Gamification of Research & Feedback: Myth or Possibility?

“Gamification” has become a new buzzword. The term is rising from nearly zero hits on Google a couple of years ago to more than 900,000 hits. However, the basic concept of Gamification is not that new. It is about the use of game mechanics/dynamics in the non-game environments. Many proponents claim that the Gamification has a potential to revolutionize many aspects of business life including research and feedback systems, while some others seem skeptical and criticize this trend. The Escapist has an interesting video describing the trend of Gamification and its benefits and risks. (Update: It looks like The Escapist has removed the video they previously had posted on this topic.)

If a company is able to design a feedback system that incorporates great games and apply Gamification in a right way, it has great potentials. However, this idea is not foolproof. When companies assign layers of fancy badges and reward points for the same old set of tools, activities and tedious work that is inherently not rewarding, the whole idea Gamification for research and feedback seem like a myth.  The feedback system in the business world involve many such poorly designed games like bribing top diggers to place them on the first place, or Facebook campaign for checking-in to get a free reward.  In the words of Chief Scientist JP Rangaswami, when companies have a mentality of “putting the lipstick of Gamification on the pig of work”, it won’t work; the changes need to be deeper to be worthwhile.

According to Rangaswami, today’s knowledge work is inherently “lumpy”; it has peaks and valleys of intensity. At work, we have tendency to fill these valleys (the author Clay Shirky calls these gaps or valleys as cognitive surplus) with meetings. At home, we watch TV to spend this cognitive surplus. Instead, if the research and feedback systems are engaging like a game, employees and customers would like to hang out there in their free time to spend their cognitive surplus. If the companies can apply the concept of Gamification successfully, they can engage consumers and employees in a on-going feedback loop, and boost their effective crowdsourcing strategies.

In his thought provoking presentation, Michael Wu, PhD, principle scientist of analytics at Lithium Technologies, gives very interesting examples of good vs. bad game designs; a good example is Volkswagen's Fun Theory Award which resulted in the Speed Camera Lottery idea.

Wu describes a Fogg Behavioral Model and suggests that Gamification is an iterative process and works best when motivation, ability, and trigger (what they are told) all three of these converge. If a game you designed is not working, assess all three elements, figure out which elements need changes and improvements, and then, redesign the game in your feedback system accordingly to get the desired response.

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