Guest Post: Gamification — has it had its day?

Have we passed peak gamifiation? It might seem so. Marketers are using it less and less as a strategy, with a 3% dip between 2015 and 2014.

Is that dip a blip or are we seeing the decline of gamification? Yes, there are reports to the contrary, many of them self-serving, but it is more likely that we have reached maturity, with a better understanding of the risk and reward involved. And yes, there are risks.

The unwanted by-product of gamification

Here’s an example. We launched a product internally which was designed to track time. In an agency, you have to track your time in order to know what you’re billing.

This product seemed like the silver bullet. And look, there was a handy chart letting you know who was ‘topping the charts’ in terms of billable hours. What more incentive for working hard on getting those billable hours up!

Except that it didn’t have a positive effect at all. Its immediate effect was to demoralise certain individuals who didn’t want to be entered into a race to see who could come top of the league. By gamifying something as core to the business as tracking time, the product had actually started to reduce productivity.

Equally, the race to the top meant that there wasn’t enough focus on the non-billable, which is equally important in running an agency. You can’t make everyone work 100% of the time, that’s just not healthy. So out went tea breaks, out went brainstorming time, meetings were suddenly trimmed down… all because there was a race to win the billable hours — or more likely, not to be down at the bottom.

Those who were less competitive simply took this negatively.

The unwanted by-product of gamification is this: some people hate it. You gamify your processes, they will hate you.

The learnings — and there are many

First of all, gamify only the people who want to be gamified. This is not a process for everyone, and nobody should be entered into a contest they don’t want to be entered into. For instance, I hated sports day at school, but I had to do it.

Don’t bring back sports day in your office, because there’s always someone who has bad memories of it.

Keep to the people or teams who are most likely to be incentivised by gamification. Sales teams, for instance, are naturally the most competitive, and usually thrive on gamification. It is, as expected, the area where you find it the most.

I once saw the MS Dynamics Fantasy Sales Team project in use, and it worked a treat. Why did it work so well?

It didn’t gamify individuals — it gamified teams. That’s important. And it helps spread the idea throughout a business more easily. If you create teams, people pull together. You inspire them to work together in pursuit of a shared goal, and you don’t have the individual silos of potential resentment at finishing last.

After all, gamification has that effect if you do it individually — there will always be someone who comes last. Split people into teams, and coming last isn’t such a problem. Respect the individual, praise the team.

How to gamify individuals

Leagues don’t work. Liam Butler’s piece on gamification highlights engagement and reward as two crucial factors to consider — and he mentions Candy Crush as a good example of reward.

This isn’t about leagues, it’s about knowing what the incentives are and triggering the reward for achievement. Candy Crush does it well, in that it creates that desperation for more reward (I admit, I’ve never played it because I know it would waste a lot of my time!)

And that’s how to use gamification for individuals in the workplace. Avoid the negativity of competing against others — help people compete against themselves. This might be in the framework of individual targets, and make it very clear up front what those targets are and what the rewards are if they are triggered.

You may think that this is the standard employee engagement process — but so few people actually do it, and if they start it, they barely ever stick to it. Gamification should help you keep to the plan — create the framework in something like Basecamp, and use it as the framework for your ongoing discussions.

Met a sales target? Bonus triggered. Come in early five days this week? You get the Sales Director’s parking spot for a day.

All of a sudden, simple things have more meaning. The only competitor is yourself, and the rewards are more meaningful, more impactful, and more in line with what the business is trying to achieve.

It’s personal, basically

Gamification as a trend has probably reached maturity, and people are using it less because they’ve encountered problems with it. It’s isolated people, it’s put people off, they’ve lost interest because the reward didn’t match the achievement.

But think about it, and gamification is still thriving. That Dynamics Fantasy League shows how you can motivate people to work together, instead of working as individuals, potentially demotivating those who haven’t sold as much.

Candy Crush shows how reward should be linked to achievement — and most importantly, how individuals need to be given personal incentives. Think about your engagement plan and what motivates individuals, and build individual gamification plans.

And most importantly, unlike those who have given up on gamification over the last year, stick to it.

Originally published at

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