When people outside the learning industry first hear the term gamification, they likely perceive it as another bit of insider geek terminology to keep them in the dark. A hard-boiled production manager might think: you want my people to play games instead of doing work? Dictionary.com’s definition of gamification isn’t enlightening. Not surprising…it is jargon.
gamification [gey-muh-fi-key-shuh n] noun: 1. The process of turning an activity or task into a game or something resembling a game.
jargon [jahr-guh n, -gon] noun: 1. The language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group. (Dictionary.com)
But as gamification begins to see use in functions other than learning, it may become a part of the business lexicon.
The use of game elements in motivating people to learn has been with us since ancient times. More recently, millions of people learned how to click and drag using Microsoft’s free solitaire games in the new Window environment. But the term “gamification” is a recent invention related to the use of technology to deliver the experience, and word didn’t become common until 2010.
The practice of using game elements has already passed the hype and fade stages of adoption and is beginning to show signs of robust growth. We may have passed through the trough of disillusionment stage of the Gartner Hype Cycle and started to see productivity measures that prove the value of using gaming techniques in learning. As Zac Fitz-Walker explained in his Brief History of Gamification, We may have passed through the point where funding was available for inferior products, and the technology and practices are maturing.
“78% of workers are utilizing games-based motivation at work and nearly all (91%) say these systems improve their work experience by increasing engagement, awareness and productivity.”
“Gamification Improves Work Experience for 91% of Employees, Increases Productivity Across U.S. Companies.” Badgeville. August 6, 2015. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
We do see some results using game elements in training. In a study of B2B sales organizations, the Aberdeen Group analyzed the performance of organizations who use game mechanics and gamification technology solutions against those who don’t. In the industry leaders, 84% of sales reps made quota, versus a 55% industry average and only 16% for gamification laggards. And game mechanics users had a 6.1% increase in revenue over laggards.
Gamification is finding its way into areas other than learning. Companies are using gamified onboarding, and we see growth of gamified assessment in talent acquisition, but we haven’t seen published metrics yet.
A word of caution: gamification is not a solution, it’s a platform – or you can think of it as a way to deliver content to make it more engaging. But coupled with disciplined behavioral targeting and spaced repetition, it looks like a powerful tool.
Your challenge is to build an agile workforce that can achieve your company’s growth and profitability goals. The executive team expects it to be done quickly and efficiently, with high levels of participation and retention.
One obstacle standing before you is that the traditional classroom model is proving less and less effective in meeting corporate learning needs. Classroom teaching consumes large blocks of uninterrupted time, moves at a fixed pace, provides little ongoing feedback, and other than a certificate at the end may provide participants with little recognition for their efforts. Recorded courses delivered to a PC address some of these shortcomings, but they are better as a test administration method than as a way to build core knowledge.
Over the past decade gamification, or game-based learning, has been emerging as an alternative to traditional classroom instruction. Its ability to improve the speed and quality of corporate learning is becoming apparent as both large and small companies adopt it.
What is Gamification?
Gamification is the application of concepts such as point accumulation, recognition, player journeys, player collaboration and other gaming design principles to engage participants in tasks and activities. You may be a participant in an early and still vibrant application of gamification -- airline loyalty programs. As in many online games, frequent flyers can accumulate rewards, earn status and gain privileges.
Today gamification is widening its reach and sophistication. While the number of customer loyalty programs are growing, many companies are deploying “gamified” applications to provide task-specific training, strengthen employee knowledge and skills, encourage adaptation of new processes, and promote desired behaviors. Some examples:
- McDonald’s in the UK, with over 1300 locations,trained its staff on a new cash register system using a live service simulation that included competitive time trials, scoring, lifelines, and customer satisfaction scores.
- HP is supporting its sales force accreditation process with multiple training modules, some of which use games to reinforce product knowledge and others that have participants use their sales skills training in simulated selling situations.
- Accenture used a recognition system to encourage wider use of a new collaboration application. Leading employees were scored and recognized for blogging, rating content, and creating user profiles.
