Tactical Advice

Poor Design Hinders Gamification Success for Many Businesses

Research finds that the majority of gamified apps to better engage customer and employees do not meet business goals.
Credit: .shock/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos

Gamification, the use of gaming tactics to increase engagement among end users, is a trend that’s popped up in organizations of all types and sizes recently. Companies around the world have leveraged these techniques to better connect with customers, partners and the public at large as well as increase employee performance, training and education. The problem is that although gamifying continues to grow at a rapid pace, many businesses aren’t getting the bang for their buck.

Gartner predicted a year ago that by 2015 more than 50 percent of organizations would gamify their processes. The firm also forecasted that by next year, 80 percent of current gamified apps would fail to meet business objectives. The primary reason for this failure is the poor design of many of the gaming apps employed.

“The challenge facing project managers and sponsors responsible for gamification initiatives is the lack of game design talent to apply to gamification projects,” said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. “Poor game design is one of the key failings of many gamified applications today.”

Burke also notes that the current emphasis is on the obvious game mechanics, such as points, badges and leader boards. This is a mistake as they’re really just the instruments that implement the core models of engagement. “As a result, in many cases, organizations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience,” he added.

What companies should focus on when implementing a gamification initiative are the subtler game design elements. These could include such foundational fundamentals as balancing competition and collaboration and defining a meaningful game economy.

In a post on Forbes.com from earlier this year, Burke provided a few best practices for organizations to keep in mind when adopting gamifcation techniques.

Do Not Confuse Activity with Success: Careful examination shows that many of the leading companies leveraging gamification today are willing to describe the solutions they are implementing but are less willing to describe the solutions they are implementing the business results they have achieved. Clearly there have been quantified successes, but there are far more narratives that simply describe what has been done.

Think of the Audience as Players Not Puppets: Many companies have begun to believe that people will readily do their bidding by simply slapping some meaningless badges, points and leaderboards onto their websites. The audience must be engaged with meaningful incentives.

Clearly Identify the Business Objectives: Hype is driving many businesses organizations to explore opportunities to leverage Gamification. Many of our client conversations start with the question, “ How can we leverage gamificaiton in the organization?” While opportunity identification is not inherently wrong companies must avoid turning Gamification into a solution looking for a problem to solve. The guard against this, when an opportunity to leverage gamifcation is identified, what must follow is a statement of clearly defined business objectives and a critical analysis of the suitability of Gamification to achieve those business objectives.

Design for Player-Centricity: Leaders in gamifiation such as Nike, Quirky and Khan Acadamy share some design characteristics, most notably player-centric design. In each of these cases, the key design point is to motivate the players to achieve their goals. The mistake many companies make is to identify the business objectives without clearly identifying the player objectives. The sweet spot for gamifcation objectives is where the business objectives and player objectives overlap. Gamified applications must be designed to motivate players to achieve their goals. To achieve success for companies starting in gamificaiton, the first design point is to motivate players to achieve their goals — and those goals should overlap with the business goals.

M2 Research estimates the market for gamifcation tools, applications and services will reach a sizable $5.5 billion by 2018. That’s a lot of money that a lot of business will be investing to gamify their business and customer engagement processes.

But as Gartner points out, a lot of thought must be put into how to engage your target audience before implementing these gameplay techniques. Otherwise, the results will won’t be meaningful and the newly gamified process won’t help achieve the organization’s business goals that precipitated the implementation of a gamification strategy in the first place.

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About the Author

James Alan Miller

James is a veteran technology journalist with many years’ experience creating and developing magazine and online content. He is passionate about mobile tech, music and running — when the stars align.  Follow him on Google+ and Twitter:


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