Where you are going wrong with gamification

Where you are going wrong with gamification

Rewarding people through a simple points system does not make work inherently motivating, says game expert Dr Jason Fox

If you think by simply creating points, badges or another type of reward system will motivate workers, then you are going about gamification the wrong way, according to game expert Dr Jason Fox, who spoke at Gartner’s Business Intelligence Summit in Sydney this week.

Fox cited figures from the book Reality is Broken by Dr Jane McGonigal, saying that more than 500 million people spend more than 7 billion hours each week playing online video games. “There are more adult female gamers than there are teenage boy gamers,” he added.

For businesses there’s much opportunity to tap into a rich gaming culture without having to make work look like leisure, Fox said.

“You don’t need to turn work into a game, it already is a game. You don’t need to turn any customer experience into a game, it already is a game. There already are goals and objectives, there are already rules and feedback. We just need to tweak and enhance these to make it work better.”

He gave an example of an interface from the game EVE Online and how it somewhat resembled a typical work applications.

“This is what we pay money for people to do,” he said, pointing to a desktop with numerous work applications. “And this is what people pay money to do,” he said, pointing to the EVE Online game interface to compare the similarities. “Sure, there’s a graphical difference, but I think it goes beyond that. People will actually pay to do well-designed work.”

"This is what we pay money for people to do, and this is what people pay money to do”

So if games are like work, why do people prefer to play games?

Fox said businesses need to rid the cheesy motivational tactics used to try and encourage people to excel in their work. He said these tactics are often used in gamification, and they usually result in low success.

He gave an example of his first encounter with a ‘motivational speaker’ during his last year of high school to demonstrate what not to do.

“There was this guy in his corporate pin-striped suit, it was a 40-degree day and he was all buttoned up. He said, ‘You all need to check up from the neck up, you know what I’m saying? Right now I see a whole bunch of amazing people, but you don’t realise how amazing you are… because in order to be amazing, you need to be amazing. The moment you realise you don’t need to become a millionaire, you already are a millionaire. The money has just not been deposited in your bank account yet.’”

Fox said businesses should take motivation out of the equation all together and instead focus on progress as being the driver of better work performance.

“Progress is one of the most powerful motivators, it’s one of the things that correlate with the highest levels of motivation at work,” he said.

“Instead of saying ‘you guys need to check up from the neck up’… [think about] how you can provide more of a sense of progress. We are not going to invest effort into things unless we can see it is going to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, things that can contribute to progress.

“If there’s ever been a time when you haven’t had the motivation to do something, often what will happen is our activity will default to an environment that provides a richer sense of progress. Some people might write down things that they’ve already done just so they can tick it off and get that satisfaction.”

Rewarding people through a simple points system does not make work inherently motivating, said Fox. This is where most businesses go wrong when designing their gamification models.

“I was in Chicago last year at a coffee place… and on my fourth visit they said ‘this one is on the house’. It was spontaneous thing that made me feel very surprised and delighted and very loyal to them.

“If it was a stamp and expectation on a card and I have to churn through eight crappy coffees in order to get one free crappy coffee, then I wouldn’t call that loyalty. I call that continuation of purchase.”

Many businesses also tend to over reward their staff without paying more attention to the challenge and if it is stimulating enough for the user. “Think challenge before reward. Rewards are meaningless in the absence of challenge.”

He gave an example of Google that used gamification to recruit specific talent it was looking for. The search giant put up a billboard sign in Silicon Valley in 2004 that displayed a mathematical puzzle: ‘{First 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e} .com’] Google did not include its logo on the billboard.

“Most people would have driven past the sign. Some people might have tried to Google it if they thought about but you couldn’t Google this kind of question at the time – [the answer] just wasn’t there,” Fox said.

The most curious minded who found it enjoyable to find the answer to this mathematical puzzle, which is 7427466391, were directed to website that displayed binary code. The player would have to decipher this, which would lead them on to another website.

“Another two websites later, Google said ‘hey, it’s us – Google. We are looking for a new senior engineer, would you like to send through your CV?’

“They created a game that preselected the type of talent they wanted - someone who was motivated through curiosity and challenge, not the promise of status and reward. And you can imagine how hard it is for Google to recruit for a professional like that, they’ll get swamped.”

Gamification may offer companies many opportunities, but ethics still an issue being wade through in the game industry.

“The word ‘games’ has its fair share of issues. When someone says ‘don’t play games with me’, what they are communicating is ‘don’t try and manipulate me’.

"Games are behavioural manipulation. At its core, games are a set of parameters designed to manipulate and influence human behaviour,” Fox said.

Fox said it’s important to think about the implications of a game design and it may not be appropriate to use it in every work environment.

“We need to take the right blend of this. If you put a gamification element in a collaborative environment that gets people working more competitively in order to obtain a reward, you can destroy all kinds of dynamics at play. We need to be careful.

“As far as looking at what the future might look – wearable tech and embedded technology – I got to work with researchers looking at possibly having technologies within you that can intervene on your behalf through your smartphone to monitor blood sugar levels. If we get this gamification thing right, this could be where we could end up. But is that where we want to end up?”

Check out this short film on an imagined future scenario on gamification and potential ethical issues.

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