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Is Gamification a Good Motivator? 290

CowboyRobot writes "Growing up, many of our teachers used gamification techniques such as a gold star sticker on a test (essentially a badge) or a public display of which students had completed a set of readings (leaderboard). These were intended to motivate students to strive to do better. Now, these techniques are increasingly common in the workplace where the parallel with computer games is more intentional. A report by Gartner predicts that 'by 2015, 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes.' One example would be assigning badges for submitting work on time, another would be having a leaderboard in an office to show who completed a training module first. The idea of using game mechanics in work or study environments is not new, but its ubiquity is. Educators can discuss how effective gamification is in classrooms, but how useful is it as a motivator in the workplace?"
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Is Gamification a Good Motivator?

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  • by Iskender ( 1040286 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @05:59AM (#39964555)

    Apart from it being a shame system there are also other problems.

    This is a form of measurement system, and sociological studies have shown that those are growing increasingly common in schools. The problems is the same as with most such systems: the thing being measured isn't necessarily anywhere close to what is thought.

    In the case of a list of who completed things first, the probability is high that it measures who took the most shortcuts and did the least amount of work possible relative to their own capabilities.

    Instead of focusing on measurement and rivalry studies have shown that focusing on equality and everyone in class doing a good job lifts the entire group. I do not know if this carries over to work environments, but I'm sceptical about using rivalry when there could be co-operation instead.

    (Further reading: sociologists who have written about the culture of measurement in schools include David Hargreaves and Risto Rinne.)

  • Not at all. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Friday May 11, 2012 @06:07AM (#39964587) Homepage

    Competition in games works because competition is added to something that would be less interesting without competition. Same about classroom -- students don't perceive their achievement as significant or a part of some greater picture, public display (not necessarily competitive one) affirms the significance.

    At workplace, environment usually is already competitive. Worse yet, the most "important" competition's results, salaries, are never disclosed, what already causes some uncertainty in the minds of employees (do people who clearly do worse job, actually earn more than me because they were hired this year?) Adding another "competition" seems like company trying to avoid raising salary for its best employees instead opting for cheap "badges". It sends a message -- yes, we have meritocracy here, we give worthless things to people who contributed the most, however don't expect us to actually return your loyalty with anything of value, we have salaries and bonuses determined by haggling, nepotism, management hierarchies, and $deity knows what.

    There is also another aspect to this -- a person who underperforming in a "game" would live in fear that he is going to be fired, even if his work is entirely adequate for the company's purposes.

    It's also an interesting detail that it was very common in USSR to have competition in a workplace, however first and foremost, it was based on originally non-competitive environment (no unemployment or "working poor", narrow ranges of salaries), and created "bigger picture" not unlikely one in the classroom. Second, competition was mostly between groups, not just individuals. "You suck because your construction project goes two times slower than neighbor's" hurts someone's sense of pride for his work and ability, especially when it is known that all other conditions, results and consequences are supposed to be more or less the same for his and neighbor's group. I have a strong suspicion that this is what is being imitated here. Nope. Doesn't work under Capitalism. You can't enroll the same people in three competitions at once -- one for money, one for not being thrown out, one for shiny stickers.

  • by azalin ( 67640 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @06:24AM (#39964659)
    It probably boils down to this: Are you sure by introducing rewards for certain things, you are really encouraging the kind of behavior you want for your team and company?
    This is a already a serious problem with sales based bonuses. Measuring performance is difficult if you want to do it right.
  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @06:43AM (#39964729)
    Are they going to have milk and cookies, nap time. and craft hour?

    Grow up, you thumb sucking, diaper wearing 20 year old over-privileged snots. It's a fucking business, not a social networking site or a video game. Your motivation is to do the job and get paid.

    This is the result of helicopter parents. College grads are showing up for job interviews with their parents, or having their mom call and chew out the boss when they don't get a big enough raise. This crap happens at big New York financial firms, for God's sake.

