
- Creating gamification clones – ripping off existing games without understanding the underlying mechanics and principles of gaming mechanics. Gartner believes 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet their business objectives primarily due to poor design.
- Creating a game which encourages players to play to win. When winning becomes the key motivation, your game has failed and players will game your system to get to the top of the pile.
A growing problem with gamification is that every system you buy-in these days has elements of gamification in them. Even SharePoint has some pretty lame badges as part of its community sites set-up. This is a similar problem to social silos where every system also comes with commenting, liking, rating etc. where social activity is locked in to a system and can’t be shared across an entire intranet or easily searched. In my view, it would be much more powerful in both the gamification and social spheres if they were enterprise-wide avoiding duplication left-right-and-centre!
So, there you have it!
I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a happy, wholesome and fulfilling New Year!