More and more people seem to be peddling gamification in the enterprise, and it’s working. An increasing number of companies are “gamifying” their processes, or want to.
For many, the solution to re-engaging employees and improving employee training lies in gamification.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Maybe I’m too old to fully appreciate the power of games. But I think we need to use gamification with a lot of caution. You’ll see why below.
According to Gamification Summit:
Gamification is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming businesses to engage users and to solve problems.
But gamification isn’t just about turning everything into fun and games. Three elements are at work in gamification:
- Game mechanics
These are the elements of the game itself: the characters, setting or environment, the goal or mission, and the obstacles. It also includes things like how the user gets feedback on their game performance (such as collecting points, lives or hearts), reward systems, and the like. These are the game elements that will initially hook the users.
- Reputation mechanics
These elements have to do with how users gain status in the game, such as game levels and user ranks. Moving up confers benefits, such as unlocking new worlds or earning bonus items.
- Social mechanics
These elements allow users to interact with each other in the game, share information about each other’s progress, and even play with or against each other.
These three mechanics, working together, are said to have immense benefits to the enterprise.
Benefits of Gamification
The most commonly touted benefit of enterprise gamification is employee engagement. Especially if your employees are most Gen X or Y’ers, then gamification would probably appeal to them very strongly. But it isn’t just young people who are easily enamored with games.
According to enterprise-gamification.com:
- 77% of American households own games
- 97% of young people play computer and video games
- the average age of gamers is 37 years
- 29% of gamers are older than 50 years
- 46.6% of German employees polled play games during work hours
Virtually everybody seems to be gaming. So it makes perfect sense that employees would quickly warm up to platforms that have the familiar elements of video and computer games.
Gamification has also been credited for making training more effective. When you infuse fun into learning, not only does it go down more easily, like sugar-sweetened medicine. My kids, for example, have computer games for everything from French to math to problem solving. Aside from making learning more fun, it looks like more learning takes place, too.
Given these advantages to gamification in business, why am I not gung-ho on it? I have 3 reasons
3 Reasons to be Cautious About Gamification in the Enterprise
1. “Lazy” thinking
Video games and other fast-paced media are already making our attention spans shorter than ever. Younger people, especially, are no longer able to focus on one thing or sit still for long periods of time. They are used to receiving new stimuli every few minutes.
Gamifying work panders to this kind of “lazy brain” and contributes to it. What would happen if nobody could read more than 3 pages of text anymore?
2. Working for all the wrong reasons
Gamification motivates individuals through extrinsic rewards: points, badges, and tokens. That’s all well and good, but what about the intrinsic rewards of work? You know, things like having a sense of accomplishment, knowing you did something meaningful, or even just fulfilling an obligation. We would be short-changing ourselves if we performed work only for the tangible pay-offs we get in return.
3. Losing sight of the goal
My third beef with gamification is that it can easily turn from a business tool to a distraction. Gamifying a process or system is a huge project. In the process, one could easily lose sight of what you wanted to achieve in the first place. The mechanics are not the ends in themselves, they are only the means to make something more sticky, engaging, and memorable. So turning your employee induction training into a game is not the objective. The objective is to get new employees to complete the training faster, with a more positive experience, and with better learning and retention.
Do you agree that gamification is something we need to use carefully in the enterprise? Or do you think I’m being a kill-joy? Be honest, we’ll still be friends!
Image by Jaysin Trevino
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Hi Alexis, thx for this post. Although I’m passionated about Gamification and I think that I’m one o fthe gamification evangelists for germany, I agree totally with your post.
Oh yeah, you have to be careful with Gamification for business. Not because it doesn’t work but because it is too easy to misinterprete what Gamification is.
In its core Gamification is not about technologies or classic game-design. The gist of the matter of Gamification is our (relatively new) knowledge about neuroscience and psychology. We just started to get insights about what happens inside of us while we are experiencing fun and why are we becoming motivated by and engaged in something. Discovering more about this we realize that games are already tackling a lot of these ‘triggers’. They achieved this by ‘try & error’.
After all, to play is one of the oldest habbits that a lot of species were ‘motivated’ to do by evolution.
And because benchmarking often is a smart thing to do it is obvious to learn from games how to motivate and engage people to stay focused, engaged, creative, collaborative, and so on, over a long time. So, the term Gamification is some kind of hommage for the success of games to achieve this.
But to be able to learn from it and to re-design this success we have to go deeper, beyond this superficial surface of classic games. And if we do so, we see that it is NOT about points, badges & leaderboards (PBLs) that most of the peopel think. PBLs are becoming interesting when the main process of motivating has been performed long ago. And exactly that compelx matter of fact (and a lot of agencies that are just trying to jump on the bandwagon) is the reason why we have to be careful with implementing Gamification.
But it is definitely worth it to think about it. And like always in life: The most powerful opportunities are also the ones you have to be most careful with. Otherwise it would be too easy.
Hope my english was ok enough to make clear how I think about it. What do you think? Any comments?
I like your thinking, and your English is GREAT!! (high five) :-)
Great write up and pretty accurate. I am very passionate about the good things you can do with Gamification, but agree with almost everything you say. My only point would be where you speak about purely using extrinsic rewards. That is certainly how much Gamification works – especially at first look. But the good stuff and much more of the stuff that is being done now, uses extrinsic rewards as a way to help nothing more than onboarding. Many of us are trying to concentrate on using intrinsic motivation – the way games actually hook you – to provide the kind of value we know Gamification can offer :-)
I agree that gamification is a tool that if used well in the right circumstance (planned) it could shift the Extrinsic rewards for motivation to INTRINSIC desire…
Great article, (at least the first half… :-) but I am not sure I agree totally that the 3 reasons are negative reasons as they have been portrayed…
1. Lazy thinking
I think that kids are becoming distracted, because life is not keeping up with kids… they sit at school in front of a wadda wadda wadda single standing not VERY colorful “teacher” for 6 hours a day (no offense meant to any teachers out tere – I love you guys/gals)… this is not exactly exciting… now that the kids have “games” their brains are stimulated to think, grasp, and enjoy far quicker… in this case… maybe the process is lacking.
If nobody could read 3 pages of text any more, we would have to become more creative to say what we have to say within 3 pages of text… – sales calls this “elevator conversation”
2. Working for all the wrong reasons
I would argue that most the workforce already works for all the wrong reasons… pay check, fear of loosing the job… etc… and granted it is not all the workforce…. perhaps if we continue to drive gamification CONCEPTS… we can convert working for “negative” rewards to working for “positive” rewards. the 2 of the 3 reasons he spoke about “Accomplishment and Meaningful” are actually gaming mechanics in and of themselves
3. Losing sight of the goal
games are the MOST stimulating way of keeping people focused ON the end goal. Better than any strategy team and focus group I have seen over a period of time. I agree there has to be a PURPOSE / Objective that we do something… but gamification can be the fun needed to achieve…