Gamification: businesses want to try it; few know exactly how or why. Here, RedJamJar speaks with Ankit Shah, Yu-kai Chou and Nir Eyal about behavioural design and the common pitfalls that can trip up your organisation.

When gamification suits a business, it’s impact can be astonishing. The best examples can result in improvements to countless metrics, from all important sales, to better brand engagement, recruitment and user experience. However, like the gaming world, for every notable success there are graveyards full of failed projects. So what separates the winners from the losers?

Gamification mistakes

AS: Many businesses are still looking at gamification in ways that don’t engender success. The first common mistake is that the business has failed to evolve beyond gamification 1.0. They’re still stuck in the early days of points, badges and leader boards (PBLs), simply bolting gamification onto an already poorly designed experience.

YC: PBLs are definitely the first step in the wrong direction. Companies think that if they simply add points and badges, or frame their resources as quests and narratives, that they’ll automatically be fun.

Gamification mechanics that motivate

NE: Another big mistake companies make is not realizing that user behaviour is governed by some deep psychological principles. Just thinking ‘we’ll make something people want and they will seek it out and love it’ is not enough. There is no law or 11th commandment that says the best product wins. Truly successful products are habit forming, they create a monopoly in the user’s mind that ensures they are the first solution they think of.

AS: A second typical error stems from failing to realise that game mechanics have a limited shelf-life and therefore have to evolve. To maintain a user’s interest in the long term, two things have to change: the mechanic’s tactics and the content itself. If people become overly familiar with the content, its ability to hold the user’s attention is diminished.

YC: I spent many years studying exactly what makes a game fun. I studied many games that are superficially very similar, but somehow some are extremely successful while others are not. I wanted to know why.

It’s obviously not because one has game elements and the other doesn’t: a visually stunning game can be a failure, while a game like Minecraft can be relatively ugly, but a huge success. I realised all the successful games have eight grouped core drives associated with them:

1. Epic Meaning & Calling
2. Development & Accomplishment
3. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
4. Ownership & Possession
5. Social Influence & Relatedness
6. Scarcity & Impatience
7. Unpredictability & Curiosity
8. Loss & Avoidance

If none of the core drives are activated, there is zero motivation for people to engage so nothing happens. Gamification is really about bringing together all the necessary elements that appeal to these core drives.

NE: Why we create things, why we write, sing, dance, is all to do with play. It’s a wonderful thing, but for many jobs it seems almost impossible to make them into play so other motivations are relied upon, mainly money. My hope is that we can use some the techniques I talk about in my book, Hooked, to make jobs more fun and interesting, although I’m not sure every job can implement that.

Focusing on feedback

AS: At Dopamine, we’re ultimately interested in three things:

1. Is the challenge fundamentally associated with behaviour or process? If it’s process based, gamification won’t do much to move the needle. Behavioural issues on the other hand are the appropriate milieu for utilising these principles.
2. We focus on progress. If this is a behavioural issue, what are the things that need to change to engender progress?
3. We look at feedback. Ultimately, one of the most powerful reasons, if not the core conceit of gamification, is providing meaningful feedback in real time.

These are the areas consider when scoping applications of internal gamification for clients. Blanket applications of gamification make no sense. We need to think about what is the meaningful business output we’re aiming for, what are the KPIs or progress goals and what feedback we can offer consistently so we offer reinforcement time and time again.

Ankit Shah is lead on strategy and consulting at Dopamine Agency. He has a strong research background alongside a wide-ranging industry portfolio including Fortune 50 clients and leading venture-backed start-ups.

Yu-kai Chou is creator of the gamification framework: Octalysis, and author of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.

Nir Eyal is author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. He also writes for TechCrunch, Forbes, Psychology Today and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and Fortune 500 companies.

If you’re interested in using gamification or other behavioural design strategies in your knowledge management programme, check back here over the next few weeks as we provide more useful tips on the subject, including extended interviews with the contributors to this roundtable.

2 comments. Leave new

Tomasz, thanks for your kind comment. I like the idea, this can be a great enabler to achieve objectives, improve quality and on time performance.

Tomasz Ziętek
13/05/2016 3:11 pm

That’s a very good article and I think that many companies still fail to recognize the impact of gamification. On the other hand, some companies providing gamification tools don’t do it well. I work for a company and we’re doing gamification of project management and developer tools. What do you think of the idea of introducing game mechanics into a project development?