When is the last time you did something that was so engaging, so much fun, that you completely lost track of time? When was the last time you belly laughed so hard, it hurt? Play time is not just for kids. We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure just because we have travelled around the Sun a few more times. The notion that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious, is complete hogwash! If you have structured your life, and your business in such a way that, between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play, we suggest you rethink your strategy. Play brings joy, improves health, and it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.
In his book Play, Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything that constitutes play. Play is creative expression, art, dance, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming. Brown spent decades studying the power of play in everyone from prisoners to businesspeople to artists to Nobel Prize winners. He reviewed over 6,000 ‘play histories’, case studies that explore the role of play in each person’s childhood and adulthood. For instance, he found that lack of play was just as important as other factors in predicting criminal behaviour among murderers in Texas prisons. He also found that playing together helped couples rekindle their relationship and explore other forms of emotional intimacy. Play can facilitate deep connections between strangers and cultivate healing. Play can even make you money, and the business world is catching on.
In May of 2019, the Washington Post reported that “inside several of Amazon’s cavernous warehouses, hundreds of employees spend hours a day playing video games. Some compete by racing virtual dragons or sports cars around a track, while others collaborate to build castles piece by piece”. But they aren’t whiling away the time by playing Angry Birds or Minecraft. Rather, they’re racing to fill customer orders. Their progress is reflected in a video game format that is part of an experiment to help reduce the tedium of physically demanding jobs. Gamification adds game-like elements such as competition, point-scoring and even physical activity to non-game situations to encourage interaction and engagement. In the workplace, gamification not only relieves stress and adds some fun to the workday, it can also bring many measurable benefits, from speeding processes to encouraging the adoption of new tech and more.
“Life is more fun if you play games.”
Gamification has long been understood as a powerful approach to tackle social and health-related behavioural issues, with the objective of changing people’s ways of living. Games have a special ability to hold individual attention, develop and enhance creativity, and build relationships between people. Gamification strategies are ubiquitous in today’s business practices and provide a competitive advantage by attracting and engaging clients, as well as motivating and retaining talent. Reopening businesses and society after the pandemic lockdown requires a strategic, approach. Successful business interaction and essential public movement must be ensured in order to revive the economy. A multipronged approach supported by gamification techniques can help revive the economy and motivate the public over an extended period of time.
“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play.”
3 Critical Elements to Sustain Motivation
In the book Gamification by Design, Gabe Zichermann said “gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology.” Gamification taps into the psychological cues that push our day-to-day decisions. A gamification tool is a platform for recognition, achievements, and progress management. By tapping into the joy people feel playing games, and putting some of that structure into your office, you should see an increase in engagement. Scientific American lists three critical elements that sustain motivation.
Autonomy is one of the essential elements in building true employee engagement. Without it your workforce may become the “land of the working dead,” roaming endlessly in zombie-like fashion, waiting to be told what to do next. Not an enjoyable workplace for employees or managers, by any stretch of the imagination. Autonomy is the power to shape your work environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best. When your employees pursue an activity for its own sake, and not because external forces compel them to, they gain motivation. They feel empowered and in charge. If your employees are given the opportunity to select a course of action based on their own opinions, they will tend to stick to their goals for a longer period of time.
Values work as a powerful filter for what we pay attention to. People act in ways that express their values, and values predict behaviour. Your employees are more motivated when something of value to them is at stake. If they think it’s important, they’ll work harder for it. Businesses tend to create employee programs in a vacuum, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. However, to truly engage employees, businesses need to understand what drives and motivates individuals, and then design a program to fit those needs. Staying true to their beliefs makes them more invested in their job.
‘Competence motivation’ centres on the idea that people are driven to engage in activities to develop or demonstrate their skills. If someone successfully performs a challenging task and receives praise from their peers for it, then they will experience a belief in their competence in that achievement domain -physical, cognitive or social. Success in that domain helps them to recognise that they can control their performance. High perceptions of competence and control create feelings of pleasure that maintain or lead to an increase in competence motivation. As your employees invest more time into an activity, they will become more competent at it. Believing that effort fosters competence can inspire your employees to work harder to achieve their goals.
“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
Compulsion Loops and Dopamine Hits
When it comes to engagement, nothing holds a candle to video games because they are designed to be addictive. Good video games are an art form: challenging you, telling you a story, putting you in control of whole worlds and, like a good book or TV series, presenting compelling reasons for you to stay engaged. It’s becoming increasingly accurate to say that the game is playing you. As our attention and interactions continue to be analysed and monetised, understanding the psychology, neurochemistry, and behavioural science behind our love of video games is becoming increasingly important. The dopamine that we get from video games and the techniques we’ve devised to get that dopamine, lie at the root of both good and addictive game design.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brain that helps regulate our pleasure and reward centres, is behind a lot of what we do. Mostly, it rewards us for good behaviour – food, exercise, ticking things off a list, positive social interactions, and other enjoyable activities will earn you a dopamine release that encourages you to keep up the good work. However, this system can be “hacked,” and we do so on a regular basis with delicious food (your health mileage may vary), drugs (including alcohol), and yes, video games. Completing a task and getting an in-game reward triggers a real chemical reward in the brain. Game developers are all over this fact, so the games often encourage you to ride the wave of good feelings and move on to the next task (where there’s also a reward!).
