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The Gimmick behind Gamification

Nov 15th 2012
By Nidhi Arora

Gamification gurus across the globe are getting involved with companies to harness employee engagement. With the upcoming trend of gamifying the working paradigm, these stalwarts reinforce that all work and no play, does in fact, make Jack a dull boy – enunciating further that the engagement strategy, in essence, is only about managing the psychology of the workforce and nothing else. Apparently, even Plato knew that in his time!

Games incentivize behavior within a set boundary of rules. They've been around for a long time, although we are seeing new and creative ways to enhance them using modern technology only now. Managers of today must realize that the experience of gamification at the workplace is not just about making things more fun. It should be seen as a way to give users better feedback. It's useful to teach them how to use complex systems, make sure they understand what is expected of them, and help them see growth over time. Siddhesh Bhobe of eMee, a company that specializes in helping firms engage through social gaming, says that, “A lot of the traditional methods like e-learning or collaborating through team activities and performance appraisals are critical but ineffective since they are so boring. The motivation is lacking since the intrinsic reward is absent, be it in the form of learning something new or recognition of some kind. The challenge is to make work more challenging and fun which would enthuse the underlying element of fun.” Also, it is often observed that most of these interactions result in congregating out-of-the-box ideas from employees across teams. Hence, cross-leveraging while having fun at work is yet another plus.

Moving on to the science behind the entire concept of game mechanics, what we need to understand is that while creating and implementing any gaming tool or strategy at the workplace, the most important factor is to identify the target audience. As per Richard Bartle’s theory on game design, this target group will comprise of four unique type of players – achievers; explorers; socializers and killers. The caveat lies in creating the game design without confusing these four types as the personality types of the audience. Simply put, these are essential role plays for gaming. These are the key drivers of motivation and human behavior, and HR specialists and people managers are seen as the bridges that help in really getting the best out of the entire exercise of gamification at the workplace.

Typically we find that games at the workplace are designed to identify the ‘achievers’ and ‘killers’, while more often than not, the most interested of the lot belong to either the ‘explorers’ or ‘socializers’. Organizations must find compelling ways to help the latter categories grow – since that is what results in not just increasing the expanse of the bell curve at the workplace, but it is also where all the innovation and ideas are bred.

Toying with your employee’s psychology has its share of shortcomings too and gamifying the work-shift is not always successful. An interesting and funny example was when a software company implemented a gaming strategy to fix and find bugs in the programs coded. There was a monetary incentive attached to the ‘finder’ and the ‘fixer’. Employees were able to gross more at the end of week 1 by finding faults but there weren’t too many takers for fixing them! “If the management of a company does not understand what they are trying to achieve and are unable to retain a continuum with freshness in the gaming experience, the fundamental purpose of the organization’s success cannot be achieved”, says Siddhesh.

In conclusion, HR managers must acknowledge that gamification as an engagement tool, is just an amplifier - it helps strengthen and support existing engagement strategies. It shouldn't be considered a major feature all by itself for engaging the employee-base. Its power comes through the motivation garnered in people. En fin, gamification alone is simply a novelty that is bound to lose its shine.