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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Michelle Andreassen on Enterprise Gamification

Michelle Andreassen on Enterprise Gamification


1. I’m Barry Burd from Drew University in Madison New Jersey, I’m at the InfoQ QCon Conference and I’m speaking with Michelle Andreassen, who wants to discuss enterprise gamification. Michelle, tell me about gamification.

Gamification is a really big area and people tend to think that it is a new thing but it really isn’t because it’s been around for ages and if just think about all the loyalty programs, kids at school really working hard to get their gold stars or boy scouts trying to get their badges for doing things. I think if you look at gamification today you can really use it in a lot of areas and it has already been used primarily in the consumer gamification part of it, but what I’m really interested in is enterprise gamification where you can use it to motivate and engage your employees, you can make it more fun to work, you can take boring tasks and add that bit of fun, and it’s not like it’s going to turn working into a hilarious thing you do and you look forward to going to work just because of the gamification part, but it does add some pleasure to the tasks that you usually hate, if you do it right.


2. Let’s get back to something that you said very early on, in the description: loyalty programs. In what sense is a loyalty program for a consumer an aspect of gamification or an example of gamification?

You take the element of a reward. Rewards are very important in gamification because that is what kind of motivates us. We have like the dopamine system, every time you get feedback, you get a reward and you know that the thing you just did has been valued in some way. It releases dopamine in the brain and that gives you that sense of pleasure and that is when all the different reward schedules you have in gamification come in use and in loyalty programs you kind of get bonus miles or you get whatever if you do or buy something, and that is what gamification is really all about - giving customers a feeling of being valued, which motivates and engage to continue doing whatever gave them that loyalty reward thing.


3. [...] Is it really a game in that sense?

Barry's full question: The one difference that I see and you can address this, is that when I think about a game, I think about maybe collecting gold coins on a screen, something that doesn’t have real value. If there was a loyalty program or all I was doing was collecting pats on the back from the company that was selling things, that wouldn’t be a very good loyalty program, so in the sense that I’m getting something real from a company that has a loyalty program, I don’t think of it so much as a game, as just a different model for giving me goods, giving me that extra 10% not when I make the purchase but after I’ve made several purchases. So is it really a game in that sense?

No, I think it’s wrong to think of it as a game. It’s not making it into a game really, you are just taking the elements that motivate and engage. You use the lessons from games like strategy, technology, psychology and the design and you just give that extra experience from the game domain, so the keywords is always going to be motivation and engagement and you just use whatever mechanics will help you in that area as long as it’s transparent and people know that they are taking part in something else than a game, then it’s really useful.


4. And now how does this apply in the enterprise?

Well, for instance if you’ve got like time registration, people hate doing that, I don’t know why that is just the experience that I’ve got and I’ve seen people like go back 2-3 weeks in their emails to see "what was I doing at this point of time, how many hours did I spend on this project and this project". So what you could do was make an app, make it fun to document whenever you are in a project, you tap “I’m in here for one hour”, and if you then just get a bling or you are showing: “I have decided to spend that much time on this project in that week.” You could like have like a chart saying “Ok, you are in green now" or "you are in red", if you are spending too much time, but just the fact that you have like some kind of game elements that are showing you “how am I doing?” you get the feedback and that is really important that you know.


5. Can you list some of the elements of games, some of the elements that make, that we derive from games, that we can apply in enterprise situations?

The thing that people normally think about it is the PBL triad where you take points, badges and leaderboards. That seems to be like the common perception of gamification, but there is really so much more in it. You could use avatars, make them customizable so people can identify with it and for instance in behavior change if you do that you could make people perform an action in a game-like situation and it could make them do the action in real life if they identify with what they are doing. So it could be a game where they perform an action in their work environment, it could be when learning how to do the new accounting system or whatever the company needs you to do so it motivates you and it makes you perform the action better, but you could also put in the levels like a level up. You have the rewards of course and the rewards could actually be just the feedback from a leader that pops-up and says: “You’re really doing great here, thank you for your work in the company”.


6. So you start with PBL, this is what?

Points, Badges and Leaderboards.


7. And can you explain those a bit more?

Yes, points is like you get in games when you like you were talking about gather coins, and you have the badges which can be for a multiple kind of actions, but the good thing about the badges is that you leave in the holes for all the badges you haven’t earnedwhich will make people want to have them because you are incomplete.

Barry: So the difference between points and badges is that you add points on when you start with what is apparently neutral nothing and with badges you start in the negative with places that you need to fill in, in some conceptual sense, not necessarily on a game screen.

Yes because status is also an important part in motivation, we like to show people what we have accomplished and if you have more badges to show off then you feel good about yourself because you can see: “I’ve really accomplished something here and people might see it” but the points in itself is not necessarily something to go for, but it will give you the place in the leaderboard.


8. And a leaderboard is?

Leaderboard is, you just practically take the Points and put it in the high score list and see who is on top and you’d want to show people that are familiar to the person playing the game so they can say: “Ok, well Thomas over there, he is ahead of me, I want to show him that I can do better”, so it motivates people to compete but in a fun way, it has to be collaborative as well, so that you don’t kind of make a negative work situation, but there’s really a lot of possibilities in engaging people in a small competition.


