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Gamification: Not a piece of cake

Playful incentives can lead people to behave in ways that they would otherwise hardly show. This has been shown again by the recent hype about Pokemon Go. Suddenly people who had previously avoided exercise as much as possible are walking for hours through alleys and parks, so that untrained Pokemon Go hunters complain of severe muscle soreness. Can you also use these playful incentives as a company that is not in the games industry?

Gamification is based on this basic idea, a topic that has experienced a real hype in this decade.
Gamification is the application of game elements and principles in a non-playful context (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). These include, for example, systems in which participants are rewarded for their activities and achievements with experience points and virtual awards (badges), tasks are set in the form of challenges (quests) or rankings / leaderboards enable comparisons of achievements.

Companies can use gamification in two main areas. On the one hand, you can increase customer loyalty and involvement, which is particularly interesting for service companies and companies with many customer contacts. Ideally, gamification strategies can turn customers into advocates for the company. One example of such an approach is the Migipedia community platform operated by Migros, where active users can move up in the ranking and, for example, develop from a “hobby author” to a “super author”. On the other hand, the commitment and motivation of employees (and thus productivity) can be increased if gamification strategies are implemented successfully.

According to an estimate by Gartner analysts, however, 80% of gamification approaches in companies will not achieve their goals due to poor implementation. While one can of course ask how such estimates come about, this statement makes something clear: Gamification is not a panacea for poor motivation among employees or low involvement of customers. The successful implementation of gamification strategies - especially in the long term - requires a lot of experience and sensitivity and also depends on the consideration of many details.

For a successful implementation, according to Tony Ventrice, Director Game Design at Badgeville, one of the leading companies in the field of gamification, the following points should be observed (Ventrice, 2014):

Before you go ahead, plan
The goals should be clearly defined: Which behaviors should be increased or decreased? Which activities and triggers can best achieve this? The gamification approaches should also fit the corporate culture and the reward system should be changed periodically in order to retain the interest of employees or customers.

Don't use money as a motivator

The instinct to play is based on intrinsic motivation, which is clearly suppressed by money. Motives such as pride in the job or teamwork are suppressed by money. In addition, too small amounts are perceived as offensive as incentives for good performance, while too high amounts often cause stress and prevent creativity. It is therefore better to enable employees to demonstrate their unique skills within a playful approach and to master challenges and achieve goals.

Make it look professional
Gamification does not mean that the implementation of the corresponding elements has to be gaudy and playful. They should also match the company's corporate identity and appear professional. This requires a certain instinct: Depending on the company's culture, a term such as 'Black Belt in Excel' or 'Guru of Controlling' may or may not be appropriate for the goals to be achieved.

Respect existing programs
Gamification strategies should not overturn existing incentive programs or employee hierarchies. Existing money-based bonus systems should not expire at the same time as the introduction of the new program, nor should they be seen as a replacement.

Use the right motivators

For certain tasks, point systems and progress indicators are suitable as motivators, as they facilitate the perception of progress and the achievement of goals is clearly signaled. For more complex tasks, social recognition can be better suited as a motivator, whereby there are two approaches: competition or cooperation. Competitive employees prefer rankings and leaderboards, while cooperative employees also seek social recognition, but want to avoid direct competition.

Measure the relevant behaviors

The easiest way to measure work performance is by counting activities. In many cases, however, quality is more important than quantity, for example when processing customer inquiries. If this is not sufficiently taken into account, there is a risk that a lot will be produced, but of poor quality, which ultimately jeopardizes the success of the entire gamification program.

In future posts we will go into more detail on individual aspects of gamification and present examples of applications.

Further information and sources:

Dale, S. (2014). Gamification: Making work fun, or making fun of work? Business Information Review, 31(2), 82-90.

Zichermann, G., & Cunningham, C. (2011). Gamification by design: Implementing game mechanics in web and mobile apps. Sepastobol: O'Reilly.

Ventrice, T. (2014). The 5 easiest ways to fail with gamification. CRM Magazine. Accessed August 16, 2016 at