Monday, 11 June 2012

Where might Enterprise Gamification not deliver sufficient ROI?

Continuing on from a previous post, this post will attempt to lay out areas where I don’t think Enterprise Gamification will be able to deliver high value.  This is a bit of a tough one for me because I have “drank the Kool-Aid” a little on Gamification and it is a very broad toolset, so very hard to think that it can’t be high value in most applications.  However, I am pushing myself here to think a little critically and to be honest, I have lowered the bar a little and am now thinking in terms of “where the effort to implement and sustain, may outweigh the benefits”.

So, I have looked across functions and processes within the enterprise and I think the following characteristics are where the return on investment for gamifying an activity would be low;

  • Where a high degree of measurement and feedback is intrinsic to the activity.  In this circumstance I would argue that you already have some of the strongest elements of Gamification – the ability to create strong feedback loops – so you have to strongly question why you would expend significant effort to gamify?  The example that springs to mind is project management. I know that there are some existing examples of applying gamification to project management but, I am not convinced. Project Management is already something that is measured, measured and measured, and then you dashboard (status reports) and the feedback loop is huge and omnipresent (status meetings, steering committees etc). Its one big game already in a lot of ways (and as an ex-PM, I can attest that like games it can be fun… and it can be brutal!)

  • Where there is a strong intrinsic motivation that is an essential part of the activity. This is a tricky one to come up with an example of, but I think that this would be a case where you can destroy someone’s intrinsic motivation by overlaying extrinsic motivators through gamfication. See Dan Pink’s book “Drive” for an exploration of the psychology and evidence behind this phenomena.  Now, I know that game design and game mechanics has access to many things that also tap intrinsic motivations (mastery, autonomy etc) so this isn’t as strong a case but I think it still applies. If you had a customer help area (not just customer service) and you awarded points, badges and celebrated “levelling up” according to the people they helped, I think you would find that you would pretty soon see the intrinsic vs extrinsic issue rear its ugly head. Gamification would cheapen the altruistic motivation and satisfaction aspect. (Counter-point: Maybe “quests” would actually help to galvanise and focus a team though… and I guess these same people already get paid which is pretty extrinsic….).

  • Where you haven’t enabled people. This is more of a scenario or environment than a process but it is worthwhile mentioning because it could affect everything. Remembering that one of the key reasons that games work so well to engage and motivate is because players have autonomy and can build and develop mastery; if your people aren’t enabled to do this in the process you are looking at – then you are wasting your time applying any gamification until you fix the enablement issue.  Nothing will frustrate people more than being measured and given feedback on something which they honestly think they have no ability to control or improve – it will be massively de-motivating! So don’t do it!!!

Lastly, there is one characteristic that I strongly believe in, but I can’t quite get my argument to coalesce. High value activities that are delivery based (versus creativity based).  I am sure there is something about this combination that means gamification is mostly just going to get in the way, but I really can’t express it in words. I am thinking things like critical situation management or staging an event (as opposed to creating an event).  These examples have a high degree of in-built challenge which brings the opportunity for autonomy and mastery front and they are so intensely delivery driven activities that there is also a strong feedback loop. That’s as far as I get though… needs more work.  

Reading back, I am not even sure if I have convinced myself but I want to contribute to the debate and get people thinking.  Why? Because as much as I believe that Gamification and the application of game mechanics could be an amazing new frontier and opportunity in the enterprise, I do want to keep challenging to ensure that we don’t think this is some kind of panacea, because I am sure it isn’t. 

Would love to hear other ideas and counter points.  <Crickets!…>

Sunday, 3 June 2012

What is my definition of Gamification? Where is my focus?

Lets start off with a confession;  I don’t really like the word “gamification” but it does seem to be what is being accepted so lets stick with it!

So as far as how I define “my” gamfication interest… I start with the standard definition of gamification as being the use of  game design, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts (see or

However, I have diverged a little bit from this starting point (otherwise what would be the fun!!) to both broaden and also narrow my own focus.

Where I broaden is by including “serious games” in what I am looking at. For those unfamiliar with the concept, “serious games” also can b called “games with purpose” or “games for change”. These are games designed for a primary purpose that is not pure entertainment although they can be entertaining! I’m really excited by the concept of playing games to better our world – there are environmental games, health games, anti-poverty games, recycling games and the list goes on! This is really insipring stuff!

Where I narrow my focus is because I exclude a large part of gamification – the part that is targeted explicitly on marketing (i.e. loyalty programs etc). I can’t really say why but I am just not particularly interested or excited about this space .  Although I do admire when I see great examples or unusual implementations, it just doesn’t ring my bell as something I want to focus on! Having said that, I am really, really interested when I see this being done AND it has a secondary (I’m not completely niave!) goal of benefiting or improving beneficial behaviour of the user / customer. Nike plus is probably one of the most well known of these.

So to be more explicit, when I talk about gamification, I am predominantly interested and discussing;
  1. How we can use gamification within the enterprise where we use game design etc to drive more efficient  and effective processes, better change management outcomes AND help people engage with, and enjoy more, their work.
  2. Serious games and games with a purpose that seek to improve the human condition by engaging their players. 
  3. Its a subset of the bullet point above that deserves a special mention; educational games. I am really excited about the how games and gamifcation can enhance education, having seen firsthand how well my son has responded when exposed to games and gamification during his own educational experience. Its amazing!!

So that is my context. Keep that in mind! 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Where is Gamification best employed in the enterprise?

Speaking on a Gamification panel the other night and someone asked if there was any examples I could give where gamification shouldn’t be applied. On the spot I gave a bit of a glib answer that I thought the funeral industry probably wasn’t an area that I would recommend, which got a couple of laughs but the question did make me think… where in the enterprise is gamification best applied and where might it not be as valuable?

I have listed below some characteristics of areas that I think are best suited to gamification. Noting that I don’t think for a moment that I have figured this out completely, but I am an external thinker so it helps me to tip my ideas out and maybe someone can build upon them!

A quick aside on how I am making this judgement of “best suited”. I am making a heuristic assessment of where I think the potential value of gamification will outweigh the potential cost and risk. There is an implicit assumption here; that the gamification is done well and the effort is taken to embed game design properly and appropriately – its not just slapping on some points and badges.

I believe that Gamification in the enterprise will produce the most value in the following situations;

  1. Where the execution of an activity isn’t as valuable to the organisation as the outcome. Think customer data maintenance; “Data Entry” is not a valued activity, however accurate and complete data is very valuable in today’s information based world.
  2. Where the short term execution of an activity isn’t as rewarding to the individual as the outcome. For example; maintaining an up-to-date experience profile or documenting your performance outcomes regularly (vs just before the end of year appraisal process). The more obvious one is an example outside the enterprise space; regular exercise!
  3. Where an activity is “invisible” when done well but hugely visible when it goes badly (I call these “utility” activities – when was the last time you rang the electricity company to thank them for your lights coming on!) Examples of this are things like routine processing operations (the nightly batch) or maintenance and upgrades.

The reason I think gamification has the maximum chance of delivering maximum value for these activities is that they are all situations where there are barriers to execution of the activity but also tremendous benefits and value to having the activity done well. Gamification can help with this “problem” by using game mechanics to engage, motivate and reward the people involved in the activity so that their efforts are maximally aligned with the outcomes desired!

Next blog post I will attempt to answer the question about where gamification may not be best suited. That one is a little harder for someone who has “drank the Kool Aid”!!!!