Gamification is the use of games to encourage particular behaviours, such as an app that gives points for healthy activities. It has been around a while, but in a fairly low-key way. However, 2018 may be the year in which gamification hits the mainstream. Digital transformation requires a change in mindset, and gamification could be a way to achieve that. Here are a few observations if you are considering introducing this element to your own programmes.
Gamification is NOT about making games – Instead, it is about using some of the ideas behind games to make working more fun, and more entertaining. It helps to engage people in their work or as customers, but it must also—if not chiefly—be about getting things done more effectively. It is games as tools, rather than ends in themselves, and it is therefore vital to think carefully about the problem that you are trying to solve.
The best uses of gamification are so immersive that people find it hard to avoid playing – The most successful computer games are those that suck you in, and keep you there. Gamification is the same: the most effective uses of gamification are those where the players want to get—and stay—involved in the game.
Play engages individuals, and helps them to form stronger relationships – It may sound like a paradox, but playing games together can develop deeper relationships. Plato said that you can learn more about an individual in an hour of play than a year of conversation, and this probably makes sense: you learn what they are like when under competitive pressure, and how they behave when winning and losing. Emotional engagement is deeper, and therefore so are the relationships.
Gamification as a change tool can tap into deep instincts through story-telling – Story-telling taps into some of our oldest and deepest instincts. We are all programmed to remember and pass one stories, not least because it helped us survive long ago. Gamification uses tools like story-telling (think ‘the hero’s journey) to move you forward. It is therefore an ideal tool for supporting change, whether individual or organisational.
Choosing the right story is important – Every story will have an effect. This means that you need to be sure that the story that you are using has the required effect, and also that it is strong enough to overcome rival ‘attractions’. The ‘game’ needs to fit with the story or narrative to be effective.
Social media allows others to share the journey – Solitaire and patience are fun, but perhaps games are best when others are able to join in. Social media has changed gamification, by allowing this. Instead of your ‘game’ being solitary, you can now share your progress on social media, or even compete against others. There are an enormous number of platforms that allow this outside ‘mainstream’ social media, and they have made the ‘journey’ collective instead of individual.
Gamification allows individuals to help each other – At least partly as a consequence of the journey becoming collective, and shared on social media, individuals within a given community can help each other towards a goal. In a change process, this might mean supporting changes in behaviour, or encouraging particular activities. This allows the ‘community’ to reach the goal together.
Gamification may be one way to help people avoid burnout – Gamification could also be a way to put some of the fun back into working. This might help individuals to avoid burnout, a state of chronic stress and fatigue that means people are unable to work effectively. Burnout is often linked to lack of autonomy, community, and immediate feedback, and gamification can provide all of those.
Setting appropriate goals for gamification is challenging – Designing games is (relatively) easy, but ensuring that they help to deliver organisational goals is much harder. Employees who are better at the ‘game’ also need to be better at their jobs—or playing the game needs to improve the way that they do their jobs. Just having fun is not really enough to justify gamification.
Measuring success is also difficult, but worthwhile – Social media abounds with metrics, including followers, likes, retweets and shares. Few of these metrics, however, are actually intrinsically useful in determining actual performance. The same goes for gamification. It is important to measure useful and relevant metrics to assess results, and also to be sure that the results are ‘right’.