Gamification in the Enterprise: Hot or Hype?

More and more people seem to be peddling gamification in the enterprise, and it’s working. An increasing number of companies are “gamifying” their processes, or want to.

enterprise-gamification-hot-or-hypeFor many, the solution to re-engaging employees and improving employee training lies in gamification.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Maybe I’m too old to fully appreciate the power of games. But I think we need to use gamification with a lot of caution. You’ll see why below.

Gamification Defined

According to Gamification Summit:

Gamification is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming businesses to engage users and to solve problems.

But gamification isn’t just about turning everything into fun and games. Three elements are at work in gamification:

  • Game mechanics

These are the elements of the game itself: the characters, setting or environment, the goal or mission, and the obstacles. It also includes things like how the user gets feedback on their game performance (such as collecting points, lives or hearts), reward systems, and the like. These are the game elements that will initially hook the users.

  • Reputation mechanics

These elements have to do with how users gain status in the game, such as game levels and user ranks. Moving up confers benefits, such as unlocking new worlds or earning bonus items.

  • Social mechanics

These elements allow users to interact with each other in the game, share information about each other’s progress, and even play with or against each other.

These three mechanics, working together, are said to have immense benefits to the enterprise.

Benefits of Gamification

Employee engagement

The most commonly touted benefit of enterprise gamification is employee engagement. Especially if your employees are most Gen X or Y’ers, then gamification would probably appeal to them very strongly. But it isn’t just young people who are easily enamored with games.

According to a recent study:

  • 77% of American households own games
  • 97% of young people play computer and video games
  • the average age of gamers is 37 years
  • 29% of gamers are older than 50 years
  • 46.6% of German employees polled play games during work hours

Virtually everybody seems to be gaming. So it makes perfect sense that employees would quickly warm up to platforms that have the familiar elements of video and computer games.


Gamification has also been credited for making training more effective. When you infuse fun into learning, not only does it go down more easily, like sugar-sweetened medicine. My kids, for example, have computer games for everything from French to math to problem solving. Aside from making learning more fun, it looks like more learning takes place, too.

Given these advantages to gamification in business, why am I not gung-ho on it? I have 3 reasons

3 Reasons to be Cautious About Gamification in the Enterprise

1. “Lazy” thinking

Video games and other fast-paced media are already making our attention spans shorter than ever. Younger people, especially, are no longer able to focus on one thing or sit still for long periods of time. They are used to receiving new stimuli every few minutes.

Gamifying work panders to this kind of “lazy brain” and contributes to it. What would happen if nobody could read more than 3 pages of text anymore?

2. Working for all the wrong reasons

Gamification motivates individuals through extrinsic rewards: points, badges, and tokens. That’s all well and good, but what about the intrinsic rewards of work? You know, things like having a sense of accomplishment, knowing you did something meaningful, or even just fulfilling an obligation. We would be short-changing ourselves if we performed work only for the tangible pay-offs we get in return.

3. Losing sight of the goal

My third beef with gamification is that it can easily turn from a business tool to a distraction. Gamifying a process or system is a huge project. In the process, one could easily lose sight of what you wanted to achieve in the first place. The mechanics are not the ends in themselves, they are only the means to make something more sticky, engaging, and memorable. So turning your employee induction training into a game is not the objective. The objective is to get new employees to complete the training faster, with a more positive experience, and with better learning and retention.

Do you agree that gamification is something we need to use carefully in the enterprise? Or do you think I’m being a kill-joy? Be honest, we’ll still be friends!

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