Historically, games have focused on competition. Gambling, video games, board games, and athletic sports are often defined by having a winner. On Forbes a few weeks ago, author Haydn Shaughnessy looked at the rise of gamification and the return of game-like competition to the workplace. According to him, too many corporations focus solely on collaboration over competition, and “the pendulum should surely start to swing the other way”. This focus on competition places gamification in too small a box. Collaboration and competition aren’t themselves in a Thunderdome style zero-sum contest (“Two ideas enter! One idea leaves!”). Instead, by applying gamification to a systems level analysis, designers, marketers, and managers can create a project where competition and collaboration go hand in hand.
In the Forbes article, Shaughnessy observes that “over the past 18 months we’ve rediscovered the value of competition” and “gamification is the ungainly name for its re-emergence in the social sphere.” As I mentioned earlier, games are often characterized by competition, but competition is by no means synonymous with gamification. As the Bartle Test established nearly fifteen years ago and has since been effectively updated by Jon Radoff, competition is actually a minority when compared to the other reasons people come together to play. Immersion, cooperation, and achievement are often bigger motivators than the drive to win at the cost of others. On average, only 5% of players focus primarily on competition, whereas 75% are primarily collaborators.
To return to the focus on business, you can apply this knowledge towards designing gamified applications for the workplace. Two main examples come to light, team management and adversarial collaboration. Oftentimes in teams, players who are driven to compete or achieve rise to leadership roles, but 75% of the population can’t be left behind. Instead, managers and designers need to create a team environment where collaboration is the focus and collaborative results lead to a competitive advantage. Secondly, when you look at many industries and even many offices, adversarial collaboration becomes apparent, where two sides are competing in order to increase total knowledge resources. Gamified apps like the now well known fold.it show how this can be successful. Although competition may drive short term advantages, shared information and shared resources ensure that the entire system moves forward.
These two examples show how collaboration and competition are not mutually exclusive. To put it bluntly, with gamification, they can cooperate in order to achieve better ends and a larger return.