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Gamification success relies on design and psychology.

Okay, so we probably all agree that gamification has become a bit of an overused word – you could say a real buzzword of 2014. And for those of you who have managed to miss this topic completely, here is a definition from Wikipedia:

“Gamification is the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences.”

In theory, this seems straightforward, right? No? Well the truth is that getting it right in a business context is not straightforward, and indeed, many implementations have failed. Gartner Research generated some noise recently when they published a report that claimed that 80% of gamification projects would fail by 2014, due to poor design.

That suggests an awful lot of time, effort and money is about to be wasted! Nonetheless, dramatic growth is also being forecast. Another recent report from M2 Research suggests that the gamification market will be worth $242 million in the US alone by the end of 2012 – that’s up almost 150% on 2011. And 38% of that comes from the enterprise market, which is significant when you realise this was only 10% the year before. Looking further ahead, M2 have estimated double-digit growth in the coming years, with their overall market estimate reaching $2.8 billion by 2016. Wow!

Effective Implementation Needs Specialist Game Design Skills.

This is a serious business approach and there are numerous benefits when implemented effectively. At its heart is better engagement and higher productivity, although it is fair to say that we are still defining what gamification in the enterprise actually means. Ultimately it is about people and encouraging specific positive behaviours within the workforce. What it is not, and should never be, is slapping a game like surface on something to make it feel fun, such as points, badges and leaderboards. Yes, these are all elements we see in common games, but good design in the context of gamification has to go much deeper than that. Game design is a specialist skill.

We recently watched a great video of a talk by game designer Stephanie Morgan, which we have embedded below, which touches on this very issue. It was recorded last year at an event in San Francisco and she makes some very valid points (warning – she also swears quite a lot!)

One of Stephanie’s key points centres on what she calls ‘the compulsion loop’. Real games, which we play for entertainment, keep us fully engaged by awarding points and scores that tie into the compulsion loops that are feeding the mechanics of the game. In simple terms, the compulsion loop goes something like this – we complete tasks, to earn points, which we use to buy stuff, so we can complete more tasks. And so the loop continues. Points and scores are not just awarded for doing stuff, like a stats score, they are used in a way to ensure each individual action is feeding into the next, thus creating a seamless loop. Therefore, as a participant, you always know why you are doing what you’re doing, and every action leads you to want to do something else.

To Positively Influence Behaviour We Need to Understand the Psychology.

Now this is just one concept to consider, but the crux of it all is that to ensure gamification truly delivers on its promises we have to go much further in terms of design thinking. We also have to understand the cognitive behaviours that are inherent in all of us.

Take the good old leaderboard as another example. Why should a participant care about their position on a leaderboard? In theory, they exist to leverage our competitive nature, to drive participants to complete tasks so they can get to the top. However, in reality, it isn’t long before people realise they may never get there, so their interest and motivation immediately starts to drop. This is the complete opposite of what ‘gamified’ solutions are trying to achieve.

Plus, game mechanics that emphasise such competitive behaviour are not going to do much for improving teamwork and workforce collaboration. Just using points and leaderboards can often make the reward the objective, rather than using rewards to motivate people to achieve the objective. This is a really subtle difference but an important one, which is explored more in a recent blog post by gamification platform vendor Badgeville.

It is our belief that we will see gamification applied to a whole variety of scenarios, both in business and in our personal lives. Although many will be poorly executed, as Gartner predicts, the successes will speak for themselves and best practice will soon be clear. Good design is at the heart of this, and that is design that is informed by a deep understanding of human behaviour and what motivates us.

Drive and Motivation are Not Influenced by What You Think.

Ironically most businesses misunderstand what truly motivates people. Most business leaders and managers think it is money, but science suggests otherwise. To prove the point, have a look at this fascinating video from the RSA, which summarises the content of a book we highly recommend from Daniel Pink, called ‘Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’.