What is Gamification

Learn what is gamification, what is it good for, how it works, how to get started, and get a framework for gamification strategy

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What is gamification?

A September 2010 issue of Fortune carried an article headlined, “Play to win: The game-based economy.” Many point to it as the moment gamification emerged as a useful technique for achieving all sorts of aims. From improving your health, learning more, and creating revenue.

The subhead of the piece read, “Companies are realizing that ‘gamification’ – using the same mechanics that hook (video) gamers — is an effective way to generate business.” Interestingly, one of the reasons gamification took hold was the growing recognition that incentive-based mechanics to get people to change their behavior was either flawed, skewed, or broken. Several studies noted cash-only incentive programs do not perform as well as those that blended cash with gamification.

It became readily apparent that the mechanism used to engage players of video games – and keep them engaged – was working magnificently.  The article noted it was “a fun process coupled with a system for incentives or rewards for a job well done can become downright addictive.” And, basically, that’s gamification.

The reality is, applied properly, gamification can help influence all five drives of human nature:

  1. Drive to acquire material and nonmaterial things, like a car or influence

  2. Drive to bond with others and feel valued in those relationships

  3. Drive to learn to satisfy our curiosity

  4. Drive to defend to protect ourselves, loved ones, and property

  5. Drive to feel emotional experiences, like pleasure or excitement

Conceptually, gamification isn’t new. It’s been around for quite some time. Chances are you’ve used it, or it’s been used on you. Any time game elements are inserted into ordinary activities, gamification is present. As a kid, you were incented to eat your vegetables at the dinner table by your Dad making airplane sounds when feeding you. He tapped into your curiosity – even bonded with you – by doing this as opposed to just demanding you eat the green stuff because you need to.

On a more technical level, gamification is about employing game mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics to drive desired behaviors. And it doesn’t matter if it means getting you to gobble up Brussel Sprouts or to submit your weekly inventory report on time. Making it into a fun experience makes it more positive and more likely you’ll get into it.

Another thing to remember about gamification is that while its application is to make something tedious fun and engaging, it’s not simply game time at work, home or school. It’s a way to effect change.

As Karl Kapp, PhD., a gamification guru, says, “Gamified solutions provide the right mix of engaging elements from games like a sense of progress or immediate feedback and visible signs of improvement over time with content to motivate.”

A big reason why gamification has been so popular is game designers and companies have invested and trialed every possible mechanism to bake in these and many other psychological devices into games. By doing, the aim is to ensure users stay longer, do more, and come back for more This provides a very rich blueprint on what works. We’d be foolish not to use it, or just the bare minimum (points, badges, and leaderboards) and assume that covers everything.

What does gamification look like in the real world?

Now that you have a sense of what gamification is and does, it’s intriguing to spot examples of it in our daily lives. Here are seven examples of companies, marketing to consumers and businesses, that use gamification to great benefit – for themselves and their customers. Each represents a different objective, use case, or game mechanic. Overall, each has been successful with its chosen approach

Before getting into some examples of gamification initiatives that worked, consider the experience of Disney. At one of its Disneyland resorts a gamified “work-tracking” system was put in place for workers in the laundry. Productivity was displayed in real-time. It did not sit well with the employees, who called the program “the electronic whip.” They felt it caused public humiliation. Further, some tarnish appeared on the highly polished Disney brand as a result.

Gamification can work but thinking it’s not a surefire thing. It requires thorough planning and ongoing monitoring to ensure it doesn’t go off the rails.


Advantage Program

Begun in 1981 by American Airlines in the aftermath of airline deregulation, the AAdvantage program was the first frequent flier program. The objective: offer rewards attained with the accumulation of miles flown on American. The desired behavior was to have people book more, if not all, of their flights on this airline.

My Starbucks Rewards

This is the frequent flier program brought down to earth and placed in an app used by consumers to buy more and more beverages from the ubiquitous coffee merchant. Drink certain beverages or many and gain points. Advance to new levels and gain access to new perks.

Zombie Sales Apocalypse

This happens to be one of Dr. Kapp’s favorites. And not simply because he helped develop it. It’s an interactive sales training tool that really works. Used widely in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, it uses gamification to build sales skills in simulated selling situations – with the added danger of avoiding zombies. So, the player/salesperson has to make a successful sale to avoid the zombies.

Nike+ Run Club

Everything about this brand is to extend it beyond the items purchased. The Nike+ Run Club is a prime example of that orientation. Via a mobile app runners can measure their personal progress, compare and compete with other members of this running community. Members get badges for accomplishments and can recognize others.


The popularity of this app, which helps users learn new languages, reflects on its success rate with getting people to become multilingual. And much of that has to do with gamification. It encourages achievement streaks, daily log-ins, and more.


Yes, the massive site for job-seekers and networkers uses an achievement structure to keep members interacting and building their presence on the service. Skill endorsements, a kind of peer-to-peer recognition, use game-mechanics is just one of the gamification techniques employed.


Before you think that’s something to expect from an apparently less-than-sophisticated marketer, you should know about Zappos’ experience. They introduced achievement badges to user profiles. All it created was a buzz. It did nothing to or for the customer.

Here’s a company that has an enviable record as a customer-first business. But because this so-called gamification initiative held no reward for the customer, it quickly faded away.

