We recently happened upon a great article titled “Level Up Your Strategy: Towards a Descriptive Framework for Enterprise Gamification”.

Is gamification effective?

Umar Ruhi, an Assistant Professor of Information Systems and E-Business Technologies at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, Canada, has an interesting and clear answer:  gamification is effective when it’s meaningful. And when does that occur? Ruhi elaborates: “…where game thinking and game-based tools are used in a strategic manner to integrate with existing business processes or information systems, and these techniques are used to help drive positive employee and organizational outcomes.”

Meaningful Gamification: Intrinsic Motivation

One of Ruhi’s main points is that for gamification to be effective, it needs to be meaningful.

“Meaningful gamification should be a principal consideration for any gamification strategy to help sustain intended employee behaviours over the long term…”

He reminds that rewarding workers for tasks they already have to perform within their roles is dangerous  – since it may negatively impact their motivation. He suggests ensuring “that game design elements …aim to increase intrinsic motivation among their audience.”

Ruhi stresses that intrinsic in this context means personalized, in that “the system should be capable of providing multiple gratifications to end users, and offer features and functions that are aligned with various types of employee motivations to use the system”. Indeed, at Gameffective we believe that different employee types respond to different game elements – and that as a result, a gamification platform needs to cater to all of them with a variety of game elements.

The MDA Framework

Ruhi’s research – which focused on gamification initiatives at three organizations from different industries – uses an adaptation of a descriptive framework known as the MDA (mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics) framework for enterprise gamification. This framework, which was originally used to describe games, “aims to explicate the connections between end-user motivations, interactive gameplay elements, and technology features and functions that constitute effective gamification interventions in the enterprise….and (it) details the key success factors for enterprise gamification.”

The MDA framework facilitates a deliberation of differences between designer and player perspectives, writes Ruhi. “Designers who create gamified applications only have direct control over the features and functions constituting the mechanics of the game, and they work with system specifications (game mechanics) that would allow specific types of user interactions (game dynamics), and ultimately meet the organizational and end-user requirements of the gamified applications (game aesthetics).

“On the other hand, players view the system in terms of the goals they aspire to achieve and the gratifications they receive from these enterprise gamification applications (game aesthetics). Consequently, they engage in specific gamification activities (game dynamics) drawing upon their cognitive perceptions and affective attitudes (game aesthetics) and utilize system features that offer affordances (game mechanics) to participate in their desired gamification activities.”

A great example of this can be a set of rules – such as a scavenger hunt narrative designed to encourage employees to ‘collect’ miles and uncover locations. Yet, by allowing a social game dynamic, the game can transform from a “race” to uncover the most locations to a social game where people help each other with hints as to which location they should unlock first.

Another interesting way to differentiate the perspectives of end users and designers are narratives:

  • Embedded Narrative: “The embedded narrative represents the view of the game designer in terms of structured components and event sequences intentionally embedded in a system by the designers. Hence, embedded narratives align conceptually with game mechanics”.
  • Emergent Narrative: “Emergent narratives on the other hand are created by players during their interaction with the gamification application in a dynamic fashion as they perform different activities. In this way, emergent narratives correspond conceptually to game dynamics”
  • Interpreted Narratives:. “Finally, an interpreted narrative characterizes the end user’s ascribed meaningfulness of experiences with the gamification activities. Given that these narratives are mental representations of the players, they are logically aligned with the concept of game aesthetics.”

The result is that when setting up a narrative in a gamification narrative such as Gameffective’s care should be taken to account for emergent and interpreted narratives, and not just on the basic rules of the game. As with all Gamification efforts, we should always keep in mind how the game rules can be interpreted by employees – will they feel that they are treated unfairly with impossible goals or will they feel gamification is increasing their motivation, like a fitness tracker for work?

What seems to be a beneficial takeaway from this framework is the focus it entails on achieving a sense of meaningfulness associated with the gamification experience for the end user. Here are such two possible distinct outcomes Ruhi describes: “end users also showed interest in gamification activities as enabling mechanisms to meet organizational standards and requirements (compliance) as well as to achieve recognition for their knowledge, skills, and abilities (commendation). For example, the completion of gamified training and development modules enabled employees to fulfil mandated training requirements, and also allowed them to showcase their credentials and be explicitly recognized for their expertise. These aspects were highly valued by end users because they often translated into immediate real world benefits – perceived as useful “quick wins”.

“In addition to the self-oriented game aesthetics, our study also revealed social elements that can motivate end users to engage in enterprise gamification activities. By participating in group activities, employees reported valued emotions related to making contributions towards a collective goal and experiencing a sense of community with their colleagues in the organization.”


You can download Ruhi’s article here

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