Back to Blog

What is the “Game” in Workforce Gamification?

February 1, 2016 • gal

Recently, someone asked me what is the “game” part of gamification. It’s a great question, and it was asked by an enterprise that wants to integrate benchmark setting together with gamification: someone that is really “in the know”. But the question remains – what is the “game” and why “gamification”. We’ve written about the difference between games and gamification often – how gamification uses “game elements“, how gamification is like a fitbit for work, and how industry luminaries are describing gamification.

Yet, I was suddenly struck with the perfect metaphor for gamification: the ghost car.

Gamification: be the best driver you can be

This is a photograph of a car race game called Forza. The red car is the one I’m driving, while the greenish car (the “ghost car”), which is just ahead of me on the other side of the road, is where I should be. I am racing against myself.  What it really does isn’t just drive me to focus, since it acts as a benchmark – this is how I should be performing. Actually, the game is constantly teaching me how I can improve and what I can do to perform better in the game. Through practice, I get better and better at being where the “ghost” car is, until I finally get to the stage where I can beat the ghost car and be ahead of it. But it will adjust and stay ahead.

We tend to think that we are competitive creatures, and that that means that we get the most satisfaction from beating fellow competitors. While competitiveness is definitely human trait,  research by Dan Ariely and Daniel Pink have discovered that we are even more satisfied when we are able to beat a personal goal that we have set for ourselves.

The Ghost Car: It’s not just competition against yourself. It’s about the personal benchmark

One of the often missed “tricks” about workforce gamification is the part that each employee gets a targeted, personalized benchmark. In OKR systems, which are focused on goal-setting for knowledge workers, goals are set for employees. In workforce gamification the name of the game is using analytics to set personalized benchmarks for each employee. This means that targets and KPIs for employees are set in accordance with their ability to achieve them – they are the ghost car.  Each of the benchmarks acts as a ghost car, egging employees to beat themselves. As employees get better, benchmarks are more demanding. If you look at our platform page, you can see that KPIs are actual achievement and the colored bar underneath them is the benchmark.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

In his book, ‘Drive’, Daniel Pink outlines what he believes can explain what motivates us, and what we at Gameffective have seen that makes gamification so effective as a tool to create real change in the performance of employees over time. Pink states that Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the three elements that determine whether we are motivated or not. Autonomy is our desire to be in charge of our own destiny, Mastery is the urge to constantly get better at something that is important to us, and Purpose is our inherent desire to do something that is in service of something that is larger than ourselves. Racing against the ghost car is about autonomy, mastery and purpose.

When we beat a benchmark that we have set for ourselves, we feel autonomy and mastery, and that makes us feel great in general. The psychological compensation we feel during an experience like this can’t be duplicated with financial rewards or with a competition set up against our peers. That kind of motivation, coming from external sources, only lasts for so long. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation, when we have the desire to achieve something because of an inner wish, allows us to stay motivated in the long run. That’s intrinsic motivation

Gamification is Fitbit for work

People who use Fitbit exercise more. They can set benchmarks for themselves and get immediate feedback about how they are progressing towards those benchmarks. This creates a virtuous cycle – users want to exercise more because of the goals they have set for themselves, then once they see that they are advancing towards those goals they are motivated to keep at it and set new, more ambitious goals for themselves and on and on.

Gamification works in exactly the same way, just for work. We enable employees to see how they are doing compared to goals that they have set for themselves. Employees can experience how they are improving and advancing towards the goals they have set for themselves, and then set new goals which will take them even further. Gamification creates a way for employees to monitor their progress at the workplace and act from a place of intrinsic motivation. They do that by competing against their personal (and personalized) ghost car.

Request a Free Demo