Gamification has become a hot topic in business, and for good reason. Used well, it gets results. Marketers improve sales and customer retention. Employees learn faster, learn more, and perform better.
Gamification in learning and development is a powerful tool, and we encourage you to use its benefits to drive better business results. However, we also want to make you aware of the risks and how you can mitigate them with a solid plan and a little learning.
First, let’s discuss the risks. Your organization can improve results in many ways through gamification. On the other hand, there are just as many ways gamification can fail. The most likely failure point is not that you will fail to complete the project; it is that it may not produce the business impact you are seeking.
Our purpose in this article is to help you identify your purpose and prepare yourself for the tasks ahead so you can create real improvement in business results. Begin by assembling your team and coming to a unified view of what you want to accomplish.
Prepare the Team
When you bring your team together for the first time, one of your most important activities will be to come to a shared understanding of what gamification is all about. Let’s begin with some definitions and concepts.
- Gamification in learning is the use of game mechanics, such as progress bars, achievement levels, badges, and points to engage and motivate people. It is not games, although it may include them.
- Although they are closely related, gamification and learning game are not the same. A learning game teaches a skill on a particular topic. Gamification uses game elements to motivate people to learn and apply skills, buy a product, or perform other actions.
- There are two approaches to gamification. The first is to redesign business processes using gamification to provide better motivation. That approach requires time, resources, and rare expertise. The second approach is possible with basic knowledge and creative thinking, where we introduce game elements into existing processes.
However, it is important to recognize that merely adding game elements to existing processes will not get results. Kevin Werbach, Wharton legal studies and ethics professor, warns against thinking that adding game elements to activities will make them more engaging. It may get initial traction, but it will soon fade. We recommend you take some time to understand the behavioral drivers for each element. Fortunately, there are resources available to give you a quick study of game elements and how they work on the human mind.
Train the team
There are many game mechanics elements and more being invented as the body of knowledge grows. Each one has a specific purpose and application. Let us suggest a few painless ways to educate yourself on how to use them.
- Badgeville has information on 24 of the most commonly used game mechanics.
- For learning professionals, marketers, and business leaders who need a deeper knowledge of the topic, Coursera has a free gamification course presented by the Wharton School of Business.
- Wharton also offers reasonably priced eBooks on the subject.
Successful gamification requires you to have a basic understanding of the human aspects of game behavior. Werbach and Dan Hunter, Dean of the Swinburne Law School, have written For the Win and The Gamification Toolkit to explain the psychology of game elements and how to implement them. If we do nothing with this article but induce you to read these books, we will have succeeded.
You may ask why you need to know all this. Why not just engage a provider to handle the details?
We can think of three reasons for acquiring gamification expertise.
- You need to identify the specific behaviors you want to change and how you want to change them.
- Not all gamification designers are alike. Some offer only a few options as part of their learning content service. Others are gamification specialists.
- Once you improved business results, others in the company will want it, and you will have built your organizational expertise to expand your efforts.
Now, with the common understanding of gamification and your new-found knowledge of how it works, you are ready to select the improvement you want to make.
Identify Your Purpose
The business process you want to improve is something your project sponsor will determine, with your informed advice. The project sponsor is a person with direct responsibility for a business result who has authority over the resources to complete the project.
Work with your sponsor to identify a specific business improvement initiative and determine how the sponsor will measure results. You project should not be a “gamification project” -- make it a business improvement effort. We don’t know about your organization, but in our experience, business improvement gets support; gamification doesn’t -- until you prove its value.
Once you have your purpose and have become a discerning consumer of gamification services, you can prepare to bring a vendor into your team. In our next article, we will lay out the process for selecting a gamification vendor. We invite you to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out.
"Gamification." Wikipedia. Accessed February 09, 2016.
Medved, J. P. "Gamification vs Games-Based Learning: What's the Difference?" Capterra Blog Gamification vs GamesBased Learning Whats the Difference Comments.
"Using Gamification to Boost Performance and Productivity." Wharton@Work. December 2014.
Werbach, Kevin. "How Gamification Can Transform Your Business." World Economic Forum. July 2, 2015.
Pappas, Christopher. "3 Unusual Ways Gamification Is Changing Your Life Today." ELearning Industry. September 4, 2015.
"Align Learning and Development - Step 3: Engage Sponsors to Lead." Pixentia. December 28, 2015.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.