Passion for Play

Gamification hype is rampant–but can it deliver real benefits for your business? This brief article will help you decide.

So what is gamification? How is it used?

Simply put, it’s the process of applying game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and to solve problems. While gamification has obvious benefits in terms of keeping employees engaged or improving productivity, its uses extend beyond these goals.

Most notably, gamification offers a flexible form of business process management. It breaks down performance into its component parts and creates methods for providing immediate feedback, which can be presented in multiple forms; leaderboards, incentives, goals, and rewards can all be seen, interacted with, and tracked.

Employees and teams can be given specific goals or “missions” defined by specific tasks. Then, when each task or group of tasks is completed, a specific reward occurs. These rewards can be tracked by other employees, fostering a spirit of friendly competition within the overall cooperation toward a common goal.

Why has gamification become so popular?

Gamification has rapidly grown in popularity because it appeals, in particular, to the Millennial generation–which, now in its twenties and thirties, makes up an ever-growing part of the workforce.

Gamification has been called one of the most important trends in technology by several industry experts. Why? It can potentially be applied to any industry and almost anything to create fun and engaging experiences by converting users into players.

And it’s gaining steam. By some estimates, 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification to transform their business operations by 2015–a significant number, considering that Gallup polling reveals 71 percent of U.S. workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.

Should We “Gamify” Our Organization?

Can turning your company’s goals into a game deliver real business benefits? Not every process can be turned into a game, and not all processes should be. Choosing which parts of your business’s processes to “gamify” and which not to change is an art; it requires many of the same skills and talent cultivated through years of management and leadership. When developed well, a gamification plan can engage, retain, and drive performance in your organization by channeling employees’ passion for play.

Channel Your Employees’ Passion for Play with a Sound Gamification Plan

A solid gamification plan considers several aspects of business processes and management. When applying gamification in your own organization, consider the following steps.

  1. Specify what will be part of the game–and what will not. Like its well-known relative, the video game, gamified business processes have specific, defined objectives, metrics, and desired outcomes. By clarifying these early, you can shape the “game” to enforce those specific behaviors that will move employees and teams closer to their goals and thus to the overall goals of the business.
  2. Understand what motivates your in-company cultures. Each group has its own motivations, not just within a nation or state, but even within a single company. Understanding motivations is key to effective gamification, since the most effective games speak to the group’s key motives. Talk to managers about how they motivate their teams, and consider these methods when developing a game system that will work for each particular team.
  3. Plan ahead. The first time a player goes through a video game, everything is new and unexpected–but only from the perspective of that player. From the perspectives of the game’s creators, the incentives offered, the challenges posed, and the increasing difficulty of each level are planned in advance. Gamification applies to business needs using these same principles. Plan for iterations, “upping the game,” and increasing the challenge to keep people engaged.

When Gamification Fails–And How to Avoid It

Not all games engage all players. Sometimes, a game doesn’t speak to a player’s interests or motivations, or the tasks it sets are wholly unsuited for the skills and experience the player brings to the table. More often, however, gamification fails because the game is poorly designed. When game principles are applied to business, they must be thought through as carefully as when they are applied to entertainment. Merely hopping on the gamification bandwagon isn’t enough; to succeed with gamification, your organization will need a system designed for its specific needs.

Here are three major pitfalls businesses face when switching to gamification and how to avoid them:

    1. Confusing activity with success. Applying gamification strategies can greatly increase the amount of activity going on within an organization in the short term, but all the “hustle” in the world is of no use if it fails to drive your organization toward its goals. When considering gamification for your organization, seek out examples of businesses that achieved concrete goals by applying game principles.
    2. Applying meaningless incentives. Incentives that have no meaning won’t engage employees–and since the purpose of gamification is engagement, a game that offers meaningless incentives is dead from the start. Consult with managers and employees to determine what sorts of incentives are meaningful, and use these as the basis for the game’s “reward” system. Rewards don’t have to be expensive or even tangible; sometimes a public “good job!” is sufficient to keep employees pushing forward.
    3. Focusing on competition. When we think “games,” we frequently think “competition.” It is true that using public tracking of incentives, goal completion, and rewards can be key to an organization’s gamification system. However, a system that focuses too heavily on competition can destroy collaboration and teamwork, causing more harm to the organization as a whole. Think of the game as a cooperative one: individual employees and teams are all trying to reach the same goal. Competition within individual “game missions” should nevertheless push employees and the organization towards its central vision.Gamification can offer huge benefits for companies. But like the actual games it models, it must be meticulously planned and organized around a central goal.