One day, all work will look like this. Image: Shutterstock

Tuesday 17th November 2015

Another level

The three things you need to know about the future of gamification

It feels like we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop with gamification for quite a while. We may be speaking for ourselves here, but we’ve been looking forward to playing Angry Birds for a living for ages. And where is our Grand Theft Auto: Human Resources?

“Gamification is coming!” gets written a great deal. But what does that really mean? The specifics seem more conspicuously absent than Donald Trump’s real hair.

One man who ought to know more than most about the future of gamification is Siddhesh Bhobe, CEO of eMee — a gamification platform developer — who we met up with at HR Tech Europe.

The eMee gamification platform is one they originally developed for themselves, but have now commercialised in order to offer it to others.

It began when his company had a problem with engagement, but felt they didn’t have sufficient information in order to solve the problem. Siddhesh knew that “a lot of it could be figured out through data capture,” but was stymied by the fact that “people don’t share data, because there is no incentive for them to share it.”

The key driver behind the creation of their gamification strategy was therefore not just to making work more fun, but “creating an environment in which people give more data and become more efficient at decision making. And so the design of your game has to be such that it enables those things, and that only happens when people see it has a benefit.”

Understanding these ideas of environment, data collection, and observable benefit are helpful to recognising where gamification is going as a concept.

The standard interpretation of gamification right now is one along the lines of turning simple admin processes into ritualised games. An example might be a cashier in a supermarket. Attach a timer and give points for speedily scanning items through, plus various daily/weekly prizes, and you’ll probably end up with a faster cashier service.

It is this perception of gamification that Siddhesh sees as his biggest obstacle. “Our competition is with the belief that you take an application, you give it points and badges and that’s gamification,” he laments.

But when gold stickers no longer cut the mustard, what happens?

Level Onecans

Making simple processes satisfying and competitive is like Tetris. Although fun, nobody really wants to play it eight hours a day, and not every job can effectively be turned into a game. There probably won’t be any gamification in a funeral directors any time soon, at least.

However, modern games have come a long way since Tetris. Many now have vast virtual worlds to explore, with deep levels of complexity and narrative structure.

And with advances in gaming come advances in gamification. Siddhesh’s eMee platform draws on a number of innovations. It consists of a persistent ‘game’ world (ie. everything you do and achieve is permanent) where feedback and recognition is given in conjunction with virtual gifts.

Employees live in virtual houses and can visit those of other employees. Many HR functions are conducted through the game itself – rewards and recognition, learning and development, etc.

In effect, employees get some sweet new threads for their avatar, and that swimming pool for their virtual pad, in exchange for completing tasks. Managers can put challenges out into the world with attached rewards for employees to accept.

The rewards in the game are also tied into real-world rewards, to escape the impression that you are being duped into working harder for a bunch of pixels that disappear when you turn your computer off.

New employees are also given the chance to explore the company’s ‘world’ to find out more, guided by their own curiosity rather than by a rigid induction process.

Siddhesh: “We look at existing games and what they represent, and then those become the models for some of the solutions we apply. For example, if you want to onboard employees, it’s good to have a game that everybody can win – a game which is more experiential, more about exploring, and you just have a great time doing it.”

This leads up to the first way in which gamification will ‘level up’:

Gamification will gradually merge and integrate with other HRM systems

This means that individual games and many HR systems will be subsumed into a larger gamified and persistent whole. Gamification initiatives will take place within an established game world.

The company intranet, a messageboard system, task delegation, feedback systems, and much more, can be tied together within a gamified environment. This environment will be akin to a virtual office that co-exists with the physical, except the virtual office will have more rainbows and sparkles.

Implementation will undergo a gradual shift away from the piecemeal approach seen now, much like the shift in HR systems from bundles of discrete tools to more complete packages.

Level Two

While a whiff of immaturity still clings to gaming, those that create games have a 30+ year long record of perfecting techniques that keep players interested.

The insight from hundreds of millions of data points as to what squeezes attention from game players can be gold for an HR department. If work commanded3d even a fraction of the loyalty that some games command, the results would be staggering.

People drop dead from playing games for days straight. Not that we’re suggesting that’s a good thing in any way, but you must admit — that’s dedication.

There is an obsession, and even a little fear, about how collecting data on employees in the future will be conducted. Whether workplace freedoms will be whittled down further by wearables that snitch on your overlong toilet break, or how your personal life will come under previously unseen levels of scrutiny.

Gamification will become an acceptable vehicle for data collection

Gamification will allow for a more targeted kind of data collection that leaves both employers and employees happier. All your work within the game can be quantified, the goals can be set out clearly, and your performance measured — all transparently.

HR gets the productivity and engagement data, employees get the assurance that comes with having a clearly delineated workspace.

Level Three

Games and techniques derived from games are designed and honed to take advantage of human psychology. Receiving tangible, numerical rewards enhances the feeling of making progress and achieving something.

It is as Siddhesh says: “It’s what keeps you wanting to stay on the golf course hole after hole, what keeps you coming back to try harder at the next level.”

Human beings are not wired to think, “by following this tough diet and exercise regimen, I’ll look great in three months.” That is why sticking to something like that can be tough. When it comes to a contest between gratification now and gratification later, now wins out almost every time.

People want results and validation as soon as possible. Over time, game developers have taken that into account when considering what makes a player keep coming back to a game.

Games need to be fun to play to keep players interested in the short term. But longer term, a game must constantly be modified with fresh content, have a strong narrative to tie players into the game, and must remain challenging so that players don’t get bored. Having a community of other players to interact with is also helpful.

This is why it’s easier to stay fit by playing a sport you enjoy than dragging yourself onto a treadmill five times a week.

Most of todayipad’s most successful games are franchises, games that have rebuilt themselves on a core formula, informed by the preferences of their audience. Other games have constantly reinvented themselves through dedicated additions of new content.

Once installed, serious gamification systems will be very sticky indeed

Although costly, it remains quite feasible to chop and change various HR systems as they become outdated, and for this to have minimal impact on staff. Not so a large-scale gamification initiative. If initially successful, the system will likely gradually require more and more inertia to shift.

Instead, deficiencies in the system will be ironed out through updates and adjustments. Employees won’t want to lose all their visible progress within one system for a fresh slate in another. So, companies will need to choose wisely before adopting a comprehensive system.

The future of gamification definitely looks less Angry Birds, more Fantasy Office 5000, but perhaps if gamification is to ever overcome the cynicism that surrounds it, that was always the direction it was going to take.

About the author

Jerome Langford

Jerome is a graduate in Philosophy from St Andrews, who alternately spends time writing about HR and staring wistfully out of windows, thinking about life’s bigger questions: Why are we here? How much lunch is too much lunch? What do you mean exactly by ‘final warning’?