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For Gamification to Work, You Need More Than a High Score

May 6, 2011

I was recently contacted by Lauren Carlson who has written an article looking a the idea of Gamification and sales.  Here’s a sample from the article:

[The  Gamification Summit] got me thinking, could gamification improve the adoption of sales force automation (SFA) software? It seems logical that gaming elements would appeal to sales people – a notoriously competitive bunch – and get them more engaged with the software. Is it time for SFA vendors to dust off those consoles and get their game on?

Below are just three ideas I brainstormed with our designer, Russel. At a minimum, they are meant to be food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments and ideas.

I. Training Badges

In this first example, badges are used as signs of achievement. Whenever a staff member completes a certain level of training, they receive a badge that appears on their profile. The profile is visible to the individual user, as well as the rest of the team. Like putting your report card on the fridge, your profile provides a sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment. It is also a motivational tool, reminding you of what other training badges you need to keep up with your peers. Additional incentives could be tied to the badges as well. For example, a sales rep might receive an increase in commission rates for receiving the Miller Heiman badge.

Now as a games designer my initial reaction is – this is only part of a game. The idea of scores and league tables for a work force around whatever you measure them is indeed a gamic (as in ‘game-like’) element – games tend towards scores. However that is not all of the story. Games are also about the system that earns the scores and how you interact with it. Within any game, there are always ways to ‘game’ the game system. By this I mean ways the player can outsmart the game itself. These often involve quirks in the system being exploited. (For example see this video from Modern Warfare 2 showing places you can hide that were clearly not designed for players to use.) So when you implement a score system in a work place, the assumption might be people use this to measure themselves against their peers and work harder – I’d wager there will also be lots of people also looking to game the system. They’ll be looking for exploits in the scoring system to increase their score but not by working harder.  That is human nature; we had people submitting high scores for the online score-chart of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? that were so low they had to have hacked out the videos from the game to achieve such scores.

For Gamification to work, we all need to feel like the game system is either there to create a sense of fair-play; and for that the game system needs to be fair. With that enough of us buy into it to care about following the rules of the game as much as we do winning the game. And that is hard, because human nature also means we delight in finding loopholes in the rules of the game – and that is a game all of its own.

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