9. [...] You’ve mentioned certain things like a loyalty program and it really surprised me what are the kinds of things are there places where the notion of gamification has snuck into the way that we get ourselves to work that I might not be aware of?

Barry's full question: I’m going to ask you a strange question: what kind of thing would I be able to recognize that is an example of gamification that I would not have thought of it as an example of gamification. You’ve mentioned certain things like a loyalty program and it really surprised me what are the kinds of things are there places where the notion of gamification has snuck into the way that we get ourselves to work that I might not be aware of?

It depends on how much you know already, but there are things like everybody should know Nike+ where you take it on your training, you go exercising, you have your little chip and it gathers points and it shows you how far you’ve come but there are really a lot of those. I know Jane McGonigal she’s made this, it’s not a game but she is using a site called SuperBetter to help people get in shape or get over disease or get over depression and she is using all the game elements where you get your points, your badges, you got a secret identity and it just helps you because you are doing these small challenges, you are leveling up, you can call in friends to help you, you have your allies and people may not even think of it as a game, because they are actually just getting in shape. It could be eating healthier, it could be lose weight and there are really a lot of these programs out there where you can train with your friends, you can put it on Facebook, you can tweet about it and show off “Look how good I did, I got this badge or this reward!” and people are not even thinking of it as a gamified thing, it’s just it’s out there everywhere so people just have to realize that they are already using it.


10. You mentioned avatars as one of the elements. I’m having trouble imagining avatars in a useful way in an enterprise, can you describe a situation?

Well you don’t have to take in all the elements to make a gamified experience and I’m not sure that it would make sense in a lot of situations in an enterprise but if they went in big and made a huge program the avatar performing things online. I think in a situation where people have to learn things, it could make sense that you have the avatar walking around, doing things that would really teach them something about the way they’re supposed to work, there it will be great that you have an avatar that looks like the person so they really identify and they are engaged in the game which will also teach them at the same time what they are supposed to do.


11. Is there such a thing as a system with too much gamification, can you over do it?

Yes, sure. You really have to think about the user experience in it because when I first heard about gamification I thought it was simply the Points-Badges-Leaderboards and you just slap in all of these elements and then you have this gamified experience and then you could take in the avatars, you could take in quests, challenges, whatever, but that doesn’t really make a good game. You have to look at like a player centered point of view, what will really give our user an experience that they are being helped, you have to have a player journey, you do some scaffolding, so they’ll quickly get into it and learn bit by bit what they’re supposed to do, but if you just gamify a thing because you want to gamify it and you are not thinking about what we really want to get out of this, then it’s just useless. It’s got nothing to do with gamification really because you have to solve a problem and if you just slap on the game elements then you are not really gamifying.


12. What about designing gamification strategies for certain tasks around cultures, genders, different audiences, have you looked into that and are there interesting things to say about it?

I think you should always look at "who are your employees". You want to make it an experience that kind of appeals to them, but you don’t have to necessarily look at their age or their gender because we all love to play games, games are fun, we love to play games with others so if you just give it some thought as to: Are our employees going to be competitive? Is it a sales situation? Then you could use the comptetitive part of gamification. Are they more collaborative, are they socializers, do they like to hang out and get together and really build that feeling of a community at the workplace? You really have to look into all the elements that you normally would when you create a game. How do we make it for the right players, find the target group? And for the culture it’s not really that much a question of how to use the game in that, I think you just want to make it an experience that they find will offer them something in terms of making their work situation easier and more fun. It is about solving a problem and it’s not just about making a game, so if you make sure that the task is easier for them, no matter what task it is, then it should work no matter how old they are, their gender, their culture.


13. So are there frontiers in the study of gamification, are there challenges to the gamification world right now that people are thinking about?

Yes, I think the biggest problem is the term gamification, because it doesn’t really sound that serious. When it came out, I mean when it comes to engaging customers, get them really playing and you can brand your marker and get them aware of your existence out there, but when you want to do it like internally or you want to sell the idea to big businesses and you want to go up to the corporate management, then you have to find a term that maybe doesn’t sound like you want to have the employees playing instead of working, so I heard a lot of people trying to change it to digital motivation or something with engagement instead of gamification.

And I think it’s a pity, because people have been working really hard to make the word gamification known and if you just instead of use a definition like "it is taking game elements and design techniques and putting it in a non-game context" and you just instead kind of focus on "we are actually taking the psychology, we are taking strategy and technology and design, and adding it to give the motivation and engagement", then I feel like that would be the way to go. Of course, you have to be sure that people are aware of what you are trying to sell and more and more people are becoming aware of the word gamification, but the problem is also that you have to have transparency, so if you are trying to take advantage of people, make a behavior change and they are not aware of the fact that they are being gamified, then you risk having a really bad effect of it, so you use it for good not for bad.

Barry: Sounds good, Michelle thank you so much for coming!

You are welcome, thank you for having me!

Oct 28, 2013

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