Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Gamification in 2013

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Gamification in 2013


In a recent Inc.com article by Erik Sherman about Trends to Ignore in 2013, Sherman is quick to dismiss gamification and states:

“It might help some companies, but this has all the smell of a silver-bullet solution. If you don’t have practices, insights, offerings, and ways of doing business that can bring customers closer to begin with, using games won’t help.

Gimmicks can work to improve sales, employee productivity, or virtually anything else for a while. In organizational psychology, it’s called the Hawthorne Effect. People start working harder because management is paying attention. But eventually things slow to back to normal levels, because people get used to the new status quo. When all is said and done, games rely on consumer whimsy and can be ephemeral in nature, which probably isn’t what you had in mind for business improvements.”

The first sentence, I wholeheartedly agree with because a gamification effort that isn’t backed by appropriate goals and business models is simply just a gimmick and/or an ineffectual game. However, this brings me to the next paragraph where Sherman speaks about the Hawthorne Effect and the whimsical nature of games, which is to say that this is yet another dismissal of gamification without a full understanding of what it even means.

The Hawthorne Effect is indubitably real but to dismiss gamification on this loose connection is ridiculous. One of the hallmarks of successful employee-facing gamification implementations requires that employee participation be voluntary. This ensures that the values held by the employee, the company, and the gamification system itself are aligned with one another in harmony to produce greater motivation in the employee. A properly designed gamification system can motivate employees both intrinsically and extrinsically by a smart reconfiguration of the way they see their job but this often requires significant planning and testing in order to be successful and cannot be simply achieved by a simple game.

Which brings me to my next point:

Gamification is not just about games! Disregarding the “ephemeral” nature of 1.3 billion hours logged by a single game in 2012 and whatever “consumer whimsy” means in this context, gamification draws from a number of disciplines like behavioral psychology, engagement practices, loyalty, and of course, game design. Obviously a simple game forced upon employees will be unsuccessful; a gamification effort is much more comprehensive than the mere addition of badges for business goals and points for the same work an employee is doing.

It is acceptable to dismiss gamification if it exists as an afterthought for a business because that’s exactly what a gimmick is but it would be foolish to not consider the potential benefits gamification has not only for motivating employees but also specifically for HR, CRM, Sales, Support and a number of other business applications.

Gamification will continue to see increased adoption in 2013 but it will be important to understand what real and effective gamification is in order to judge its efficacy accurately.

Image via iStock


Need help with behavioral science and gamification? Get in touch with our boutique consulting agency Dopamine.


  1. After reading the Inc. article and your post, it seems important to differentiate between the helpful and potentially harmful aspects of gamifying jobs like customer service. Take away the points, badges, and other extrinsic motivators and the underlying principles of gamification should already be embedded in the job — there are goals, you get feedback, it’s compelling, and it’s a fun challenge. On the other hand, trying to put gamification lipstick on a pig of a customer service job has some potential pitfalls: http://www.toistersolutions.com/blog/2013/10/17/why-gamification-doesnt-play-with-customer-service-employees