Can Gamification avoid becoming the next business fad?


It’s official, the buzzword of 2011 is ‘Gamification’.

I say ‘official’ in the loosest possible sense but I’m going to give myself a +1 for ‘eye-catching statements’ either way.

Whilst the learning world is stealing a slow and suspicious march towards the concept of Gamification, the wider business world is setting off like Usain Bolt in hunt of the nearest KFC. The idea is simple. Computer games are engaging. Work is not. Therefore, make work like games (+2 eye-catching statements).

I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before a large consultancy firm offers to take a few million pounds off your hands to implement this new regime. For the overwhelming majority of cases I predict epic failure.

The difference between Tesco’s Clubcard and Angry Birds.

The majority of what I read and hear about Gamification shows some fundamental differences in the collective understanding of what a ‘game’ is. For the purposes of clarity, let me give two examples which I believe we can all agree on.

Tesco’s Clubcard scheme is a loyalty scheme run by a major supermarket store based in the UK. As you shop for goods, you collect points. You can redeem these points on items that Tesco thinks you might like to purchase. This is not a game, nor is it a clever interpretation of the Gamification concept.

Rovio’s Angry Birds is the best selling mobile game of all time. In the game you fling a variety of perturbed birds with special powers towards green pigs, elegantly stacked in intricate structures that would most certainly fail to achieve building regulation standards. This is a game.

I’m worried that Gamification is going to turn into a fad because some people don’t see this difference. To suggest that you can engage your employees more by making them collect points which they can redeem back against benefits (pay, holiday, flexi-time etc…) is not Angry Birds, its Tesco’s Clubcard. It is not a game, nor is it Gamification. There are many reasons why this is not a game, but let me expand on two:

  1. The reward is extrinsic to the activity.
  2. It is not fun.

The first one is enough to tell you why Gamification that looks like a Clubcard scheme won’t work. The ‘joy’ of the Clubcard scheme is in the payoff, the vouchers. Just as in the workplace, the ‘joy’ of this sort of Gamification scheme isn’t in working or doing work, but in the reward. You wanted to engage people in their work and all you did is engage people in their reward package. In short, implementing this sort of ‘Gamification’ in the workplace will bring you 3 things:

  1. A lot of people attempting to circumvent work in order to reach rewards (gaming the system).
  2. A large increase in the amount of reward you have to give out.
  3. A large decrease in staff engagement with the work itself.

This isn’t new. This is classic target setting behaviour with all the same pitfalls. When you create a system that is akin to the Tesco’s Clubcard scheme and call it Gamification you are adding another stone in the rocky road towards fad town.

When you boil down beyond motivation theories, flow and all sorts of other stuff, games are engaging for that second reason. They are fun. This is where Gamification starts and ends. If it isn’t fun, don’t bother.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that business is becoming open to the idea of games in the workplace. For some reason the stereotype that work and play are opposites has pervaded our lives and I’m convinced this need not be true. But I feel that we’re at a fork in the road on the term Gamification itself. If it is adopted in the Tesco’s Clubcard model not only will it fail as a long term concept but I won’t be touching it with a stick.

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  1. #1 by Cammy Bean at June 8th, 2011

    +1 to this post! Love the distinction between Clubcard and Gameification.

    I’ve been saying for awhile — if the work is dull, just because you make it into a game doesn’t make it any less dull.

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