There is some dispute over who first coined the term ‘gamification’ although it has now become widely attributed to Nick Pelling. Pelling, a British games programmer and inventor, first mentioned the word in his work dating from 2002. However, it didn’t become mainstream until 2010.

Gamification refers to the practice of taking elements of game playing and implementing them into non- gaming fields. The aim is to engage users in solving problems and becoming more invested in the outcome of the experience. Gamification has been applied to many aspects of life including: physical exercise, timeliness, teaching, entertainment, employee engagement and staff recruitment. For example, large organisations such as Twitter and Quora are now using games during their hiring process.

It is only fairly recently that the practical applications of gamification for increasing employee engagement have gathered momentum in HR departments globally. BergHind Joseph examines gamification in-depth and highlights some of the organisations which have used the concept successfully.

What Does Gamification Involve?

Gamification has become possible in the last few years due to mobile devices, apps, wireless technology and cloud computing becoming mainstream. This has made the concept affordable and scalable.

Gamification isn’t gaming per se, but it does use the elements that make gaming so popular and in some cases addictive.

Reward points and badges of achievement are important, but they aren’t enough alone, the employee needs to be truly involved in the concept to make it motivating for them. Gaming involves a number of psychological triggers including the desire for mastery and completion. These also need to be present in a gamification scenario, alongside direct and immediate feedback, whether that feedback is positive or negative.

The concept of levelling up is also vital. If an employee is not able to move on to a more demanding task there is very little challenge and they will become disenchanted.

Gamification Offers Concrete Examples

One advantage of using gamification in a business environment is that it offers a much clearer example of how an employee is performing in their role. For example, prior to gamification an appraisal would let an employee know that they weren’t meeting expectations on a certain objective, now they can be informed that they didn’t clear level 3. In many cases this is much easier to understand, because the employee has the context of knowing exactly what they need to do to succeed next time round.

An appraisal also used to be scored, maybe 1 to 7, and whilst this meant that the employee knew how they were doing, it didn’t provide them with a clear understanding of how they were performing within the business. Using gamification, a leader board can be established, so that an employee knows where they fit in their team, their department, their business unit or even within the company as a whole.

The Future of Gamification

A survey by the Aberdeen Group found that organizations who deploy gamification improve engagement by 48% and turnover by 36%. These are impressive figures, however Gartner has stated that they believe 80% of gamification applications will fail if not designed correctly.

How gamification is implemented has a huge impact on whether it will be successful or not and there are definitely some types of role that are easier to use the technique with. Gamification works best for roles that are relatively repetitive in nature and which have clearly measurable outcomes.

It is also true that a percentage of people will fail to be motivated by gamification and there is the danger of those that are motivated, being motivated for the wrong reasons. If gamification isn’t designed well in an organisation it can lead to the following problems:

· The goal can shift to ‘winning’ the game to the detriment of the actual aim e.g. increasing engagement or upping productivity

· Because there is a lot resting on the outcome there can be a risk of people attempting to cheat the system

· There is always the desire to get to the next ‘level’ and therefore employees can become fatigued with the game itself and reach burnout

Whilst it is true that gamification offers many potential benefits to an organisation, benefits which some companies are already reaping. It is also true that how it is deployed is vital to the overall success. A badly conceived idea and process will have very little positive impact and could even prove detrimental in the long term. Therefore, more in-depth research will have to be done over a much longer timeframe to discover whether gamification can live up to its heady potential.