What is Gamification?

Simply put, gamification is when game elements and game design techniques are put to use in non-game scenarios and contexts.  Although the term gamification is relatively new, most of us are probably more familiar with the concept than we realize.  Take the social networking check-in app Foursquare for example, that’s a gamified system.  Consider reward points at your local grocery store or gas station, that’s gamification too.  We most often see gamification through the use of PBLs, or points, badges, and leaderboards.  However, according to Kevin Werbach, a professor of business ethics at The University of Pennsylvania who teaches a class on gamification and provided the definition I gave above, there is a lot more to the concept than only PBLs.

Gamification delves into matters of motivation, psychology, and economics.  It’s not limited to any one field of study and instead sets out to answer the multi-faceted and complex question of why do humans behave in certain ways.

When considered as an important tool for motivation, the applications of gamification are many and fall into three main categories:

External - Companies use game elements for marketing, sales, and customer engagement to boost sales and market presence.  

Internal - Within organizations, gamification is used for productivity boosts, garnering employee feedback, and other human resources related functions.

Behavior Change:  Utilized in individual or group applications, gamification is a powerful tool for health & wellness motivation, sustainability, or even personal finance.

Professor Werbach points out a few other key points of gamification in the online class he teaches on the subject.  First, there must be alignment between the outcomes in the implemented game and the goals of the organization.  For example, a game system applied to a call center would be more effective when points are earned for high customer satisfaction ratings rather than speed of the resolution of calls.  Points awarded to fast calls may actually leave customers unhappy.  

Next, participation must be mandatory.  If someone is forced to “play” against their will, all of a sudden that person is no longer playing but is once again at work.  One of the reasons why gamification can be so successful is because often participants will leave behind the feeling of doing work, but this can only be achieved if they are participating on their own will.  Additionally, gamification should instill some learning or problem solving.  For example, if a marketing campaign has users scratch off tickets to win, but they continually win every time they play, there is no problem present, the system stops being fun and engaging, and people will quit participating.  Think of the McDonalds’ monopoly game; one of the main reasons it’s fun is due to the good chance of not winning and it taking continued engagement to work towards the bigger prizes.  

As a professional, gamification combines my passion for training and development with my life long love of board games.  At their simplest, games are a great way to bring together and spend social, face to face time with other people.  When implemented at the organizational level, games can break new ground not only in personnel participation, but also sustained improvement over time.  Every application is unique and presents its own opportunity to overcome challenges and create never before thought of solutions.

What examples of games and gamification have you experienced in your workplace?

Contact me and let's talk about implementing gamification at your workplace. 

Levi Baer

Chicago, IL