Demystifying Gamification in eLearning

Gamification is all the rage.

Let’s take a minute to demystify and see what all the fuss is about. Gamification is a method of taking game dynamics and applying them to non-game contexts. Games are not new. So, why all the hype? Well, in recent years, with the influx of gamers into our economy both as employees and consumers, gamification has become a focal point for businesses looking to deal with “the problem of motivation.” Burning questions include:

• How can we build loyalty?
• How do we get employees engaged and active?
• How can we increase revenue?

According to professionals in training, marketing, and business intelligence the answer is simple: Make it a game. Incorporating gaming dynamics into your products and services is showing concrete evidence of increasing engagement. But is it enough to add some badges, some levels, and leader boards? Not really. Gabe Zichermann (Author of The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition” argues that gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology.

Let’s see how this plays out.

One example that comes up frequently when talking about gamification is the Speed Camera Lottery. In 2010, the Swedish National Society for Road Safety was struggling with accidents along a particular stretch of road in Stockholm. This is something many people can relate to as often when you are in a rush, you might take a gamble at getting somewhere quickly over the odds of getting a ticket. In partnership with Volkswagen, this safety-minded group found a way to change people’s behaviour by incorporating gaming dynamics into driving at or below the speed limit. They put a speed camera on that stretch of road to photograph all drivers. Speeding drivers received a citation (aligned to their income). A percentage of the citation value was put into a cash fund. Compliant drivers were entered into a lottery to win all the money. The results? In less than three days, they had a 22 percent reduction in average speed. They identified that the chance of winning the lottery was more valuable to drivers than getting there faster!

They changed behavior by addressing the problem of motivation.

In the business world, the problem of motivation can be measured with dollar signs. Gallup research estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the US economy as much as $550 billion dollars a year. That’s a staggering number and it’s no wonder people are looking to find ways to reverse that trend. We are fighting a battle for engagement and we’re losing. So, gamification is the answer, right?

Yes and no.

According to Gartner Research, 80% of gamification initiatives will fail in 2014. Why? Poor design.
Common problems include:
• Death by badges.
• Doing too much, too soon, with a “set it and forget it” attitude. Big promise, big investment, big fail.
• Low participation.

Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flikr, describes it as the empty restaurant syndrome. A restaurant might have the best food, the best chef, great ambience, fabulous location, and everything else. But if you walk by a couple of times and see it empty, you’re highly unlikely to go in – versus the place down the street that always seems full.

Essentially, in a rush to win the battle for motivation and engagement, companies have thrown together gamification elements like badges and leader boards to solve problems, without making sure they understand what the problem is and which elements are more likely to help. They have focused on the technology and forgotten about their user.

Remember: 75% psychology. Bottom line: You can add icing to a cake, but if the cake doesn’t taste good… It’s not going to help.

So, if 80% of gamification initiatives are failing due to poor design, what are the 20% that are succeeding doing? First of all, they put design first and gamify with purpose.

Three key steps are common here:

Identify a core business problem and really understand it.
In many cases, thanks to big data, businesses can identify problems and track what people are and are not doing. In other cases, there may not be a mature data reporting system in place and more of a hypothesis based on anecdotal evidence. For example, if we engage the customer or the employee, we will improve x or y (revenue, sales, productivity, etc). This is often the case where folks will say, “I may not have the evidence yet to back it up, but I’m sure that if I stop eating ice cream at 11pm, it’ll move the scale in my favour.”

REALLY understand your audience
The first question of someone who succeeds in gamification initiatives is, “what’s in it for the target audience?” If you don’t have an answer there, stop and try again until you do. Rewards need to be linked to what the audience cares about. For example, what would happen if you told your kids, clean up your room and you’ll get an extra portion of vegetables at dinner!

Design on purpose
Successful companies consider gamification carefully – what elements are worth incorporating? This part is key. Rather than go big or go home, successful initiatives are thoughtful. They grow organically, starting with the low hanging fruit. They understand that success breeds success and are careful in investing on the gamification elements that are most likely to yield results.

Consider LinkedIn. They are in the business of information. If they had a website full of incomplete profiles, the value of their service would take a hit. Now, their data indicated that they had exactly that problem: people weren’t filling out their profiles. They could have built a full-on simulation game, started a contest, tracked leader boards, given member badges for updating their job title. Instead, they spent two hours and paid a programmer to come up with a “completion bar” that let you know every time you log in how far along you are to having a complete profile. They saw a 50% increase in profile completeness – just from incorporating a visual feedback indicator that tracks progress.

Gardner Research
Gabe Zichermann – The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition; Gabe Zichermann, Joselin Linder; McGraw Hill Professional, Mar 26, 2013

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