Gamification Basics

gamifyI’ve just finished reading Brian Burke’s book “Gamify – How gamification motivates people to do extraordinary things”. The book is divided in to two parts – the first deals with what the value of gamification is and what makes it important, while the second part talks about designing a gamified player experience. Burke builds on his experience as an industry analyst in the field of information technology for enterprises, where he covered everything from enterprise architecture to gamification. In the book he gives  his view of what gamification is really about, what’s the right way to go about it, and what are some of the common mistakes to avoid when trying to implement gamification mechanics.

Since Burke’s pioneering 2012 gamification report at Gartner was visionary and foresaw a lot of today’s enterprise gamification , I thought reading his book would be an interesting experience. It was and I highly recommend it.

Gamification: It’s not about fun, it’s about purpose

In the first part of the book, Burke argues that the goal of gamification processes is often misunderstood. Many employers think that gamification is about making work fun, or alternatively, about making employees more productive. In his eyes, all these attitudes are wrong. What gamification is really about is motivating players to achieve their goals. To put it in his words:

“If the player’s goals are aligned with the organization’s goals, then the organizational goals will be realized as a consequence of the player achieving her goals”.

This may sound intuitive and quite similar to other reward programs we all are familiar with and may have even taken part in, but in actuality there are some major differences to point out. So, what makes gamification special? Unlike any other reward mechanism, gamification engages people in a way which is meaningful to them. While games aim to entertain the users and reward programs aim to compensate the users, gamification aims to motivate. As Burke states, another interesting way to look at this difference is by examining the role of money in the respective processes. While both reward programs and games include a transaction of money (you either pay for games or get a reward for performance or loyalty), gamification doesn’t include any such transaction. The organization paying for the service and the user have similar goals.

Given that extrinsic motivation (even high monetary rewards) is less motivating than intrinsic motivation (see here), gamification provides the right currencies of motivation – social capital and self esteem – rather than the wrong extrinsic types of motivation.

Burke then leads the readers to the understanding that gamification is a joint venture of the organization and the user brings with it an additional challenge – how to design an experience that will inspire users to participate.

Finding the right solution for your specific audience

Burke brings a wonderful story to exemplify how understanding these subtleties can assist in creating real change in people’s lives, and how it is imperative to the success of the attempted process. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is a children’s hospital treating thousands of kids with cancer. Since the hospital is a leading research hospital, the staff is constantly trying to assess the effectiveness of the various treatments they are trying, so that they can use the best therapies that minimize the pain for the children. In order to do this, the hospital needs to receive daily reports from the children about their current levels of pain. The problem is that since the children are in pain and are suffering, filling out their pain journals becomes an extremely difficult task. Without reliable reporting, the doctors can’t know which treatments are working.

The hospital decided to design an app called “Pain Squad”, where kids are enlisted as part of a special police force on a mission to hunt down pain. The app allows the children to progress through the ranks until they finally become chiefs. At the HQ, the children can see the badges they have earned as well as when they need to fill out their next report. The app was a huge success and enabled the hospital to make vast advancements in their research. Interestingly, when speaking to children in the hospital in an attempt to understand the app’s success, an unexpected benefit was found. Many of the children mentioned that the app gave them a feeling of control and management of the pain. It made them feel like they were part of the process and knew what was happening to them. This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about the importance of creating the right type of motivation and it’s relation to a sense of control.

Several months ago, I found similar ideas in Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’. I wrote there about how competition and extrinsic motivation (rewards, money, etc) don’t always achieve the desired results, and even worse – can be detrimental to intrinsic motivation. The “Pain Squad” story is another great testimony to the fact that stimulating intrinsic motivation and getting your employees to act upon the things that make them tick, will get you better results while giving them a sense of control, autonomy, and better general well-being.

Like with so many other things in life, being part of something which is bigger than yourself is a far more appealing reason to take part in something than any other.

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