Gamification, Motivation and Work

This post is in response to Ettis’s comment on an earlier post: Three Principles for Successful Gamification.

Ettis asked “How do we gamify work?”

I’d like to answer a different question: Should we gamify work? And if we should, then what kinds of work should we gamify?

The most common manifestation of gamification is the implementation of general reward mechanics for non-game tasks. In general, adding competitions, a point system, and/or leaderboards to a non-game system is considered industry best practices for engagement.

When you incorporate these gamification mechanics into your Health and Awareness program, HR training session or whatever it is, you are hoping that external motivators will prompt a user to complete a task. Your user will do Action X in the hopes of getting: points, money, a trip to Hawaii.

External motivation, gamification, points, rewards

Internal motivators, on the other hand, prompt a user to complete a task purely for some internal, generally personal, reason. If I, the user, do Action X, I will feel happy; I will feel smart; I will start to look like Bradley Cooper.Bradley Cooper

What is interesting here is that, as Daniel Pink has demonstrated, often external motivators do not lead people to complete the task at hand. Or more importantly, in the context of this post, to complete the task at hand well. There is a big difference between internal and external motivators. Which one will motivate me depends on what kind of task I am doing.

Pink argues that when people engaged in rote work are given external motivators, the efficiency of their work increases. They work faster and better.

On the other hand, once a task requires any level of creativity, it turns out that the quality of the work–the actual productiveness of the individual–not only does not get better with external motivators but actually declines. If I’m going to be any good at doing a creative task, my primary motivation should be internal: the satisfaction of solving an interesting problem, the fun of playing a published game I’ve worked on, etc. This is not to say that I don’t need to be paid for my work. The financial motivator, however, is not the primary motivator. Adding badges or points to a job which relies on a user’s creativity might then actually decrease performance.

On the other hand, gamifying a Starbucks might work well. I don’t mean to imply that Starbucks baristas are not creative; rather, the work at a Starbucks involves the repetition of rote tasks. Consequently, awarding points to baristas who sell more Double Mocha Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos might indeed boost the sales of those Double Mocha Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos (for a real-life example of a successfully gamified Juice Bar, see here).

Thanks for the question!

gamification, motivation, daniel pink, game designsketch by iceeluver26

9 thoughts on “Gamification, Motivation and Work

  1. Ah. That is good. Thank-you. I would like gamification mechanics to encourage both contexts, for creatives and “production” folks alike. But there is something we ought to do above and beyond rewards and competition: we ought to track, catalogue and re-create human ingenuity in the form of expert systems. Protein folding and computer troubleshooting are two areas, even as the monies go toward trips to Hawaii.

  2. Just out of curiosity, have you looked into the military? I personally feel that they are possibly the original adopters of gamification principles (long before gamification was even a known process). The obvious being their use of medals, ribbons, certifications, etc (reward system). They have a highly structured promotion process (tiered leveling system). They also give financial bonuses for certain situation (incentivisation system). These are just a few things off of the top of my head.

    I know that the Navy has experimented with online portals for sailors (players) to track their progression in the past. Not sure what system they are using these days however. Regardless of what they are using today, those other elements have been used for some time now.

  3. I do not totally agree with this post.

    > When you incorporate these gamification mechanics…you are hoping that external motivators will prompt a user to complete a task.

    I do not think that all gamification, or the greater topic of UX design, counts as external motivation. I believe that constructing technology to appeal to users can in fact represent a realization of a user’s hopes and expectations for technology. It allows their intrinsic motivations to emerge and profilerate.

    • To further elaborate, compare the act of writing by hand to using a word processor. Whereas when writing one is primarily limited by their innate ability to get words down, when using a word processor it is possible for the technology to come between the user and their task. Future improvements to the interface to reduce the impact of the word processor on the connection between user and written word can be called ux design and gamification.

    • Hello arieljake,
      Honestly I have a dislike for the word gamification and one of the reasons why is that we can’t seem to agree on what it means. According to wikipida here is what it is….
      Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, and learning.

      Good UI and good UX are huge elements in user engagement. For me the focus of gamificication is on the mechanics.

  4. Pingback: A Visual Guide to the Benefits of Gamification |

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