What can you do to make gamification work for employees?

Deciding to use gamification centers on wanting to drive employees to adopt processes, behaviors, knowledge, or activities that will make them and your company more successful. Using gamification, is a win-win. It achieves this while also making these same employees more engaged, happier in their jobs, and stay with the company longer.

You’re not looking to gamification so your employees can have fun at work. It’s to make their work more fun, more rewarding, and above all, more successful.

Gamification can be used in a work setting to accomplish five important objectives:

  • Engage employees
  • Educate employees
  • Motivate employees
  • Optimize workflows
  • Attract and retain good hires

Gamification impacts employee behavior through:


Gamification works best when multiple methods are used. In addition, beyond gaining broad participation quickly, done right, gamification gets sustained involvement over time. Said differently, it prevents boredom and disengagement. It’s advisable to use points, badges, and leaderboards as a start. Bring in levels to keep employees driving to desired goals – and behaviors. Further, the present challenges of different designs or narratives.

The best gamification revolves around stories that grab and keep employees’ interest. Narratives or stories, built around races, climbing mountains, or “building” cities can all serve as the framework for the goal-centered story.

Besides making work more fun, employees see in gamification programs the value of real-time feedback. They get to know how they are doing – as individuals or teams as well as against peers and other groups – in real-time.

The scoring system, however, constructed, is objective. Employees respond well to accolades or advancements that aren’t couched in subjectivity.

And the leaderboard, be it viewed from a mobile phone or a whiteboard in a break room, is the ultimate definition of transparency. Everyone knows the score. And that’s a powerful motivator.

6 things to keep in mind when designing a gamification program

  1. Define your objectives – Know what you want to see as the result(s) for you and you’re your employees or customers
  2. Consider the users – Understand what you want them to do and when. Is there a linkage between those actions and business goals?
  3. Design around the user experience – Know how it fits in to users’ workflow and/or if it connects to other apps or tools they may use in their work. For example, does it make sense to connect to Microsoft Teams, if your company uses that? It may help boost engagement.
  4. Make it fun – Easily overlooked but oh so crucial. Take steps to make certain it will involve employees from start to finish. Testing among a small group of users will help prevent a lackluster program
  5. Pick game elements that fit your team and their workflow – Know who this is for, how, and where they work. To appreciate that, take a look at the eBook that explores gamification in contact centers and BPOs providing customer experience services. It’s titled “Enterprise gamification for contact centers. How to improve employee performance, CSAT, and more.” If you’re not in that industry, it will get you thinking about yours.
  6. Work with people who’ve done this before; who’ve designed, implemented, and analyzed gamification for companies. Companies like ours have been doing this for years, we’ve made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to. We also learn – only from game designers, and the best games out there.

The fifth item is especially key in our increasingly Work from Anywhere (WFA) environment. With some employees at the office, some at home, and others operating elsewhere, the ability to manage behaviors and day-to-day activities in a WFA world is tougher than when most everyone is in a common workplace. And that places an emphasis on making sure your gamification meets all of six above points. As an assist, look over an eBook that offers best practices on managing employees working from home. It’s titled “Alone, together.”

What’s trending in gamification?

Gamification is hardly a passing fad. It’s found its way into and brought meaningful, measurable benefits to consumers, companies, institutions, practically all walks of life.

Its use continues to grow, expanding into more areas, especially performance-based learning. And with such growth, industry observers note emerging trends, particularly in terms of technology development and application as well as narrative themes. All intended to make gamification more effective. Here are five major ones to be aware of.

  1. Blended and immersive technologies to enhance gamified experiences

The mixing of technologies is becoming more and more a factor. The battle for attention and engagement is not going to diminish. This means gamified experiences will need to be more and more blended and of a mixed reality nature.

An experience is immersive is when the person loses track of time because they’re so engrossed in the experience itself. In a work environment, this occurs when employees are totally engrossed in working on something that is valuable that they don’t sense time flying by. In workplace gamification being able to block out distractions helps immersion.

  1. Climate and sustainability as a key focus for gamification narratives

With climate change on top of the agenda, there will be a big influx of narratives that leverage this topic. An example of that is Centrical’s “A Better World” narrative that provides work-related learning activities with opportunities to get involved in 20 global environmental initiatives.

  1. Multi-device in a world full of BYOD organizations

Bring your own device (BYOD) is becoming the norm at large organizations. It already is standard practice at smaller companies. From a gamification perspective, this means any gamification project must now be accessible by, enjoyable on all device types. Going forward, gamification processes will have to work seamlessly between desktop, mobile, laptop, tablet, and whatever comes on the scene. By extension, combability on every possible browser is a must.

  1. AI and adaptivity inside gamification mechanisms

Adaptivity to the end-user is a trend that is gaining momentum. It is becoming an increasingly important feature in gamification. By adapting to the users’ abilities or lack thereof, engagement will continue. Further, there’s a growing tendency to stop using one-size-fits-all-type set-ups because the feedback can’t be the same for all.

As we saw with the consumerization of technology in business, the impact of Netflix and Amazon are manifesting in the appearance of workplace tools with similar recommendation capabilities that, then, help to develop positive habits that help to form desired behaviors.

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