10 Guidelines for Successful Gamification Efforts

10 Guidelines for Successful Gamification Efforts


Incentive Research Foundation Annouces The Do’s And Don’t Of Gamification

With 1 in 4 corporate programs now using some form of gamification, it is more important than ever to make sure you are doing it right. In a recent publication, Gamification Done Right – The Do’s and Don’tsThe Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) offers 10 crucial tips on how organizations can design more successful game-based programs. The Incentive Research Foundation (@theIRForg) funds and promotes research to advance the science and enhance the awareness and appropriate application of motivation and incentives in business and industry globally. The goal is to increase the understanding, effective use and resultant benefits of incentives to businesses that currently use incentives and others interested in improved performance.

Since Gartner identified “gamification” as an emerging technology in its Hype Cycle Report, the term has become a new buzzword across multiple industries. The idea is simple and recognizes that games are extremely good at engaging players. Gamification applies the elements of games that make them engaging to drive interaction, competition, innovation, performance and other behaviors in a non-game context. Non-game contexts can be anything from work, learning and civic engagement to health and fitness, meetings and incentive program participation.

Although gamification success stories abound, there are just as many (if not more) failures. In fact, by the end of 2012 there was enough evidence about unsuccessful gamification efforts in business that Gartner noted “80% of current gamified applications will fail.” The primary culprit? Research suggests the greatest obstacle to success with most gamification efforts is poor design.

The IRF white paper, produced with support from Dr. Michael Wu (@mich8elwu), the chief scientist at Lithium Technologies, includes implementation recommendations for incentive travel and recognition programs, as well as the following essential steps to improve program design and enhance overall execution:

1. Understand the Behaviors You’re Trying to Drive. Productivity is not a single human behavior, nor is relationship-building. Instead, each of these high-level results consists of many specific, detailed behaviors. Think of all the different activities that people employ to improve productivity, such as education and adopting new tools. You must know all these behaviors well enough to list them in detail.

2. Have a Sophisticated Analytics Platform for Tracking, Measurement and Inference. After developing a list of behaviors that you will be trying to drive, you must have ways to track these behaviors so that you can measure them. After all, what good is knowing the behaviors that lead to success if you cannot measure (or improve) them? Although gamification is mostly about psychology, not technology, behavior tracking is where technology can really help.

3. Keep an Eye Out for Unintended Consequences. Gamification changes behaviors in the physical world and can affect people in real, tangible ways. One of the great dangers of rewarding any behavior with an incentive is that people try to game the system. Another unintended consequence of gamifying a behavior is that people might overdo the behavior. This often leads to excessive, obsessive and (in extreme cases) addictive behavior.

4. Know Your Players. This means knowing if your players have the following three underlying behavioral factors:

  1. Do they have the motivation and want to perform the behavior?
  2. Do they have the ability (and access to all the resources necessary) to carry out the behavior?
  3. Is there a trigger that prompts them to take action?

Most importantly, do they have all these three factors at the same time? Only then your players will carry out the behavior reliably.


5. Know the Effective Timescale of Your Desired Behavior Change. Knowing the effective timescale you want to achieve really comes down to picking the right tool for the job. Gamifying engagement of a marketing campaign that lasts a few months requires a very different set of tools from those driving participation during a meeting or a conference that lasts only a few days. Likewise, driving loyalty that lasts for many years is very different from gamifying short-term behavior changes.

6. Create a Community for Your Players. Gamification tools with a feedback timescale longer than a few weeks require a community to be most effective. For example, without a community, leaderboards do not work very well because your players will be playing with people they don’t know and don’t care about. Consequently, the competition will be less meaningful and thus less effective at driving the behavior you want.

7. Try to Create Ways for Everyone to Play Frequently. Whether it is a video game, poker or golf, not all games appeal to everyone. Similarly, gamification often does not appeal to everyone equally. Consequently, the range of participation levels in your gamification can vary widely. Tying the gamification of the event to behaviors that can happen frequently and are accessible to all (e.g. location check-ins and picture posts) will engage a deeper part of the core audience.

8. Do Not Gamify a Behavior that Does Not Actually Provide Value to Your Players. Regardless of the experience you are gamifying, it must generate some real or perceived value for them, otherwise your players will eventually realize that you have wasted a lot of their time, but provided no value. This leads to gamification backlash, where your players start to resist your future attempts at gamification.

9. Don’t Try to Fix a Broken Product or Service with Gamification. Gamification is the icing on the cake. If your cake is bad, the icing won’t make it taste any better. It may make the cake look more appealing, and many might actually take a bite to try it. But because the cake is bad, they will stop eating and tell others not to bother.

10. Don’t Build a Game On Top of Existing Processes. Quite a few companies have tried to build games on top of their enterprise systems and workflow process to drive adoption and usage. These attempts work in the short term, but they all failed eventually, because a game on top of work is generally not fun. Moreover, they often make work less efficient. Also, recall that participation in the best gamified systems out there is voluntary, just like playing games.

Do your favorite gamified systems adhere to these rules? Do you have any to add? You can also view the full report here.


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