    The US will be screwed when this generation takes over. I can just see them trying to negotiate with Chinese or Indian firms and calling their doddering parents to whine that the people on the other side of the table are not playing fair.

  • Re:Best Motivator (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) <> on Friday May 11, 2012 @06:49AM (#39964767) Homepage Journal

    Otherwise why are we truly there?

    Was discussing this with my boss yesterday. we agreed that money was very effective for motivating salesmen, very poor for motivating engineers. Good challenges and good toys to play with seem to me the best way to motivate engineers (by which I mean they're the best way to motivate me).

  • by deoxyribonucleose ( 993319 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @06:55AM (#39964795)

    I used to think gamification was an interesting idea which might lead somewhere: especially when dealt with as kudos, since monetary rewards so easily can lead to really counterproductive behaviours. Then I realized it had already been tried: in Soviet Russia, no less, under names such as 'socialist competition'. []

    Now, the fact that the idea is not new is not an automatic rejection of the idea; but its history should be carefully considered to avoid replicating failure. Can gamification be managed so as to 1) reward both short and long term objectives, 2) avoid acting at cross purposes to monetary rewards 3) make it serious enough to affect sufficient numbers of employees, and 4) still be fun? I don't think I'm smart enough to setup such a system. Good luck to those who try: it'll be interesting to see any results.

  • by gomoX ( 618462 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @07:58AM (#39965107) Homepage

    The trick is in closing the feedback loop. Not all projects are software projects, where quality is highly subjective and unmeasurable. At InvGate [] we introduced earlier this year a set of tools to bring gamification to the helpdesk [].

    If your system can measure the actual quality of the work (which is possible in IT/customer support environments by gathering feedback from requesters) then you can actually have an incentive system that works.

    Bad system:
    * 10 points for solving a ticket
    * 1 point por replying to a ticket
    * 4 points for chipping into another tech's tickets (allegedly to help out)
    * -20 points for reopened ticket
    * -100 points for SLA missed

    If you ever worked in this type of environment, you can already see the incentives pushing for quick, bad replies to customers in your tickets and everyone else's, and new requests filed instead of reopening old ones.

    But what about this?

    * 1 point for solving a ticket
    * 15, 10, 0, -10, -20 points for 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1-star customer ratings on those tickets
    * -100 points for SLA missed
    * 200 points bonus for doing 10 5-star tickets in a row
    * 1000 points bonus for doing those 10 5-star tickets in a row in less than one hour

    It even starts to become fun! And if you plug gamification throughout the whole system, even this (taken from a "Knowledge Week" quest that lasted through a specific week in an InvGate Service Desk instance):
    * 10 points for creating a Knowledge Base article
    * 15, 10, 0, -10, -20 points for 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1-star customer ratings on those articles
    * 20 points for having the article you created used by other techs to solve a ticket
    * 50 points for having the article you created used by customers to figure out the ticket themselves

    There other significant side effects to a gamification setup in this situation:

    * You get a performance metric in the amount of points an agent gathered during a period of X
    * Non-geek helpdesk or customer support admins can tune incentives themselves (an earlier approach with a "black box" combined metric resulted in questions about how it's calculated, and why it's doing things that you don't expect)
    * Unlike the case mentioned above, gamification-based metrics are transparent. Everyone can understand what's going on with a score counter that pops up when you perform actions.
    * It even has a "ka-ching" sound effect when you get points!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11, 2012 @09:20AM (#39965779)
    This all reminds me of the tale I once heard of a Soviet-era nail factory.

    The Workers had a quota of nails they had to fill, the output was some certain mass of nails, and once they filled that, they could pretty much take the rest of the month off. So, the manager being a clever sort, set his workers on the task of producing lots and lots of railroad spikes. Within a week they produced the quota, took the month off, and the manager was awarded the Medal of Lenin for filling his quota. The politburo, realizing what had happened, changed his quota for the next week. No longer was the gross indicator mass of nails produced, but rather the number of nails produced. The manager, still being the clever sort, switched the factory to producing thumb tacks... again, within a week, the factory had filled its quota, the workers got to go home, and the manager was awarded the Medal of Lenin.

