Will gamification kill productivity ?

GamificationEveryone is talking about Gamification.

Even the aging analyst crowd are picking up their Atari 2600 controllers and dusting off a copy of Pitfall to get in on the act. It’s providing a welcome distraction just now and in fact it’s the very antithesis of doing work if in the wrong hands. And this is where the problem lies.

It’s the engagement, stupid

Gamification at its heart is about engagement, whether it’s the end customer or the employee workforce but it’s the latter I’m more concerned with here. There is an explosion of workflow and enterprise task management tools which have been designed and built purely from a gamified perspective but I’m not convinced any thought has been given to actual productivity. And this is going to seriously damage the concept from the inside. Already there was a very loud and public spat detailed in GigaOM last year between two factions in the gamification camp which I wrote about this time last year on BPM Redux. There are also numerous startups launching or in beta phase claiming that their gami-productivity solution is here to solve the problem of completing boring and mundane tasks. I stumbled across one today which claims to let you set goals and save creatures from danger.

Are we playing a game or actually trying to achieve a completed task list ? And when does the line cross from no longer being about the work but just about the game ? At what point did Gamification become simply Tamagotchi ? Press ‘Enter’ to feed the CEO, Press ‘Home’ to tickle his tummy (ugh).

It’s the human psyche, stupid

The other aspect of gamification that some are happy to ignore is the overuse of the reward system, implemented quickly with a bit of gloss it completely ignores what motivates a large proportion of human psyche. To cheat. I might be showing my age here but who remembers programming Peek and Poke commands to gain infinite lives or infinite ammo ? As I’ve written previously, it’s human nature to quickly embrace a fun method of working but then equally as quickly to tire and bore of it once you’ve figured out the mechanics and for the clever of us, manipulate the scores. Gamification will collapse as a viable employee engagement method in a productivity context very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, when this is applied correctly the message and engagement model it can be incredibly powerful but this growing pseudo-industry is awash with casual players who have actually no clue what the core values are meant to achieve and are just in it for the short term hit. Given that a lot of activity is centred around productivity engagement you would think there would be some cross-over, collaboration and mutual knowledge sharing between other industries but this just isn’t happening.

As a result, the proliferation of isolated startups are in danger of not only messing with the gamification value but also pissing off those who value productivity as an ultimate goal. It also doesn’t help that along with the casual players come casual observers in the form of analysts who should have retired but like Ra’s Al Ghul manage to crawl to the Lazarus Pit for one more ill-informed research note.

It’s the hardcore players, stupid

What gamification needs in order to survive are more hardcore players. Those who actually aim to know every angle there is, explore every map of the industry, find those secret rooms where other people and ideas lie waiting to cross-pollinate. If gamification is about engagement, then practice what you preach. Right now gamification is a quick commercial hit but with little serious research into just how far the concept could take us beyond the basic application.

To quote the GigaOM article:

We can act in good faith, we can read the literature, we can try and understand why something happens. Or we can remodel the world to fit an easy, commercially viable message.

The dissent in the ranks is because before the real understanding has occurred the consultancy and training  invoices are flying out the door. What we really need at this stage is a unification and collaboration into what it means to gamify, an authority in application and methodology, the basic frameworks to build upon and flesh out with open participation to create that standard. Lessons from past industries should be heeded.

Now someone pass me my controller, Space Invaders are on the loose and I’ve  just been passed a huge to-do list.

Atari joystick


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Categories: Future of work, Gamification, Innovation

Author:Theo Priestley

"I had more creative ideas from Theo in 6 months than I have had in 6 years from most people." Theo Priestley is one of the most recognised independent technology industry influencers and evangelists, ranking in the Top 100 thought leaders across Virtual/ Augmented Reality, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things and future trends. Theo has written insights for Forbes, Wired, The European Magazine, Venturebeat to name a few, and has been interviewed for many online publications including the BBC on his thoughts on technology and the future. A regular paid keynote speaker and panelist at conferences and events, Theo is engaged for his forthright views and isn't afraid to challenge conventional thinking and the marketing hype surrounding the industry when presenting, never pulling punches to get the message across on how technology can be applied to improve business and the customer experience. He has also successfully organised and run TEDx and Ignite events. Highly active across social networks, he sits in the Top 1% for social media engagement on Kred and Klout and is constantly sharing articles and his analysis that he feels his audience would be interested in. Theo is also active in the startup community, mentoring within UK and US accelerators and sits on a number of advisory boards. Former VP and Chief Technology Evangelist at a Top 25 European enterprise software company with a career spanning both innovation strategy and delivery of software and business change in Financial Services, and as an independent technology industry analyst. Follow Theo on Twitter @tprstly or connect here directly for constant insights on tech and marketing trends. • Top 1% Influencer on Kred (915) • Top 1% Influencer on Klout (70+) • 12,000+ Followers on LinkedIn • 13,000+ Followers on Twitter • Recognised Top Influencer in AI, Virtual/ Augmented Reality, Fintech, IOT and Wearable Tech, Big Data and Analytics.

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5 Comments on “Will gamification kill productivity ?”

  1. December 11, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Gaming is the love child of the movie industry and software industry. It uses cutting edge technology for instant gratification.

    Engagement is the real issue. Engagement is a top design parameter in gaming but “nice to have” in traditional enterprise solutions.

    Enterprise solutions who do not have engagement as a critical design parameter will soon see the “Game Over” sign.

  2. December 13, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    “The measure of productivity is defined as a total output per one unit of a total input.”

    I would say that gamification has the means to reduce the required inputs while achieving equal or better outputs – thus increasing productivity.

    All other points are valid for poor designs, and designs that think only about short term incentives.

  3. MaxSchlutter
    February 5, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    Thanks for commenting on my post, Theo. I mostly agree with your point of view. On a short term, Gamification is a good tool to create enthusiasm and involvement. but on a long run it is a shallow application of game design thinking and loses its charm. People see through meaningless badges and rewards relatively quickly and thrive for epic meaning and actions that respond to their motivations and not try to lure them into doing something don’t consider appealing.

    But. The choice on how to design a system/workspace/shop/class in a way that it motivates, activates, challenges, rewards and improves productivity, is up to those who gamify. I see the success of Gamification in the intentions and choices of those who use it, and so do I see the failure.

    Gamification itself is a good thing. But it has become a superficial term used by people who want to achieve higher productivity/sales/engagement as fast as possible with the lowest possible investment. Who says Gamification can’t be realized in a meaningful, transformative, bottom up way?


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