How Gamification Improves Corporate Learning
Game-based training offers numerous benefits over traditional classroom based or passive e-learning. It delivers many of the benefits of “hands-on” training while adding motivational elements (scoring, recognition) that promote employee participation and achievement.
Game-based training can have an impact throughout the corporate learning agenda.
- Training for specific, discrete tasks in service and manufacturing environments can be delivered in short separate modules to improve retention of each task.
- Onboarding for new hires can familiarize employees with company policies and processes on such subjects as safety, ethics, and IT security, and assess their retention with situational simulations.
- Product and solutions training – a critical need for global sales forces – can be gamified to give recognition to sales staff for increasing their subject matter expertise.
While the “formal” learning agenda is important, there’s another learning landscape where gamification may be even more critical – new technology and process adoption. Companies may spend tens of millions of dollars on enterprise, CRM and knowledge management systems only to find that employees are reluctant to adopt them. Game-based support applications for Oracle, salesforce.com, SAP and SharePoint are becoming an accepted part of new employee onboarding and company-wide implementation programs.
How to Start a Game-based Training Program
There’s skepticism about gamification, and it’s well founded. Game-based training is behavior-based, so pre-conceived notions about learning preferences can be a point of resistance. Your colleagues may dismiss it as a gimmick to attract smartphone-obsessed Millennials. It’s also a new field populated with many companies with varying levels of skills and experience.
- Start small. Identify one area that needs improvement. Employees may take too long to complete onboarding. Refresher training in ethics, safety or sexual harassment may have poor participation rates. Decide on the topic and the improvement you seek, whether it’s faster completion times, higher participation, or improved retention.
- Talk to multiple game-based learning developers. Look for a partner who has successful experience in your topic area and asks penetrating questions about your workforce, goals, and content. Before you select a developer, talk to reference customers about their results.
- Set senior management expectations. Your program is about improving the quality, efficiency and impact of corporate learning. Explain your goals and get their buy-in.
- Launch and evaluate. Set expectations for employees, supervisors and managers, and expect a few technical hiccups along the way as you implement the program. Assess the results and decide on your next steps.
Gamification and game-based training are in their infancy, but are rapidly entering the mainstream and over the next decade will become an important part of the corporate learning landscape.
Gamification is the use of the mechanics of play to modify behavior. It has many uses in a business enterprise, and organizations have been using the technique for decades. It is only recently, with the rise of online learning, that the term “gamification” has been used to describe it.
In the early days of online learning gamification, there were failures. In 2012, Gartner opined that 80% of gamification initiatives would not meet business objectives. Designer Mario Herger disagreed, saying that the lack of success were management failures, and the benchmark of “business objectives” was vague. We have seen failures, but we tend to agree with Herger. Most failures are due to unrealistic expectations, poor design, and failure to plan. We know from our experience the techniques work if they are properly employed.
Our purpose in writing this and the articles and the ones that will follow is to help you lead your gamification project to success.
If you are just getting your organization started in gamification or want to restart your efforts for better results, this is the time to stop and engage in some careful planning.
We won’t bore you with platitudes about why you should plan. Let’s get right to the meat of the issue and develop a step by step plan to realize the value of game mechanics in learning and performance.
1. Identify and Isolate the Problem
Determine what it is you want to accomplish. Work with business leaders in your organization and isolate a problem where improved engagement and motivation will improve results. Narrow the problem down to a specific metric. A single solution will not fix a broad problem with multiple causes.
Keep narrowing the issue down until you identify a particular behavior you want to change. Here are some ideas that might help you frame your problem.
- Field technicians take too long to learn new products.
- Sales staff needs to increase cross-selling performance.
- Training for a particular skill is not effective. Supervisors have to re-train people on the production floor.
- Vehicle accidents are increasing.
Determine whether the problem you want to solve requires a learning program or a performance initiative. Although they have similar characteristics, a gamified e-Learning program is substantially different from a performance improvement initiative.
