Where did it all go wrong for Gamification?

It wasn’t long ago that the technology industry was singing the praises of enterprise gamification.

The software tool, which aims to motivate employees to achieve their goals by measuring and scoring their data in the context of an in-house competition, was destined for big things.

In April 2011, analyst house Gartner predicted that 50% of organisations that managed innovation processes would gamify those processes by 2015.

By 2014, it wrote, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention would become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70% of Global 2000 organisations would have at least one gamified application.

The technology industry, however, is notoriously fickle.

>See also: Is that whole gamification thing really over?

Two years ago, Gartner predicted that four out of five gamified applications will fail to deliver business objectives in the following two years due to a lack of game design talent within businesses.

That brings us to the present day, and the future of gamification remains up in the air. Many still criticise the solution’s longevity and ability to motivate employees and engage customers, but Gartner now believes that it will be an ‘essential part’ of any digital business strategy.

The vast majority of gamification implementations are still shallow tools featuring points, badges and leader boards without any viable long-term engagement of any digital business strategy.

According to Jeremy Boudinet, marketing director at Ambition, gamification is not over, but has just entered a ‘trough of disillusionment’ phase. ‘This industry has been plagued with companies that have devalued their users, skimped on product engineering and forgotten that collaboration and good business intelligence are the true paths to fulfilling their fundamental purposes: better culture and improved ROI,’ he says.

Robert Yardy, marketing manager at MMT Digital, adds, ‘I am reluctant to agree that gamification is truly over – however, my fears, and those of many others, seem to have come to fruition.’

A game for all

There are clearly plenty of positives to take from encouraging employees to work more efficiently. However, many enterprise gamification strategies have encouraged employees to work harder but not better.

‘I have heard of one high-profile travel agent that encourages its call centre staff to deal with as many calls as possible and record the details of the calls accurately, with points being allocated for velocity and accuracy,’ Yardy says.

A common flaw in many gamification strategies is that the people who top the leader board or get the most badges, are those who were already the outstanding performers.

It is arguably more important to motivate those who are underachieving, and many strategies demotivate people once they realise that they have no chance of winning. 

Ultimately, if the gamification software doesn’t add tangible benefit to the employees, it will add to the pile of failed initiatives.

Just because gamification software is supposed to be an inherently ‘fun’ product, does not mean that ground-level users don’t need further financial incentive to actually obtain value from the product. 

‘If you want your employees to care less about whether they’re being tracked, you should empower them to perform better at their job, make more money and get a promotion,’ Boudinet says.

Lack of enthusiasm

Another common mistake is for gamification projects to bypass the people in the organisation who can really make them a success.

Often driven by HR, gamified applications will frequently lack the technical proficiency to make the user experience enjoyable. This is where the IT team can and should be called upon to enhance the project.

An HR team that is plugged into the strategy of the company can be a great source of information for the CIO – aligning incentives in a way that adds gamification value throughout the company.

‘The insight from HR can be further enhanced by analysis of the comments and microblogs on the company’s internal social networks,’ says Satya Ramaswamy, VP and global head of TCS digital enterprise at Tata Consultancy Services.

Most importantly, however, there must be a recognised business need for investing time and resources into a gamification strategy, as well as a fun element to engage the users.

>See also: Gartner reveals how gamification drives digital business

It’s not revolutionary to say that people will perform better if they are enjoying what they are doing. This is where the CIO is fundamental.

They have to provide clear incentives for employees and ensure that the fun element of gamification is not lost.

‘This often comes down to the personality of the CIO, which in turn links to hiring people rather than CVs,’ says Yardy.

Sucking out the fun

That fun factor can very quickly be swallowed up if the gamification strategy is too shallow in its method of judging employee productivity.

Rather than just focusing on results, a truly effective gamification solution will gain a deeper understanding of employee performance.

>The important thing, therefore, is how gamification results are used to assess performance as a whole.

Decision criteria for determining winners should be based on measurable statistics, such as being rated highly by a customer, rather than just the number of deals that have been closed.

Organisations should create tiered rewards that motivate players to continually do better, level up and be able to show off their rewards.

And they should mix it up by applying different rewards for different teams at different times, while making sure that players are competing against colleagues performing similar tasks.

‘Gaming scenarios should be aligned with business objectives to keep them real and meaningful,’ says Neil Penny, product director at Sunrise Software, which has deployed gamification. ‘After all, gamification is all about supporting the business.’

In a digital world where people are increasingly wary about being spied on, organisations should also approach gamification carefully to ensure that its ‘Big Brother’ nature doesn’t actually have a negative effect on employees.

Unlike a straightforward internal business-intelligence tool, gamification is often implemented with the message to employees that its foremost purpose is to improve their culture and everyday experience at work.

According to Boudinet, that is the wrong message to send. He says businesses must own the elephant in the room: employees are being tracked, and a fundamental purpose of gamification is in fact to spur productivity and improve transparency.

‘Then you have to demonstrate tangible benefit and lay out how the software is going to directly and tangibly benefit the user,’ he says. ‘When you’re considering adopting gamification software, you’d better be thinking about how you’re going to explain to its everyday users where that tangible value comes in. 

‘If there’s one thing that the growing disillusionment with the current state of enterprise gamification has taught us, it’s that you can’t get away with deceiving your employees. And what makes employee backlash against the “Big Brother” impact of gamification worse is the fundamental dishonesty in trying to disguise tracking software that lacks tangible benefit as something fun.’

Reward and review

In the six months that Sunrise has been using gamification, it claims to have improved response times, and its incidents are now logged much more quickly. 

‘We’ve seen a positive impact on camaraderie on the desk with some friendly competition,’ Penny says. ‘We have also found that gamification can be used to monitor workloads, ensuring that it is shared more equally among the team.

The important thing for CIOs to consider, Penny believes, is that gamification can only work if it’s constantly reviewed.

It is important to listen to staff feedback and evolve to meet new challenges. In this way, employees will see it as a positive way of working towards corporate goals.

There is no doubt that using clever technology that integrates the concepts of game theory is essential to gaining the support of younger staff members. At the end of the day, they are tomorrow’s business leaders.

Engaging them in a way that entertains and educates is vital to creating a dynamic and thriving work environment. 

For companies that are swift to adapt, there are opportunities to implement gamification to motivate customers with personalised, interactive apps that can be downloaded on a phone or tablet – increasing engagement with its products and brand. 

‘This approach can also be extended to staff to send rewards and incentives directly to motivate, engage or train online,’ Penny says. ‘We are only at the start of this journey.’

>See also: Is advanced metrics the final nail in gamification’s coffin?

Going forward, gamification tools must incorporate more advanced analytics to enhance their value to the enterprise.

Increasing use of big data will provide game designers with the tools to have more inputs into the game design, and the use of analytics will impact the game dynamically.

‘These enhancements in inputs and analytics will mean that users can gain insights about their performance and automated advice on how to perform better,’ says Ramaswamy. ‘This will be supported by increased use of machine-learning techniques.’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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