How to decide if gamification may solve your problem?

Will gamification solve my problem?

One of the frequently asked questions I receive is how to decide if gamification may solve your problem. From my point of view, gamification should always be about the end-user. It is the end-users goals and related motivation that will help you decide what will work or not. Below are a few questions that will help you along the way of deciding whether to explore gamification or not.

Is it a goal for your target audience?

For gamification to work and appeal in the first place, it must be relevant to a goal or want or need from your target audience. For example, a learner may sign up for a course to develop their skills so they can change to a new job. An employee may want to gain a promotion and in order to do so, he or she wants to take on a project management role. In both these cases, gamification can help them retain the vision for signing up for the work associated with achieving their goal.

We often get asked about gamification for things people don’t necessarily want to do but need to do for compliance reasons. If these can be linked to goals that the person does want to achieve then it may work. But if there really is no good reason for the tasks, consider phasing them out first of all or look for ways to get it over with as quick as possible. For example, profile completion on an HR system may be what you need them to do but automation that pulls in LinkedIn data or uploads the CV automatically and then asks your employee to approve and verify may be much more efficient.

Are your end-users likely to need a bit of nudging to reach their goal?

Most of us start a course or role or fitness program with great intentions and our motivation at a high point, but then life or work gets in the way. Our priorities may change or our excuses may play a higher role than actually sticking to our goal. If this is likely to be the case, then small reminders or nudges in the right direction may work. Allowing users to control the frequency and method of distribution is preferable instead of enforced push messaging that cannot be controlled.

In my case my Runkeeper reminds every 3 days that I told it, it was a good time to go for a run. Sometimes that is the exact prompt that gets me started again other times it is really not suitable and I ignore it. But the fact that I had the choice to set the frequency allows me to have buy-in into the choice. For Duolingo the language learning application, a daily login streak is how they encourage regular practice to improve your language skills.

From the work around behavioural economics and nudging, we know that the end-user will not always make the right choices for them even knowingly. So in some cases taking a paternalistic view on optimising how the journey ought to work for the best outcome of the individual would make sense. Especially when it came to financial choices such as pensions and longer-term insurance benefits this was seen to be helpful. In these situations asking at sign-up what the future renewals should be like may be the path of least resistance.

What behaviour would you like to encourage?

When it comes to encouraging behaviour always remember to look at it from the motivation of the target audience, not simply your objectives. Often the starting point may be what you would like people to do, but then you need to find a way of translating this into language the target audience relates to. When it comes to changing behaviours for the long haul, starting new habits is the hardest. Attaching a new habit to an existing one or replacing a bad one with a good one is easier to achieve. Fitting in with the regular schedule of your client is good, rather than creating a completely new pattern.

Once you have established the patterns and behaviours you would like more of, then reward when it is achieved and ignore when it is not achieved. When someone participates because of their own volition, the chances are that they don’t need negative feedback but rather a nudge or reminder to do achieve what they set out to do. Negative feedback applies best to practising a new skill and the quality of execution rather than nudges to be part of something.

Is the thing you want to gamify a process?

A process can typically be broken down in a few steps with milestones and meaningful touchpoints. The meaningful touchpoints are the points in the process where you can make a difference for the client. Whether it is through endorsing their progress or through the use of encouragement.

If you want to gamify a person, then the only one to gamify is you. I often hear the request I want to gamify my boss or colleagues and unless you gamify a process they willingly engage in, I would not see how this can work.

I gamify my work and have soft goals as I work through my day, but not everything is digital and recorded. I am very goal oriented and as a result have hit some great milestones, as soon as these are imposed my motivation can change between resentment, rebellion and compliance.

If still in doubt, test it out

If you are in doubt on whether to apply gamification, as the people that will be most affected by it and check their response. If still in doubt, then run a small test, something non-digital just to check if it will work or not. We have often encouraged teams to just start with whiteboards and pens in work. A small pilot project will definitely give you insight either way. If it doesn’t work then look at why it may have failed. We often tweak the design after launch to ensure best results. But sometimes it really isn’t the solution for your audience and that ought to be acceptable too.


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