Design and “Gamification At Work”


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The Interaction Design Foundation is publishing Gamification At Work by Jankaki Kumar and Mario Herger for the public tomorrow. I just finished reading the book and taking notes thinking I might review it. However, rather than do a simple review of the book’s content, I decided to situate the major points from the book into a post on the general topic of gamification in the workplace.

I appreciate the opportunity to read the book’s early release and, if you haven’t yet seen it just click on the link to it above and you can access it as well. Hopefully you will also consider reading my own thoughts on how the points in the book fit into what is most aptly considered gameful design.

Gamification At Work is an interesting read for several reasons. Kumar and Herger not only cover the essential components of a well-thought approach to why playing games is not antithetical to getting work done. They add to that contribution by outlining a design strategy, which they refer to as Player Centered Design, and providing case-study insights from the SAP Community Network that add essential details to each part of their overall discussion.

Player Centered Design

Introducing the term Player Centered Design provides Kumar and Jerger with a basic pivotal point for organizing the content of Gamification At Work. The book starts by quoting Gartner research regarding the near-term focus placed on gamifying workplace activities, and the long-term prospects of success for the projects involved.

80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives, primarily due to poor design.

Given the importance of design to efforts on the part of enterprises to gamify workplace activities, Kumar and Jerger’s effort is commendable in itself. Though Aaron Dignon’s earlier work Game Frame attempted to lay out a framework to use in designing games at work, its main drawback in my reading was an overly crude attempt to legitimate gamifying efforts with a fairly simplistic reading of neuroscience findings about the brain.

Player Centered Design keeps the following points in mind.

Gamification is about thoughtful introduction of gamification techniques that engage your users. Gamification is not about manipulating your users, but about motivating them. Ultimately, it is about good design — and good design treats the user with respect.

In other words, gameful design isn’t about taking advantage of human nature as much as it is about leveraging the relationships between real people who experience varying cultural environments, especially in global enterprises. The point comes out clearest in their assessment of how the SAP Community Network (SCN) started as an untested idea in 2003 and developed into a two million strong community. Kumar and Jerger attribute its success to “the secret ingredients of every successful community: people mix work, private life, and fun to make the community their own.”

An essential respect for players as real people permeates much of Gamification At Work, and that is what I find most impressive about Player Centered Design. It focuses, as does user centered design, on increasing the user’s ability to achieve goals, and build products that help them achieve those goals in an efficient, effective, and satisfactory (hopefully pleasing) manner. However, as Kumar and Jerger note,

While effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction are worthy goals, gaming and gamification extends and adds increased engagement to these goals. In the context of a game, players voluntarily seek challenges to enhance their playing experience. They seek empowerment over efficiency, delight and fun over mere satisfaction. These factors increase their level of engagement in the game.

Player Centered Design is an iterative, adaptive orientation to development which articulates guidelines for designers to keep in mind when attempting to turn workplace activities into game-like ones. In their order of discussion, Player Centered Designers:

  1. Understand the player — especially their context using qualitative research (here they point out that competition isn’t always a motivator, often cooperation or collaboration motivates)
  2. Understand the mission — learn what clients want to achieve and look for the root causes of their current inability to do so (Chapter 4 offers a detailed set of techniques for specifying a specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) gamification mission)
  3. Understand human motivation — probably the most difficult of all the guidelines to adhere to without making unwarranted assumptions, as implied in point 1. However, the Platinum Rule offered by Kumar and Jerger offers a useful rule of thumb: “Do unto others what they want done unto them”.
  4. Apply game mechanics — the UI elements players interact with such as badges, points, leaderboards (etc.).
  5. Manage, Monitor, and Measure — by this they mean gamification is a program and not a project. Missions develop over time, motivation requires active monitoring, and measurements feed into iterations of the game.

I really appreciate the focus of Player Centered Design on play as a voluntary activity. As Social Flow and Collaboration in Gameful Design noted,

designs that gamify are best…if the aim is to evoke the voluntary, ongoing engagement of participants. I emphasize the importance of voluntary experience because if you can’t quit playing when you want to the experience is not a gameful one.

The biggest challenge I see for implementing Player Centered Design lies in making the mission more like a journey than a goal. Kumar and Jerger offer useful insights into creating player personas that look promising in regards to contextualizing the mission as a journey. They do so by emphasizing that Player Centered Design needs to keep work culture in mind during the design process. However, their discussions of how to design for motivation through game mechanics don’t really recognize this challenge as explicitly as I think is needed. For instance, when they consider the issue of player fatigue, a real killer result when extrinsic motivation is the key driver for players, Kumar and Jerger observe that,

It is important to plan for player fatigue. When gamification is introduced, players may be engaged and delighted. However, as time goes by and the novelty wears off, player engagement and delight may go down as well.

One strategy to counter player fatigue is to plan for a few releases ahead and introduce new features periodically to sustain novelty and interest. A similar strategy is to consider the players’ journeys and their level of expertise with regard to the gamified system. Introduce a small set of features in the beginning as the player is onboarding, and unlock more functions as the player acquires more skills.

In other words, the player’s journey is not simply a “game mechanic” as they characterize it earlier in the book. Rather, the journey of players is an architectural feature of gameful design, especially if you consider their engagement voluntary. Regardless of this criticism though, Kumar and Jerger’s overview of how motivation, mechanics, and monitoring works is informative. It offers practical insights and makes tools available, such as the Player Persona Template (p. 46). They also provide numerous informative examples of uses made of gamification at SAP.

In addition to their focus on how to design for games in the workplace Kumar and Jerger provide a useful discussion of the legal and ethical considerations to keep in mind, especially when designing games for global enterprises.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Larry Irons
Larry Irons, PhD, is the Principal of Customer Clues. Customer Clues provides consulting services to design manageable product and service experiences across your marketing, learning, and organizational performance initiatives.


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