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How to get your gamification project off the ground

16th Mar 2015
Managing editor
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With Gartner forecasting that most gamified applications would fail to meet business objectives due to poor design and execution, brands can fall at the first hurdle if they’re not careful.

In fact, some companies might not even make it that far if they can’t make a compelling case for gamification in the first place. Remember, in some board rooms gamification is still thought to have a whiff of ‘novelty’ about it, so some convincing can be required.

When it comes to building a case for gamification, two approaches can be taken, according to Paige McCaleb, product marketing manager at NICE Systems.

Business objectives

A successful gamification programme is one that can be directly connected to wider business objectives. Therefore, before launching such a programme, you should follow this series of steps: 

  • Identify company priorities. What is on the CEO's agenda?
  • Connect frontline metrics to company priorities. What happens at the coalface that impacts the aforementioned priorities?
  • Discover how gamification can drive those metrics. How will gamification motivate the actions and behaviours of frontline staff?

McCaleb explains: “Take the example of customer experience, something that the CEO has on her ‘company priorities’ scorecard. At the frontline level, you’re tracking (and impacting) Net Promoter Score (NPS). You can use gamification to create a monthly challenge that recognises the employees that earn the highest average NPS. Or, you can award people with a CSAT-tastic badge whenever they receive ten 'Perfect 10' NPS scores in a row.”

Business results

As an alternative to using business objectives – or in addition to using them – use the results of gamification early adopters to support your argument. Companies have seen measurable results across three dimensions that impact operations: 

  • Faster onboarding of new staff. By trading in classroom-style training for structured gamification tasks, brands have reduced 'time to productivity' by up to 90%.
  • Upskilling. Gamification can be so engaging that about 70% of staff will complete training and skills development beyond what is required. A more skilled workforce can help you get closer to your customers.
  • Talent retention. Studies demonstrate that staff are 68% more likely to stay with organisations that recognise and reward their behaviour through programmes like gamification.

Planning and design

Once you have made the business case and have approval and budget, you next need to plan for your project.

Michael Wu, chief scientist at Lithium Technologies, suggests that there are three ingredients that are fundamentally important to a gamification project.

  • A good understanding of the action you are trying to drive, and anticipation of unintended outcomes. Wu provides the example of a display on car dashboard that depicts a beautiful flower, with drivers able to grow the flower by driving in a more energy-conscious way. Designed to change human behavior by encouraging people to drive more fuel efficiently, it could have an unintended consequence of encouraging people to skip red lights as they don’t want to hit the brakes.
  • Analytics. You have to track everything the user does and be able to reward people fairly. Games will fail if the rules aren’t in place or can be broken, and data and analytics are important to keep the rules enforced. You have to design a system that it not easily cheated or gamed by the user and then track all the behaviour, understand the behaviour and reward people fairly for the behaviour that is desirable. If people feel that others are being unduly or unfairly rewarded the experience will be destroyed for everybody.
  • A good understanding of the players. Understanding what motivates the users and what they perceive as ‘simple’ tasks is important and many game designers spend a lot of time understanding their user. One early user model was proposed by Professor Richard Bartle, who suggested there are four types of players - achievers, socialisers, explorers and killers. Each one of them is motivated by different things, and each one of them can be triggered by different things. Businesses need to apply the trigger that is appropriate for the type of user that you are trying to get to do things. Bartle’s model is very simplistic, however, and it is recommended that businesses do a user study, to understand the user personas and want drives them.

Madu Ratnayake, senior vice president and head of digital at Virtusa, shares some further advice about game design.

“The key point to succeed is to start with the end in mind,” he explains. “Every gamification component should be integrated to the common user journey without limiting to independent silos. Also it’s important to use gamification as a way to solve a business problem than use for the sake of using it. One such example is to connect game mechanics like ranks and achievements with performance appraisals which will drive the employees to engage more on the system and also provide a higher value for it.”

Once business problem is identified and reward strategy defined, the next step should be to create progression through the game design model. This includes consistently providing challenges to the users without making them either bored or frustrated. “A successful strategy involves the user’s improving skill levels to keep the challenges much more advanced, so that the user keeps progressing with improved challenges over the time,” says Ratnayake.

“Meanwhile the strategy should evolve with the user input. It’s not recommended to get wither very high percentage or very low percentage of users achieving the target. It should create levels or stages to identify the different level of skills that the employees showcase. The right measurements of such systems comes though the actual user inputs after running the system for a while. Hence, it’s important to analyse data before define the measurements.”

It is also important to remember that gamification is about completion and competition. While identifying the top performers is the primary objective of the gamification product or service, it’s also important to provide some kind of a consolation to all who play. Ratnayake notes: “Like foursquare newbie badge which was awarded to those who joined, the enterprise software should also have such small achievement to implant hope in the mind of the other team.”

Another approach to bear in mind is to co-create the gamification programme with your customers. Involving customers in the design process can capture some insights and innovations that may have otherwise been undiscovered, and therefore can improve the chances of success.


With your gamification project mapped out, you’ll now need to implement it. Understanding how gamification works is one thing, making it work in a real-life business environment is quite different. 

Raynayake advises: “Organisational culture also plays a vital role in introducing gamification especially when the organisation is not social computing friendly. So it’s essential to do a change management process before moving solidly into gamification products.”

Neil Penny, product direct at Sunrise Software, shares the following three-step methodology for introducing gamification into the workplace.

Gain buy-in with your team/customers

  • Don’t assume everyone understands the concept of gamification and make sure to position it as a motivational reward and recognition system rather than just another fad.
  • What’s in it for the players?  Linking rewards to something tangible like cake and coffee, or even monetary gain, will grab their attention.
  • Recognise that not all players are the same – challenges and rewards need to reflect differences in roles and function.
  • Don’t commit to promises of rewards you can’t keep – a sure-fire way to demotivate your team.

Start simple

  • Wait until everyone is familiar with gamification before introducing more complex, longer-term goals and rewards.
  • Go slowly to build up confidence and keep players keen – start with simple challenges and rewards that encourage healthy competition between players such as ‘highest weekly customer satisfaction rating’, ‘lowest service level agreement stats’, ‘lowest number of re-opened incidents’ or ‘highest number of approved knowledge base articles submitted in a month’.
  • Decision criteria for determining winners should be based on measurable statistics such as being ‘rated 5 out of 5 by a customer’ rather than just ‘closing 10 incidents a day’.
  • Make first-time rewards attainable to keep new players motivated.
  • Create tiered rewards that motivate players to continually do better.
  • Mix it up – apply different rewards for different Service Desk groups at different times but make sure players are competing against colleagues performing similar tasks.
  • Don’t be ‘out-gamed’ – minimise the opportunities to cheat by keeping rewards criteria clear and strict.
  • Align gaming scenarios with business objectives to keep them real and meaningful – after all, gamification is all about supporting the business!

Monitor and Iterate

  • Continually review the effectiveness of your gamification techniques – is everyone participating?  Are there enough rewards and challenges to keep players interested in the long term?
  • Listen to staff feedback – more often than not, they will know what works, what does not and come up with fresh ideas.
  • It’s an evolving process – constantly tweak and roll-out new challenges and rewards to keep up momentum.

However, even with all this advice, businesses are advised to test the water before rolling out a full organisation-wide initiative.

Ratnayake says: “Gartner predicts that 80% of the gamification products will fail due to bad design. Hence, there is a high risk of failing the first gamification product the company ever develops. So it’s always recommended to start the experiment on a new area or non-core, fail fast application/process to avoid bad rapport on the approach.” 


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