“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum…and I’m all outta gum.”
Hit Me Baby, One More Time!
These cycles are called “compulsion loops,” and if you’ve ever played a game, you’ve probably experienced one. Here’s how they typically work:
- The player gets a task to complete and the promise of a reward at the end (motivation)
- The player is given a clear pathway to completing the task (an achievable challenge)
- The player completes the task and gets the reward (dopamine hit!) typically accompanied by sounds and lights (trigger).
- The player gets another task, then the formula repeats
This is why we enjoy playing video games: we complete quests, kill monsters, open treasure chests, and do repetitive tasks with minor variations in mechanics and settings because the games are built in such a way that we’re never too far from the next neurochemical party. This isn’t inherently bad – levelling up, exploring new worlds, experimenting with new items, and most other game elements are there because they make us feel engaged and excited.
These positive compulsion loops are essentially a more concentrated form of what we experience in real life. Whether you’re getting a promotion at work, upgrading your smartphone, or making new friends, your brain is giving you positive feedback and telling you to keep up the good work. What makes gaming potentially problematic, though, is when you don’t have a clear exit out of the compulsion loop cycle. Does EverQuest ever really end?
“A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are.”
– Tomb Raider
Successful Gamification in the Workplace
Most organisations already benefit from gamification techniques to some degree – benefits and bonuses for sales competitions are common gamification uses – but often, the goal is short-term or lacking in an overall strategy. Good gamification doesn’t start with game elements; it starts with our core drives. When gamification works, it’s because the game is designed to get us where we want to go, thus appealing to the intrinsic motivation of participants towards the corporate goal.
Games have no other purpose than to please the individuals playing them. Games work because they appeal to certain core drives within us that push us to do something. In Actionable Gamification, Yu-Kai Chou identifies eight “core drives” of human motivation that gamification (when done correctly) can hook into:
1. Epic meaning and calling:
People like to be a part of something much bigger than themselves. When this drive is activated, participants choose to be members of your system and will take action not because it necessarily benefits them directly, but because it turns them into the heroes of the company’s story.
2. Development and accomplishment:
Give something back such as a reward. Numbers are more addictive. Instead of simply stating that you won, say ‘you won 800 points’.
3. Empowerment of creativity and feedback
Get immediate feedback on what you do. Gamification is about teaching, not just entertaining. Let’s say we ask you a question. You then get an immediate response and additional resources.
4. Ownership and possession
When you own what you do, you want to get better at it.
5. Social influence and relatedness
Most games let you socialise and interact with other stakeholders. Addiction builds as you grow your network. The more people that use your product, the more effective it becomes. This is a pure definition of the network effect. People are always eager to play.
6. Scarcity and impatience
FOMO – For a limited time sparks fears of missing out.
7. Unpredictability and curiosity
Let’s say we ask you to do something to discover more. We then test your knowledge before you can dive deeper into the game.
8. Loss and avoidance
By avoiding something bad from happening, you can continue pushing to reach the end. In this way, your previous progress is saved.
“What if some games, and the more general concept of ‘play,’ not only provide outlets for entertainment but also function as means for creative expression, as instruments for conceptual thinking, or as tools to help examine or work through social issues.”
4 Gamification Case Studies
Gamification in the workplace can be used for numerous purposes: to cut down on travel expenses, to improve employee onboarding, to make tedious office chores more fun, to cut down (early) turnover, to build HR analytical skills, and much more. Here are four well-known organisations that have successfully implemented gamification in their business strategies:
Cisco Employees Play Their Way to Social Media Mastery
Challenge: Cisco invested in a program – global social media training – for its contractors and employees to create and leverage their social media skills. However, the training program comprised 46 courses that became overwhelming to even know where to begin.
Gamified Solution: The company introduced three basic levels of certification with regard to the social media training program. The levels were divided into Specialist, Strategist, and Masters.
In addition to this, there were also 4 sub-certification levels for external communications, HR, internal partner teams and sales. They also mixed in various team challenges to integrate a healthy dose of collaboration and competition into earning certifications.
Result: The gamified social media training program became challenging as well as engaging. Over 650 employees achieved the required certification with over 12500 courses taken.
Microsoft Staff Globally Weigh-In for Language Localisation
Challenge: Microsoft has an array of language localisation requirements for its various products. To ensure translations were accurate and made sense was a massive challenge to be managed by a single team.
Gamified Solution: Microsoft created a ‘Language Quality’ game. The game was simple and included the Silverlight application that allowed users to view screens in order to check for the language accuracy. To increase employees ability to pay attention, Microsoft intentionally included poor translations.
