What do you want, a medal? Gamification on the intranet
Gamification – applying game design thinking to non-game applications – has certainly been the buzzword of 2012, with some analysts predicting that by 2013 half of all business initiatives will have gamified processes. But the response from digital workplace specialists has been more muted, with many of our blog commenters finding real-life implentations underwhelming at best.
As the Enterprise Gamification Forum kicks off this week over in San Diego, we’re taking a closer look at gamification and asking if it really has a place on your intranet.
Advocates claim enterprise gamification can potentially be applied to any industry, by turning users into players to create fun and engaging experiences.
But critics argue this is patronising and even manipulative. Giving out gold stars for work completed infantalises the workforce; it’s like when, as a child, you tidied your room and your dad would say “what do you want, a medal?”. Critic Brent Simmons argues:
Everybody sees the trend toward simpler, more-focused, better-designed software. Enterprise developers see the consumerization of IT.
You could look at this trend and say, “As software improves, it respects its users more. It works better and looks better, is easier to learn, and leaves out the things that waste a user’s time.”
Or you could look at this trend and say, “As software gets simpler, it gets dumbed-down — even toddlers can use iPads. Users are now on the mental level of children, and we should design accordingly. What do children like? Games.”
Games are great, and gaming is big business. But all too often, the gamification of work and processes gives us a shallow and cursory take on what makes gaming interesting and powerful.
Game designer and producer Stephanie Morgan says “gamification is a misinterpretation of frequently-used game functionality and features for true game mechanics”. All too often, the way gamification is applied in the enterprise produces games that are unengaging and even embarrassing. For every good example, there are at least ten which make us cringe.
We at Intranetizen would be the first to say gamification is an awful word. But has the concept behind it got more merit than the name suggests?
Creating competition and intrigue and offering reward and recognition are all things that have been done for a long time. As Mary Poppins said, when cajoling Jane and Michael Banks to tidy the nursery: In every thing that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and, oh, the job’s a game! The belief is that games tap directly into the cognitive and psychological predispositions of humans to engage in game-like behaviour that they find interesting, rewarding and engaging.
There are a range of techniques used to gamify business processes, but in the main these come down to awarding points and badges for desired behaviours. However, these simple (and largely valueless) rewards don’t offer intrinsic motivation, so aren’t likely to deliver long-term benefits.
Grown-ups, and particularly those in creative and knowledge occupations, don’t want to be given a badge or a gold star for their work. These simple, valueless rewards don’t offer intrinsic motivation – and can even be de-motivating, leading some to dub it ‘lameification’. To deliver real business value, gamification needs to offer more than points and badges, as these offer only extrinsic rewards that people will quickly grow tired of.
So, for example, you might want more people to blog on your social intranet. How do you keep them blogging? You do things like: show them readership stats, highlight them on other pages, list them ‘most popular’ or ‘most commented’ first, send them a thank you email. All of those things tap into the psychology of motivation and reward, and are far more meaningful than a 128px squared gif.
Making a success of gamification means thinking beyond the buzzword and considering how you can really use game features in work activities to reward desired behaviour, create more intensively participative processes, track group progress and establish feedback loops that reinforce and accelerate desired business outcomes.
So like any new intranet functionality, this means having a strong understanding of user needs and the work that your users do – then considering how game techniques could make dull tasks more interesting, engaging and participative.
This has its limits: as JP Rangaswami says “if a job sucks, it will still suck if you gamify it”. The chore of tidying your bedroom will still be a chore if you dad gives you a medal for it, and if demotivational factors like poor pay or job insecurity – what Hertzberg terms ‘hygiene factors’ – are an issue, then no amount of gaming will make life at work better.
Myriad badly-thought out implementations give the use of game mechanics a bad name, but with some creative thought gamification can – in the right contexts – deliver tangible benefits.