Gamification is all the rage!

In this blog post written by Marcela Pineros, Senior Solution Architect with PulseLearning, we’ll define gamification and talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and what we’ve done with it at PulseLearning.

First, let’s make sure we’re speaking the same language. We define gamification as a method of taking game dynamics and applying them to non-game contexts. Games aren’t new. Remember the McDonald’s Monopoly game? So, why all the hype? Well, in recent years, with the influx of gamers into our economy both as employees and consumers, gamification has become a focal point for businesses looking to deal with “the problem of motivation.”

 Burning questions include:

  • How can we build loyalty?
  • How do we get employees engaged and active?
  • How can we increase revenue?

According to professionals in training, marketing, and business intelligence, the answer is simple. Make it a game. Incorporating gaming dynamics into your products and services is showing concrete evidence of increasing engagement. But is it enough to add some badges, levels, and leader boards? Not really. As gamification guru Gabe Zichermann says gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology.

One example that comes up frequently when you’re talking about gamification is the Speed Camera Lottery. In 2010, the Swedish National Society for Road Safety was struggling with accidents along a particular stretch of road in Stockholm. Now this is something many of you can relate to, right? Often when you’re in a rush, you might take a gamble at getting somewhere quickly over the odds of getting a ticket. Well, in partnership with Volkswagen, this safety-minded group found a way to change people’s behavior by incorporating gaming dynamics into driving at or below the speed limit.

What they did was put a speed camera on that stretch of road to photograph all drivers. Speeding drivers received a citation (aligned to their income). A percentage of the citation value was put into a cash fund. Compliant drivers were entered into a lottery to win all the money. Their results? In less than 3 days, they had a 22% reduction in average speed. They identified that the chance of winning the lottery was more valuable to drivers than getting there faster!

They changed behavior by addressing the problem of motivation.

In the business world, the problem of motivation can be measured with dollar signs. Gallup research estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the US economy as much as $550 BILLION dollars a year. We are fighting a battle for engagement and we’re losing.


So gamification is the answer, right? Yes and no.

According to Gardner Research, 80% of gamification initiatives will fail in 2014. Why? Poor design.
Essentially, in a rush to win the battle for motivation and engagement, companies have thrown together gamification elements like badges and leader boards to solve problems, without making sure they understand what the problem is and which elements are more likely to help. They’ve focused on the technology and forgotten about their user.

Remember: 75% psychology. Bottom line: You can add icing to a cake, but if the cake doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to help.
So if 80% of gamification initiatives are failing due to poor design, what are the 20% that are succeeding doing? First of all, they put design first and gamify with purpose.

Three key steps are common here:

1. They identify a core business problem and really understand it. Now in many cases, thanks to big data, businesses can identify problems and track what people are and are not doing. In other cases, there may not be a mature data reporting system in place and more of a hypothesis based on anecdotal evidence.

2. They REALLY understand their audience. The first question of someone who succeeds in gamification initiatives is, “What’s in it for the target audience?” If you don’t have an answer there, stop and try again until you do. Rewards need to be linked to what the audience cares about. For example, what would happen if you told your kids, “Clean up your room and you’ll get an extra portion of vegetables at dinner!”

3. They design on purpose. Successful companies consider gamification carefully – what elements are worth incorporating? This part is key. Rather than go big or go home, successful initiatives are thoughtful. They grow organically, starting with the low-hanging fruit. They understand that success breeds success and are careful in investing on the gamification elements that are most likely to yield results.

Consider LinkedIn. They are in the business of information. Their data indicated that they had a problem: people weren’t filling out their profiles. They could have built a full-on simulation game, started a contest, tracked leader boards, or given people badges for updating their job title. Instead, they spent a couple of hours and paid a programmer to come up with a “completion bar” that lets you know every time you log in how far along you are to having a complete profile. They saw a 50% increase in profile completeness – just from incorporating a visual feedback indicator that tracks progress.

For us at PulseLearning, gamification is synonymous with ENGAGEMENT. Our instructional design process is very much centered on the learner and identifies what will be meaningful, motivational, and memorable to achieve the best results. We establish whether the business problem is the result of lack of knowledge, skills, motivation, or environmental obstacles. Based on our study, we can identify what types of gamification elements will make the most sense.

Our approach to gamification has been learner-focused and centered on the core business challenge our clients face. Thanks to our emphasis on the “problem of motivation,” we are able to design a solution that works.

If you’re interested, we are happy to talk to you about these solutions in more detail!