Gamification: Why We Should Mix Work and Play
Gamification is the process of taking gaming elements and applying them to non-game environments. In the traditional framework of the working world, work can’t be fun, and play is only something you do on your off time, away from co-workers, bosses, and the like. These two worlds are seen as completely incompatible.
But what if they could be both? What if work could also be fun without affecting productivity? This is attainable through the use of gamification.
Working 9-5: The Video Game Edition
Not exactly surprising to note, many people invest an incredible amount of time and work into video games. Children, who may normally shirk homework or piano practice, are willing to spend hours leveling up their characters or battling their foes. Video games are a kind of work, though they may seem strange to equate. They are about toiling and spending the time to achieve a goal that provides some sort of reward at the end.
From personal experience, The Sims is a perfect example of how this works. In the interest of not losing my reputation as a professional, I will not disclose how many hours I’ve spent getting my Sim to master skills, become fit, and reach the pinnacle of their career. Isn’t this exactly the reason people play The Sims?
They like working with people, and fulfilling “life” goals like writing the next great novel, becoming a CEO, building a family, and buying that mansion. These in-game achievements don’t translate to the real world, but what’s clear is that it takes recognizable work. The Sims exhibits the major elements of how games make a product engaging, and keep users coming back.
The same elements that make The Sims so addicting to users are applicable to nearly any aspect of life imaginable, especially work. Gamification is like leveling up your business and powering up your workplace.
The Gamification Experience for Employees
One of the biggest issues in the workforce today is lack of engagement. Disengaged employees can cost companies heavily, and hamper productivity and quality of work. The assumption is that these people don’t have a good work ethic, but what if there is a simple fix?
Adults play video games and presumably enjoying doing so, dedicating hours to their video game goals. They are engaged in these games, but for some reason, this engagement doesn’t always transfer to the workplace. Gamifying the workplace is a simple fix for engaging people the way they could and should be. Humans have natural, goal-oriented minds, and games trigger this internal, innate motivation. By creating a more engaging and fulfilling environment for employees, people will have the desire to work more efficiently.
At the same time, the analytics that gamification produces can enhance the potential to monitor employee activity and productivity. While it might sound a little “Big Brother”, it actually allows companies to gauge where individual employees thrive, where others lag, and what improvements can be made to company processes. In short, it detects bottlenecks and allows a company-wide discussion about how to fix these, while still maximizing each individual employee’s unique talents.
Where do you start?
The basic elements of gamification are rewards, socialization, and fun. Applying each of these elements can help create an engaging work environment that builds your company culture.
Step one is to incorporate badges and rewards as a basic starting point for motivating small, but important tasks. By incorporating these continually, there is more incentive to continue working on even the most mundane tasks.
Farmville is a fascinating example of how using rewards to change behavior works. It was the wildly popular Facebook game played obsessively by 83 million monthly users at its peak. Despite having no real world value, people invested time into earning small, continuous, and easily attainable rewards. People felt good about collecting them because each achievement built up to even larger rewards, like upgrades and “decorations”. The small achievements were addictive because each time they received an award, their brain’s reward center released a small bit of dopamine, which influenced them to continue playing the game.
The next step to further gamifying the workplace is to incorporate a social element. Humans are social creatures and respond well to the social aspects of gameplay. Making people do uniform and complementary behavior together can also create overall unity within an office.
My farmer, my friend
Using Farmville as an example again, a secondary part of the gameplay was that players were encouraged to visit their friends’ farms where they could show their awards off. This appealed to simple competitive vanity rather than to direct competition. Good gamification establishes a kind of pseudo-competition, where people can display badges and achievements to their circle of friends in a show of pomp and prestige. Praise is earned by having the most pimped out farm.
My farmer, my enemy?
A common video game trope is to show high scores on leaderboards, which is meant to highlight how good someone is at the game. But this may actually be bad gamification for the workplace and should be handled very carefully. It could have the opposite of the intended effect. Pitting people against each other, especially if they feel that there is no way for them to reach a high ranking, severely depletes their motivation, and will eventually disengage them more than ever before.
Farmville didn’t have a leaderboard for this reason. If players could see the huge gap between casual players and the obsessive players who played for hours on end, maybe spending their whole paychecks on their farm, they would become demotivated and quit the game.
But if one decides to use a kind of leaderboard, it works better to group people in their rankings. That way they can compete with friends, or in smaller circles. Reaching a higher ranking with a smaller group is more attainable. Another alternative is to group the “top achievers” in bigger chunks, such as the top 20 or 30, instead of 1 or 2. That way that feeling of not being able to compete is either reduced or eliminated completely.
The Fun Factor
Lastly, the game incorporated the element of fun. Though it didn’t appeal to everyone, it did appeal to 83 million monthly users in 2010. Farmville has simple but appealing graphics, and the controls are easily understandable for even the most novice gamer. The game itself is low stress, which makes it ideal for a small office break, a long commute, or as a momentary distraction at home.
The Goal is to Gamify… Everything.
Gamification should start the moment the employee walks through the door. In order to help employees reach their highest potential, and feel loyalty and pride in the company they work for, they have to start with an engaging experience. By incorporating the core elements of gamification in training and work, a company can grow with a stronger foundation than ever before.