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12 Ways To Make Your Gamification Project Fail
May 2, 2013
By Siddesh Bhobe
Gamification is fast being touted as a panacea for everything from employee engagement to higher productivity, from customer loyalty to effectiveness in teaching. It's no wonder that more than 70% of Forbes Global 2000 companies have announced plans to deploy gamification in some form or other. As more and more enterprises wake up to the potential of gamification, there is also an increasing frustration with projects that have petered out after the initial hype, with low or no returns, and a growing disillusion with fun at work!
But a closer look at the failures will reveal some simple ground rules which can ensure the success of your gamification initiative. Here are the top 10 pitfalls to be aware of (and a couple of bonus items), and avoid, in your quest for successful gamification:
- All Points, No Value:
- Inability to Customize:
- Working in Silos:
- Inability to Control Access and Authorization:
- Getting Stale:
- No Appointment Dynamics:
- Gaming The Game:
- No Internal Champion:
- No Action When Fatigue Sets In:
- Badly Designed Leaderboards:
- Attempting Too Much:
- Need To Duplicate:
An over-emphasis on points and badges can quickly lead to fatigue among the "players", unless the points actually lead to either career growth, financial rewards or serious social and peer recognition. Senior management needs to understand this, and provide appropriate mappings from points and levels, to one of the three ultimate rewards. At Persistent Systems, eMee's virtual gifts and points have enabled the company to move to a continuous assessment regime, enabling year round promotion opportunities for its 7000+ employees and directly linking virtual points to career growth.
The real benefits of gamification accrue when the "game" is completely in line with your company policies, vision and culture. Unless the experience can be fully customized to your specific business and cultural needs, you will face a difficult future with adoption. Expectations around UI, collaboration, sharing and rewards change dramatically based on geographies, age groups and industry verticals, and your underlying platform needs to be able to adapt accordingly.
Shipping out action logs to a gamification service and receiving points and badges in return seems like a great way to get started, but the real hurdles come when employees realize that the gamification works in a silo, unable to connect into existing IT systems, many of which are legacy or third party products that have been in use for years. Unless your gamification platform can easily connect with and exploit existing applications seamlessly, the benefits will only be marginal, preventing you from fully exploiting the potential of a good gamification initiative.
Most serious enterprise applications will need low level access control and authorization, without which the gamification project will run into serious objections from business owners, HR and employees. Ensure that the gamification platform you use can control edit and view rights to every bit of information, workflows, notifications and reports that are accessed and published through the "game".
Just like any computer game, your gamification initiative will also quickly become stale and repetitive, unless there is a concerted and conscious effort to manage it, and keep it alive and kicking. When you roll out your gamification initiative, ensure you have planned for upgrades and enhancements at least for the next 6-9 months. Which means, even if you have everything ready, deploy only a subset at a time - users will be thrilled at the continuous updates, and the strategy will help maintain interest when fatigue for the "game" starts to set in.
The reason most people cannot resist Facebook is because there is always something to look forward to - the updates on your wall. A similar strategy of creating appointment dynamics, and ensuring that users have some reason to keep coming back to check on "status updates" in the "game" will ensure repeatvisitors. This is absolutely critical in the initial days when the game is not yet a habit with users.
There is nothing worse than knowing other users can game the system and do better than you. For example, assigning points for liking a post can be easily gamed, earning the user points for no real value added action. Instead, ensuring your posts earn points only when they are liked by more than x employees - now that's a good way to get crowd sourcing work in your favor, both in providing the author social recognition as well as proving a great mechanism for content curation.
For any serious organizational change initiative to succeed, it is critical to have senior management buy in and support. And gamification is pretty much as serious a change management initiative as they come! Before embarking on the project, ensure there is a passionate champion with direct approval and blessing of senior management. Many organizations are starting to realize this and creating specific roles and positions for gamification leaders, and a CGO role may no longer raise eyebrows!
Like any new initiative, the Adoption-Hype cycle comes into play. While users are excited about playing the "game" when it is launched, once the hype settles down, usage declines and everyone waits to see whether it's worth it after all. If the internal champion is passionate, this is the time for action. Mailer campaigns, cafeteria meetings, felicitations of the top players - these are absolutely essential to get focus back on the "game", and convince employees that this isn't just another temporary fad after all!
Nothing works better than a badly designed leaderboard - at reducing motivation levels! When you are languishing at 450 points, knowing that the leader has 23560 points is not motivation - it simply beats you into giving up! Effective leaderboards ensure recognition of the leaders, but also give each player a target to achieve, a player right above that he or she can aspire to compete with, and beat. Leaderboards that show how you are performing against your own past best scores also provide a great way to push employees to do more. Another excellent way to rally employees is to compete and create leaderboards at a team level, and provide baby steps towards goals that seem eminently achievable.
As in any enterprise project, avoid the temptation to attempt too much right at the beginning. Start small, celebrate some initial successes, address failures and learn from them, before moving towards larger goals. Attempting to change an employee appraisal system that's been in use for a decade can be a very difficult target to achieve, but starting with gamified rewards and recognition and then gently nudging the company towards a new appraisal regime is a great action plan!
And finally, nothing hurts more than having to duplicate work. Your gamification initiative should provide direct benefits in the line of work, and not be an additional overhead on already-stressed employees. When we first deployed a sales gamification module for a customer, we required duplication of some of the deals won information in our application. No wonder, it failed to take off, until we hooked directly into the CRM application in use.
Gamification is indeed a great way to influence user behavior, but a poorly designed gamification initiative can do more harm than good. A few simple guidelines can make all the difference!