What makes gamification fail?

Gamification in business has been tested by some organisations and proved incredibly successful yet in others, it has failed. What makes gamification fail?

The reasons why failure can occur may be varied and would need to be considered for each situation. Here are 3 of the most common reasons why gamification fails and as said there may be many more depending on the situation.

Not relevant to the end user

Gamification design should in every company include some element of user research, at least that is my opinion. When end-users are involved you can create a picture of what motivates them and what doesn’t. If you are just launching a gamified solution with the intent of it working first time without any feedback then relevancy to the end-user may well be the cause. You can still retrieve it when after roll out the behavioural data works as a guide to tweak your design.

I see this quite a bit in applications where quantity or frequency of use is deemed to be more important than a true key performance indicator. For example, when data entry becomes the rewarded activity as opposed to sales activity for sales agents. They don’t see it as rewarded unless it impacts their numbers. Whilst from a sales management perspective data entry matters, the reward should be at the end of the full process so the sales agent still feels it enables his or her job.  In this case, making it part of the rewarded series of activities makes sense not simply focused on the data entry part of it.

Equally, when some users start falling behind, they will lose interest in the gamified outcomes, simply because they feel they can no longer compete or win.  With separate milestones and intermittent quests, this could be avoided. In one sales organisation, the agents knew that if they took holidays in the quarter that their target was no longer within reach, so they didn’t bother pushing for it. Playing a holiday joker could have avoided this problem and given them a fair chance to reach targets.

Superficial gamification design

Superficial gamification is what became rife in e-learning when the learning management systems decided to add points, badges and leaderboard without exploring where and why they would or wouldn’t make sense. I think the initial wave of this is ending, which if you are a buyer of such systems should enable you to choose what to switch on when and for what reason.

One size fits all also fall under this banner of not relevant to the end-user. Trying to introduce competition in an environment where this is not the norm, for example, is asking for trouble, and it shouldn’t be surprising if the uptake is poor.

Adding game mechanics like confetti without intent is like throwing mud in the hope that something sticks. I guess it is a strategy where narrowing down can happen later, but in most cases start with game mechanics that have a reason for existing. If you can’t find a good reason, then simply leave it out. Also, explore if you are just putting a mechanic in or not because of your own personal preferences. Always go by what your target audience prefers.

No connection to objectives

Gamification just for the fun of it or because you can or because everyone else is doing it so we should too is, in my opinion, a mighty waste of money. If I don’t understand why I am doing something and don’t see the point in it, then already the reason for a task to existing may be questionable. Then adding game elements to it is multiplying this frustration.

Gamification works best when it is connected to outcomes and objectives such as key performance indicators. Very often gamification helps to create a sense of progression and gives feedback, but if you are on a road to nowhere does knowing your progress really matter?

Gamification may not be the best solution for everything and as a person entrenched in this field, it is important to me to also say this to clients. Sometimes other things are a higher priority.

If you have had a failed gamification process, feel free to book a strategy call to explore what may have been missing and what you could do to pull it back on track.



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