Gamification - playing to win

December 11, 2017 Sascha Grosskopf


When it comes to employee motivation, incentives have always been a great home remedy for any company. Whilst employee performance may increase in the short-term, it’s also important to explore long-term personnel development opportunities for employees. 


For most people – particularly millennials – their first experience of the digital age was probably through computer games. Consoles like Atari, Commodore 64 and Nintendo as well as today’s Xbox and PlayStation are a revolution, enabling us to solve puzzles and challenges whilst being integrated in a new and diverse environment. For example, the Nintendo classic “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)” is widely considered one of the most influential games of all time because of its creativity in storytelling, innovative puzzle solving and use of 3D models. Similarly, the videogames of today are still broadly based around solving tasks and puzzles, collecting scores and winning experience points. 


Recently, the psychological side of playing games has intrigued many employers. We experience a sense of thrill and satisfaction when we unlock certain levels or gain points in a video game, which in turn can lead to motivation and inspiration. As a result, employers have introduced puzzles and games into their workforce management plans, leading to the term “gamification” being coined. 


A study by the University of Denver has shown that employees undergoing holistic gamification in learning achieve a 14% better performance when it comes to applying new skills. This is particularly important to HR as the Gartner Institute has shown that gamification will become an integral part of human capital management in the future.


But how can companies implement the principle of the playful challenge successfully in daily practice? 


A new way of learning 


In recent years, gamification has been particularly successful in the field of learning. It can help employees to train and learn in an innovative way. The experience should take colleagues on a journey, just like in a video game. If we look at the criteria of video games, they can help us to understand the benefits of gamification in the workplace.  


  • Transparent status: In video games, performance bars show the overall status of a player, gaining them rewards and achievements when certain milestones are reached. The same can be applied to an employee’s progress, with rewards given in the form of vouchers, bonuses or promotions. Implementing this type of system can encourage employees to step out of “autopilot mode”, encouraging collaborations with their colleagues and finding a healthy level of motivation without building up lots of pressure. 
  • Quest: The most interesting part of a video game is the quest and how to move up to the next level. The term became known primarily through fantasy role-playing games like ""World of Warcraft"". In a corporate world, this function could be applied through puzzles, tasks or games. However, employers must ensure that they maintain the “gamer effect” by producing interesting and appealing content. “Quests” are often appealing in recruitment as well. For example, The Unilever Future Leaders programme  requires candidates to play 12 games, testing traits of memory, focus and relationships while showing them their progress throughout. 
  • Ranking: The most important principles of gaming are collecting points and gaining high scores in order to get ahead of the competition. In both gaming and the working world, competition should be healthy and playful. and the ranking of players should be clear. Certain modules could have competitive gameplay, whilst others would use co-op modes to support each other. Then, over time, rankings could  be created on the most popular modules, so that new employees could see which tools are used the most  or which learnings are particularly useful for new employees. 
  • Cascading information: Despite all the playful elements, gamification should primarily focus on the right information. Employees shouldn’t be overwhelmed with incomprehensible details and information. Essentially, the concept of gamification is about communicating the learning content continuously and with ease. Never confuse a complex structure with a complicated structure!


Using games to encourage learning is far more effective than giving your employees 10-page PDFs to read. By using fun learning games, employees get to express their inner child while broadening their training portfolio. However, when employers are drafting their gamification strategy they must find the right balance between learning and engagement, ensuring that they keep up the fun element of it too.


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