    The moral of the story, of course, being that you want to make sure what you're asking for and what you're motivating for, is actually what you want.
  • by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @09:26AM (#39965865)

    That is absolutely a problem. Or what about the very charismatic and friendly person that the customers absolutely love, but who is completely incompetent? They may be great at getting customers to like them but absolutely horrible at actually helping customers with their real problems.

    I use Sprint for my cell service, and literally every time I speak to anyone with that company they let me know I'll be getting a customer service survey in a day or two and that they want me to give them the best scores. They specifically ask, "Will you do that for me?" because that kind of "pressure" will often work, and customers will feel like liars if they say yes then don't.

    I have told the people asking me that kind of question that despite their performance being excellent, I will simply refuse to take the survey because that kind of "pressure" will wind up skewing the results and lead to real problems being hidden. I've told managers at stores the same thing, and did my little stick-it-to-the-man thing by emailing the Sprint CEO directly (since he has an allegedly public email address that he claims to read). It's a shame, actually, because by and large my interactions with their customer service have been really great, but there's no way for them to distinguish between someone who actually performs well and someone who guilts customers into saying they did.

    The only metrics that are useful are ones where social engineering, sandbagging, and other kinds of artificial manipulation are removed from the equation. Unfortunately, for pretty much any job these days, those kinds of foolproof metrics are completely worthless since they don't measure anything worthwhile.

    One way I've seen the problem addressed is a zero tolerance policy. A friend of mine works in the customer service group for a largish firm and they have stated that they will terminate, immediately, any employee found to be requesting good ratings or even mentioning that there will be a customer evaluation contact. Evaluations are handled by an entirely separate group so there isn't an opportunity for friends to fudge the numbers for other people, etc.

    But even so, performance metrics are REALLY hard to create - much better to have managers who are actually good managers and good at evaluating performance than to have arbitrary systems.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @10:04AM (#39966309)

    money...Plain and simple, THAT is my motivator at work.

    Lots of studies have shown money is not a great motivator.

    From my own personal experience, bonuses for projects are not really a lasting motivator, they feel nice for a day perhaps but they do not make you happier or really alter how you work.

    Trinkets do not help either. One of the few things I do think can be a motivator is control - as a reward instead of cash or gifts, give the employes some more control over their life at work. Let them choose the next project to work on. Give them extra time (like Google does) to improve any old thing in the company they feel is messed up. That's a lot more permanently empowering and enjoyable than money.

  • Re:Already done it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigiTechGuy ( 1747636 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @10:41AM (#39966857)

    This is similar to studies I've read abotu money buying happiness. Money does most certainly buy happiness. Well, up to about $88k/yr it does. After that, it does not buy a significant amount of additional happiness. I'm sure the number varies a bit depending on cost of living in your area, but I live ina very expensive part of the country to live, and government takes well over half my pay in taxes. As I get closer to $88k a year I find myself less disgruntled at work and generally happier aboth at work and in life.

    At $88k I could afford to have nice things and enjoy a few hobbies. Where I'm at now, I'm getting close to being able to afford nice things, like keeping the heat above 50* in winter, eating meat more than once a week, maybe painting my car so it looks nice and isn't rusty, have a few hobbies, own a TV, maybe even a cable TV package, etc. At $88k those problems disappear and life gets a lot more comfortable. Sure I'd still want things, but I'd actually be able to prioritize my wants and save for the ones I want the most, and maybe even get some of those wants some day.

    So for me, money is a huge motivator and it lasts a long time. So long as the company is treating me well and giving decent raises where I can see myself soon at a level of not having to worry about money for necessities and maybe a few "nice things" I will remember that every time I get irritated or my motivation falls. It has been maybe 6 months since last raise season and another 6 months to go but my last raise and the prospect of another good raise is still a very big motivator for me. I'm a principled person, so cannot do wrong to a company that is doing right by me.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer