Should You Gamify Your Business?

10 Feb

The fine people at work asked me to share some thoughts on gamification. I’m reposting my article here with their kind permission.

It’s time for the enterprise to take games seriously. Not just as a way for employees to reduce stress online or on their mobile devices during lunch breaks, but as a way to get business results.

Gamification is a discipline that applies game design methods, and even game mechanics, to things that aren’t games in order to achieve a desired goal. You’ve probably already experienced gamification firsthand: Promotional campaigns that unlock rewards if you take certain actions, awarding badges for status, and displaying top participants on a leaderboard, are all commonly used methods of organizing and motivating people via subtle yet powerful elements common to games.

Best-selling game designer Mike Elliott offers an example:

“If you were going to have a daily discount, you could just list the daily discount on your site. Or you could have the customer hit a button, watch a wheel spin, and then reveal the daily discount. If you do this, you have gamified your site. The customer generally feels happier, and other than a few lines of code, there is no real cost to your business.

“You give them the same things you would have given them anyway, but you do it in a way that makes them feel more invested; and they feel like they earned the discount, reward, or frequent flier points. This is the most common type of gamification and is probably the most effective for the cost involved.”


Seeing the buzz about gamification in the business press, you probably got a feeling of déjà vu – much of it sounds like the buzz about blogging five years ago, and other online communication channels since then. “Should your company have a blog?” was once the question of the day, and for those caught up in the initial enthusiasm over this new platform, the answer was an unhesitating “Yes.” The same was true of engaging on Twitter and Facebook.

But in all of those cases, the real answer was a series of smart and strategic questions. What are we trying to achieve? Who is our audience? How do they get information, and what motivates them to take action? Do we have the resources (internal, external or both) to do this thing right?

It’s the same with gamifying your business. But we’ll add a couple of questions to the above: What do you mean by “gamify”? And what do you mean by “your business”?


Gamifying your business could mean anything – from using game elements in a marketing campaign to radically changing how your people work and collaborate. So first, identify the challenge you want to overcome or the goal you want to achieve. Then think about what stands between you and success. Are these things that have been, or could be, solved by applying game elements to the problem?

For example, you might learn that your employees have significant gaps in their knowledge of the overall business, because the orientation process for new hires lacks structure and accountability. The new employees don’t know what they need to learn to be effective. Your managers are spread so thin that they’re barely aware that someone new has been hired, much less that they should sit down with them.

This is a case where gamification could be a powerful tool – not by making orientation a game (the “spoonful of sugar” approach is great for children, but condescending to adults) but by using best practices of game design to structure and motivate the participants. You might redesign the orientation as you would a three-day scavenger hunt, tasking the new hire with meeting specific people and completing certain tasks in order to achieve the status of a fully-trained member of the team. Each meeting or task is logged by awarding the new employee a badge, making it easy to tell at a glance how far he or she has progressed and identify gaps.


Another key learning we can draw from the social media revolution is to make use of the experts in the field. It was a bad idea back then to turn the company blog over to an employee just because they seemed computer-savvy; and it’s a bad idea now to put your gamification strategy in the hands of employees who think they understand game design because they’ve played a lot of mobile games. Game design is both art and science, and doing it effectively requires a deep understanding of game mechanics and the psychology of motivating people to take action.

So before you place your business on the starting square of a gamification push, do some research. You can easily find gamification vendors with a simple Internet search. Look for game consultancies as well, and game design companies who have worked with major brands – seasoned designers who’ve been plying their craft for 20 years or more can give you a valuable perspective on what games can and can’t do well in a business setting.

One Response to “Should You Gamify Your Business?”

  1. Bill Olander February 11, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    There is part of me that cringes at the thought of my company adopting some of these practices. In the same way that I cringe when someone at a retreat says “Now get into your groups”. I think this emphasizes two of your points. 1. The spoonful of sugar approach is condescending to adults. and 2. Make sure you have an expert if you’re going to do this.

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