Monday, May 26, 2014

Gamification: Adding Purpose

Early success stories in gamification have created a gold rush, which in turn has prompted bold claims about how important and how easy gamification is. This in turn has and will lead to the usual backlash, when gamification implementations don’t deliver. Gartner asserts that 80% of up-and-coming gamification systems will fail, either due to misconception, misapplication, or misuse.

How can you ensure that your gamification system will succeed? By building motivation, not tools, into the core of your strategy. A successful motivational strategy uses gamification, as well as other tools to develop and enhance motivation from within.

Let’s consider purpose [1], one of the three pillars of sustainable motivation according to Dan Pink.

Some tasks can feel like they have no intrinsic purpose, such as tasks performed within the context of a system that someone else controls but doesn't explain, or repetitive manual tasks performed day after day. For example, a teacher may have trouble motivating students to memorize bible verses. Factory line assembly workers may find no meaning in packing boxes eight hours a day. The students or workers in these situations may think that their tasks are meaningless, because they were never told, or can’t remember, the task’s purpose.

In these cases, don’t just reach for gamification. First instill, or re-instill, intrinsic purpose.

Some proponents of straight gamification maintain that game elements alone create purpose: the students and the worker will be more motivated to fulfill their tasks when they receive points and badges for completing the tasks, or because they can rise on a leaderboard. Their argument is that games motivate, so making a task more game-like motivates. In some cases, and with some people, this may work (for a short time). But be wary.

Many people do not find points added to a boring or hated task to be motivating. It is better to inspire purpose from within the task and then use the gamification elements to enhance the participants’ experience. This work may have to come from outside of the gamification system. The gamification system can then add reminders about purpose using well-designed texts and images that inspire during the process.

The teacher understands the benefits of what she is teaching, whether it is a benefit for her students specifically or for society in general. She should communicate this purpose to her students. She can give them inspirational talks and achieve buy-in. She should explain what the point of learning the verses is; in fact, she can ask them to come up with their own reasons. She can provide good cases studies, examples of people who know this information and the good results that came out of it. She can provide fun, involving activities such as role play. The students should come to internalize the lessons as something from which they will benefit. Gamification can then build on that purpose to help the students measure their progress.

The manager can create meaning by reminding the worker on a regular basis the importance of his task: for example, that the box will protect valuable equipment and make happy customers. The manager can reaffirm the assembler’s importance to the product and the company and the benefit that the product serves in the world. Where possible, the manager can add autonomous or playful elements to the work flow (more on that later). Salary and benefits are also meaningful, of course, albeit external. A worker instilled with some purpose will be receptive to a gamification system that adds additional motivation to his job.

Gamification works best when it boosts and clarifies what is already meaningful. Gamification that properly builds on purpose provides feedback about progress; it does not simply reward progress. When gamification only adds an external reward, it had better be damn rewarding, because the player is not going to simply forget if the actual work is meaningless.

[1] Or relatedness in self-determination theory, although relatedness also includes social connections and working for a noble cause.
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