2. Assemble the Team
At minimum, these are the people you will need on your team:
- The person who controls the resources. You will want to include that person in the decision process so you don’t run into approval roadblocks.
- The person who owns the problem. Ideally, this will be the person who controls the resources.
- Experts in the work process. These should include people who do the work.
- A learning expert. Even if the initiative does not require a learning program, learning principles will apply to the design.
- The designer – but not yet. You don’t need to involve the designer until you have determined the scope and budget.
3. Determine the scope
Keep the scope narrow enough that it will not require more than one solution, and the solution should pertain to everyone within the scope. If you have a large organization, you may want to pilot the program with a small group and use others as control groups.
4. Determine your Budget.
Know what you can spend. Gamification initiatives can range in cost from nearly nothing to very expensive, but you need to know the upper limit of what you can afford to do. You will most likely not be able to have everything you want, and a budget limit will help you avoid setting up unrealistic expectations.
5. Begin Change Management
It may be counter intuitive to start managing a change before you know what it is, but as you discuss the possibilities with the people involved, they will discuss it with others. You will benefit by getting the right message out early. You can start things in the right direction by asking for input. Make the conversations casual to gain the most positive participation.
Taking these five steps will get you started in the right direction to manage a successful gamification initiative. In our next article, we will discuss how to select a design partner.
Herger, Mario. “Gamification: 80% failure or 100% success?” Enterprise Gamification. December 18, 2012.
"Gartner Says by 2014, 80 Percent of Current Gamified Applications Will Fail to Meet Business Objectives Primarily Due to Poor Design." Gartner. November 27, 2012.
Gamification is well established in consumer marketing and is a growing trend in learning. Done well, gamification gets results – in consumer marketing, performance management, and learning.
In earlier articles, we have discussed preparing for gamification and selecting a design partner. Today we want to show you how to measure your results and calculate the return on your investment.
What we are suggesting here is not a new breakthrough in analytics or a breathtaking scientific innovation. Our suggestions derive from research at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, industry practices, and our experience in practical applications.
Prepare yourself with a good grounding in the behavioral science of gamification. We recommend For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter. For power readers, Why Games Are Good for Business: How to Leverage the Power of Serious Games, Gamification and Simulationsby Helen Routledge is an excellent book.
- Name a business problem or issue. Find what you want to change and quantify it. For example, increase Sales Per Hour (SPH) by 12%.
- Identify a specific behavior that influences results. In our SPH example, it could be how to overcome sales objections. Consider how changing that behavior will affect other behaviors and dynamics in relation business results. To illustrate, consider how a gamification to improve SPH in an outbound sales center without constraints will drive unethical behavior. A typical constraint in that case is a customer satisfaction score or customer returns.
If possible, make participation voluntary. Coerced participation can diminish performance.
- Combine #1 and #2 into a goal and add a time frame. In our outbound sales center we could use the next quarter, next year, or a specific date.
- Describe the target group. In our simple example, it is outbound telephone sales representatives in a specific group or location. Consider a pilot program of one group, with other groups as controls.
- Design and deploy the solution. Every program is unique, so you will need to work with your design partner to devise an intervention that will work in your specific business case.
- Run your project for long enough to assess results. Allow enough time for extrinsic motivation to internalize. Overreacting to immediate results, whether positive or negative, may negate the effects of factors like socialization or motivational decay. Recognize that motivational programs have lifecycles, and yours will not be an exception.
Once you have achieved success, multiply and expand your efforts, and be prepared to adapt your programs to changing conditions.
We wish you success in your efforts to use gamification to improve your business results.
"People Love Games - but Does Gamification Work? - Knowledge@Wharton." Knowledge@Wharton. February 3, 2016. Accessed February 26, 2016.
Routledge, Helen. Why Games Are Good for Business How to Leverage the Power of Serious Games, Gamification and Simulations. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015.
Werbach, Kevin, and Dan Hunter. For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press, 2012.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.