The Gamification of Life

A few weeks ago we attended a fantastic panel discussion on gamification hosted by There Be Giants at RISE Central Working in Manchester. The panel wanted to find out whether and how this approach could be used to improve team performance in organisations.

We took our definition of gamification as: the application of a gaming thought process to anything we do. Successful games having in common a purpose or goal, a set of rules and the engagement of players.

Can we gamify in order to create a happier and more engaged team? It may well be possible — especially if you combine the playful and competitive nature of games with the satisfaction of winning.

Some great examples of gamification came up; formal and less so, successful and less so.

Life Game

One firm awarded points for achieving weekly targets. You could then spend these points on experiences such as a helicopter tour. Sounds great? The downside was felt if you missed your targets on just one week. All previous points were wiped and you’d start again from nothing. Demoralising doesn’t even cover it. Lesson: the sense of winning is useful but make sure it’s not outweighed by the cost of losing.

We heard about a weekly structured feedback survey to get a sense of the team’s mood at work. Tied into this survey was a team member of the week vote which would then turn into a prize or special recognition for the individual at the end of the week. Lesson: there are well-documented benefits from teamwork so even if the rewards are individual, ensure the game encourages colleagues to collaborate.

Drawing the biggest laugh was by far the simplest and also my favourite. Like in most agencies, the team were expected to fill in their time sheets at the end of the week. Data from timesheets is vital to many firms but it can become quite laborious and boring, therefore easy to avoid. So how do you gamify and motivate the team? Simple. Once everyone has completed their time sheet the beer fridge opens. Genius. Lesson: there’s nothing quite like peer pressure and all-out bribery to tackle the toughest motivational challenges.

What’s the best way to gamify?

It could be a full system in which there are rules and the players are aware of their involvement. Or it could be more subtle, scratching the same itches as competitive games. The satisfying ping on Wunderlist task completion. The Google Mail inbox zero celebration. Do these UX examples qualify as a form of gamification? Can such subtlety make enough of an impact?

Brett Knowles — fresh from work on this agenda with Facebook, Apple, Google and NASA — offered a familiar-yet-useful caution: “The first implementation will fail!”

As software developers, we’re used to embracing and learning from occasional failure. We’ve learned to break things down into ever smaller pieces with strong feedback loops — the bedrocks of our Agile practice. Perhaps the same should be true of attempts to gamify? If we must learn from failure, let’s start small and leave room to iterate and improve our game.

Accepting that gamification can be a fantastic tool to motivate teams we also strayed into other approaches using fun but not actual gameplay. My Accountancy Place had implemented an idea we thought brilliant and have stolen. Everyone on the team records individual Friday vlogs explaining what they’ve achieved, learned and are proud of each week. It allows for self reflection and is a great way for the team to share their successes with each other whatever their role and current projects.

All kinds of different things make us tick. Many of us enjoy completing and competing. Sometimes we like to collect and log things, other times we want to snack on the digital junk food of social media content.

Gamification proved difficult to pin down to any single process, theory or method but it’s a broad idea so there’s room to make of it what you will. Whatever the approach, we think it’s worth measuring success on whether or not the team is happier, more fulfilled and more productive. Success is achieved by considering what humans need and want at every level of interaction — but then we would say that wouldn’t we! ;-)

Does gamification merely make more explicit and deliberate something we all do anyway? Surely the satisfaction of completing, the thrill of competing and the playfulness of simply joining in are all part of the game of life?

If you need support with team engagement and think gamification could be part of the answer, contact theteam@human.software or call 0161 850 1692.