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3 Myths About the Efficacy of Gamification

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Is Gamification Overrated?

Or are we looking at it wrong?

In 2011, Gartner predicted that more than 70% of global 2000 organizations would have at least one gamified application by 2014. A year later, in Nov 2012, Gartner also predicted that 80% of the current gamified applications would fail to meet their business objectives, primarily due to poor design.

Going by what we are seeing at dozens of customers we have talked to in the last 12 months, both these predictions are coming true! While there is a huge buzz among senior leadership on adoption of gamification techniques, there is also a growing disillusionment among those who jumped on to the bandwagon and deployed a plethora of leaderboards that promised to infuse efficiency and excitement in dull and boring jobs.

In an earlier article on HR Examiner, we laid out some ground rules to ensure the success of your gamification initiative. In this article, we look at three prevailing gamification myths, and get a quick reality check!

 

Myth 1:

Points, badges and leaderboards encourage competition and enhance performance

Reality:

Points, badges and leaderboards motivate top performers, but can have a deeply negative impact on the vast majority of “players”

An overwhelming majority of gamified applications and gamification product vendors depend on the troika of points, badges and leaderboards as a means of incentivizing performance, encouraging healthy competition, and “leveling up players” through well-meaning and well-timed signals. Designing good leaderboards is a science as well as an art, giving more players a fair chance of getting up there and getting noticed.

Unfortunately, our experience has shown that even the best designed and well-meaning leaderboards incentivize only a small fraction of employees, and can have a terribly negative impact on the vast majority, and it is important for the game designer to evaluate whether the risks of turning off most “players” are worth taking.

I experienced this first hand recently (and that is what actually triggered this article!), when my daughter and I started taking Spanish lessons on a very nice, gamified language learning portal. language learning

For the first week, we gave each other pretty serious competition, and the thrill of beating the other to the top of the “frenemies” leaderboard ensured that we really pushed ourselves, something that wouldn’t have happened without the gamification on the site. However, by the end of the week, I had stolen a march on her, primarily because she had an exam and couldn’t “play” against me for a couple of days. And while my motivation levels have stayed high ever since, being at the top of the table, I have seen a steep drop in hers, knowing it will be very difficult now for her to catch up with me.

 

Myth 2:

Gamification is simple – assign points and badges, and you are done!

Reality:

The real challenge and benefit of gamification is in providing an alternate mechanism and mapping of boring and difficult tasks into a gamified, virtual world

While points and badges have provided social recognition and motivation to millions of users through gamified applications, their novelty is quickly rubbing off, and users are getting points fatigue. Unless the points and badges lead to real career growth and monetary rewards, unless the points dovetail into appraisal systems and find their way into promotion recommendations, employees realize they are nothing more than Monopoly dollars – a lot of fun, until it’s time to pay the bills in the mailbox!

The real benefit of gamification will be seen when gamification vendors start taking business problems and mapping them to game play, increasing trainability, effectiveness and results of core business-related actions and decisions through game play.

Consider an application that maps the process of short-listing opportunities in a CRM database to a game of fishing. How easy and intuitive it is to decide whether you want to catch a goldfish (an account that will be a showcase for your product, but may not bring in too much revenues), or a salmon (a decent sized opportunity that is fairly easy to net), when you need to have some quick food for dinner (the quarterly revenue targets need to be met)! And, if you are a novice, would you really go for the whale (the really big, fat opportunity that will need some serious work and skills to bag!)?

emee2

This is where gamification can revolutionize the way we think and work. Mapping complex business problems and decision making to an alternate environment enables our brain to think and decide instinctively, and the game takes over the complexity of doing an appropriate mapping.

 

Myth 3:

Gamification increases participation and productivity of employees in boring, mechanical tasks

Reality:

Gamification is an excellent mechanism to improve engagement around tasks and workflows that are necessary as part of the job responsibilities, but fails to visibly increase adoption of non-essential initiatives

Like any other game, any application that is gamified will interest users for a while, but as soon as the novelty rubs off, participation drops rapidly. Unless the “game” is continually refreshed and users see new challenges and experiences, it will be very difficult to sustain involvement and interest. We have seen many well-meaning initiatives around knowledge sharing and community learning come to naught a few months after being launched with much fanfare using gamified apps, simply because, fundamentally, employees did not see the core activity as being central to their job responsibilities, and no effort was made to make them feel so.

However, this does not mean gamification is useless. In situations where a workflow or activity is necessary anyway, gamification can have a positive impact. At Persistent Systems, a, IT services company with 7500 employees across the world, eMee’s gamified appraisal system has been in use for almost 4 years now. Game elements like virtual gifts and avatars provide employees with a platform to showcase their skills, achievements and contributions while “living” their virtual lives. Employee appraisal, which was time-consuming and took two to four weeks to complete at the end of every year, has now morphed into a continuous assessment and mentoring activity, taking inputs from each employee’s avatar and their position in the “game”. This has resulted in saving the company thousands of productive hours every year, while ensuring timely feedback and corrective action in cases of low performance.

 

Wrapping Up

Gamification holds tremendous promise in fundamentally changing the way enterprises and brands engage with key take holders and audiences, but an over-simplified engagement strategy focusing only on points, badges and leaderboards, can do tremendous harm to the organization. Points and badges can be the fundamental building blocks, but we need to look very carefully at their impact on the motivation and psyche of the vast majority of the employees. The advantages may not be worth the risks!

 

About the Author

Siddhesh Bhobe is CEO of eMee, a unique gamification and engagement platform developed by Persistent Systems. eMee uses game elements coupled with advanced big data analytics and social tools to develop exciting gamified solutions in a variety of domains including employee appraisals, knowledge management and learning, healthcare, entertainment and ecommerce. Siddhesh believes gamification can fundamentally change the way enterprises and brands engage with key take holders and audiences.

Siddhesh can be reached at siddhesh_bhobe@persistent.co.in or through his Twitter handle @siddheshb.

Cover Image by RL Fantasy Design Studi

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  • Sascha Goto

    Excellent article which truly captures and debunks three core myths about gamification.

  • Dusan Cucurevic

    really great article! It’s great to see that gamification is not only a badge and points, it’s a complex concept. Because of that i like it :D But is gamification better to use for external purposes (marketing, selling products,etc.) , rather than internal (HR, quality management, etc.)??

    • http://www.gamification.co/ Natalija Knaidele

      There is a lot to gamification, Dusan. One part of building engagement is certainly building customer loyalty and engagement. However, with most customer also being employed somewhere, the problem of shorter attention spans and more distractions is equally true inside and outside the organization. Thus employee engagement is becoming an area increasingly relying on engagement techniques to keep employees interested and motivated.

  • Thiago Nabuco

    Impressive how you managed to talk about the main complaints i hear. Great post, really clarifying!

  • Lydie Wolfensperger

    Here is a challenge: How would you use gamification to enhance ROI for a small local business?

    What I see here so far pits gamification in the employee realm to motivate them. However manu small business have few if any employees besides the owner and his family. The goal of his game would be to get more customers coming back (retention) and/or getting new customers.

    • http://www.g-era.co Nikita Kakuev

      Lydie, I would say gamifiction can do both: acquisition and retention. What business exactly you have in mind? It’s easier to speak about particular example :)

      @NKakuev

  • famate

    Does this fishing example already existed?

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