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Gamification: Using play to motivate employees and engage customers

Robert Strohmeyer | Aug. 29, 2013
Turning business goals into games, with points and prizes, can boost results—if you do it right.

A winning gamification strategy
Realizing the benefits of gamification takes serious thought and planning, and you're unlikely to get much out of it just by littering your website with badges and achievements.

Debow warns against confusing gamification with "pointsification." "Be skeptical," he cautions. "You're not going to get people to do something they don't want to do by giving them points and badges." Rather, he says, "You have to think of gamification as a way of amplifying an existing signal. It doesn't make you do anything you weren't already doing or didn't want to do. It has to be a part of something that you already have an underlying, intrinsic interest in doing."

Debow's perspective is informed by important insights from the games industry itself, where skepticism about business gamification runs deep. Notable thinkers in the game-design business have long warned about gamification hype, pointing out that what makes games enjoyable and engaging is an emphasis on the intrinsic fun of the game experience and not some ulterior motive.

In his influential 2004 book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, game designer Ralph Koster observes that what's fun about gaming is its capacity for delivering intrinsically rewarding experiences. Beyond the points and badges, games are fun because they impart to the player a sense of competence, self-efficacy, and mastery.

This is a point Debow emphasizes strongly: "If you approach it with an emphasis on what's in it for you or your company, it won't work."

Michael Fauscette of IDC is equally cautious of the pitfalls. "If you just go into it and think, 'I have to have it because it's cool,' what's the point?" he says. "But if you go into it saying, 'I have a sales productivity issue, and I need to improve a specific behavior,' then you're in a place where you can make gamification work."

Companies interested in applying gamelike mechanics to their business environment would do well to focus on the following five principles.

1. Have a measurable goal: Focus on encouraging a specific behavior. If, for instance, you want to increase the number of product reviews on your website, reward users for writing product reviews by giving them points every time they do it.

2. Focus on things people already want to do: Your best starting point for gamification is to reward a behavior that's already happening.

3. Measure the change: Track the desired behavior before and after gamifying it, so that you'll know whether the gamification is working. Fauscette emphasizes the importance of data tracking in gamification strategies.

4. Reward incremental progress: A good gamelike experience measures and rewards small accomplishments in addition to big ones. When you reward people for making incremental progress toward larger goals, you encourage them to keep going.


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