Results: Almost 4500 users were reviewed 500,000 screens to improve or correct translations. Microsoft Japan even planned a company-wide day off just to play the game which successfully led to winning the leaderboard.
Deloitte Built Leadership Training That Became Addictive to Senior Executives
Challenge: Deloitte created a leadership training course for senior executives but had trouble motivating executives to initiate and complete the training program.
Gamified Solution: Using Badgeville, Deloitte introduced gamified elements such as leaderboards, badges, and status symbols.
Result: This gamified solution not only encouraged executives but also reduced the training curriculum average time by almost 50%. The program also increased the number of users who returned to the site on a regular basis by almost 47%.
SAP Leveraged Gamification to Achieve Better Sale Results
Challenge: SAP has a complex and intricate product line. They needed to ensure the sales staff had sufficient product knowledge.
Gamified Solution: SAP developed an application (more like a game show) called RoadWarrior. This game simulates conversing with a customer. Employees who perform well are awarded badges along with a prominent place on the leaderboard. All employees are required to do is to answer the customer’s questions accurately.
Result: Staff had fun learning and became more confident and motivated. Productivity was boosted along with measurable increases in sales figures.
“There’s no one without purpose in a game. That’s what Gamification is all about.”
Step up Your Game - The Future of Gamification
Gamification design is shifting focus to intrinsic motivation. Already in early 2021, we’re seeing Gamification initiatives with design elements more structured around the principles of intrinsic motivation rather than relying on external factors. Experts feel that the use of extrinsic motivational factors is not fit for long-term gamification and it can only bring immediate results (nothing wrong with that if it’s what you need). Gamification designers need to consciously build in the intrinsic motivational factors their players need. This means gamification initiatives need to thoroughly analyse the player type and behaviour. Learners may initially get hooked to due to external factors like badges and leaderboards but will come back wanting more when they enjoy the process of learning. In this way, the future of gamification will see an inevitable shift towards intrinsic motivation.
eLearning will go deeper in its teaching and wider in its reach
Experts predict that gamification will make deeper inroads within important industries, which have customary processes like education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, financial services and so on. In these industries, the gamification of learning has mainly been implemented in the areas of compliance and important operations. With sustained results, gamification will find applications in other areas of of the organisation as well like sales training, onboarding and soft skills.
A big gamification push with onboarding
Employee onboarding is no longer an overseen aspect of converting new employees into insiders. New employees are 69% more likely to stick around for more than 3 years if you provide them with a well-formed onboarding process. Productivity and project management tools have seen the biggest increase in gamification to date, and there is more to come. The HR tech market is exploring the benefits of gamification for employee engagement. Massive effort and activity is also being seen in the recruitment space, where gamification is removing bias and providing the opportunity for 24/7 feedback. A gamified onboarding program is a fun and exciting way for new recruits to get to know the company and learn how to best perform in their job. The content is delivered in bite-sized chunks throughout the different onboarding stages. Team games can also be played to facilitate interaction and establish connections between employees.
Shift to gamified Learning Management Systems
LMS options that are currently available include the strongest gamified learning elements like points, badges, and leaderboards in order to create and sustain engagement. The future will see the updating of legacy LMS systems to include game dynamics and elements that enable organisations to perform tasks like:
- Leverage the power of friendly competition with the game elements like leaderboards, badges, achievements, points etc.
- Detailed tracking of user’s learning objectives, process, and progress, which can then be rewarded and cultivated.
- Gamification will continue to blend with other learning technologies
- While eLearning gamification is also used as a standalone learning strategy, there is a trend toward combining or blending game-based learning with other learning experiences. For example, micro-learning creates 50% more engagement. When micro-learning is combined with eLearning gamification, the benefits of learner engagement is multiplied several times.
eLearning gamification can easily blend with other learning strategies to make the learning more engaging and immersive. Imagine playing an online firefighting gamified VR module where you can learn the Do’s and Don’ts of fire safety in a virtual environment.
Let the Games Begin!
Gamification is a no-brainer when it comes to transforming boring tasks into fun activities. Large organisations all over the globe are riding the gamification wave, and it’s only a matter of time before smaller-sized companies follow suit. No matter the size of your organisation, engagement is one of the most pressing issues across all industries. Gartner said that 70% of business transformation efforts fail due to disengaged workers! Recognition, remuneration, and a sense of purpose are all excellent motivators. Gamification works exceptionally well in the workplace. It banks on each of these motivators to keep employees locked in and focused.
Gamification is the marriage of productivity and technology built on appreciation – a fundamental human need. Being recognised for the good work you are doing means you are contributing something valuable. When someone values your work, your satisfaction rises and you are motivated to maintain or improve your quality of work even more. Gamification is proving to be the innovative edge in an increasingly competitive environment. Research indicates that without play, it is hard to give your best at work or at home, so gamification in the workplace is a logical progression. Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature, it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. Play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun and leads to achievement. Additionally, it gives the immune system a boost, fosters empathy, and promotes a sense of belonging and community. Play is the way to mastery.
“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything, than when we are at play.”