Unexpected Gamification Advice from The Mario Brothers


Share on LinkedIn

Picture 7th grade me.

I won’t show you an actual picture. That would be too embarrassing. So, just imagine an awkward, skinny kid with a bad haircut and braces. 

I’m standing at the starting line on my junior high school track. There’s another kid standing next to me. We’re about to run a half mile race.

All the kids from Mr. Mooney’s and Mr. Farmer’s PE classes are gathered by the starting line. They’re cheering because it’s a match race between the two classes. I’m representing Mr. Mooney’s class. He didn’t ask for volunteers; he just picked me. I’m not sure how Mr. Farmer picked his kid to run.

There’s a lot on the line.

The winner of the race gets a hand full of Moore Moolah. That’s what they called the fake dollars you got at Moore Junior High School for good behavior. You could spend it on school merchandise or snacks in the student store.

I’m pretty sure Mr. Mooney and Mr. Farmer put up their entire allotment for this race, because there’s no way anyone would ever earn that much Moore Moolah otherwise.

We were also running for our respective classes. That’s a lot of pressure when you are in 7th grade. I was terrified. My biggest fear was letting everyone down.

The starting pistol went off. After half a lap, it wasn’t even close.

Gamification and The Mario Brothers

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of gamification for customer service representatives. My research shows that it can be a distraction from the real work at hand – serving customers.

But, if you want to really understand something, it’s helpful to explore another perspective. That’s why I turned to Mario and Luigi.

The Mario Brothers were popular when I was in 7th grade. I enjoyed playing Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo with my friends. So, who better to ask about gamification?

Photo Credit: Neal Topf

Neal Topf is Mario. He’s the President of Calzilla, a nearshore inbound call centerNate Brown is Luigi. He’s the Director of Customer Experience for UL EHS Sustainability, a division of Underwriter Laboratories. 

They’ve both written several articles (like this one and this one) and presented at conferences on the topic of gamification. I consider them experts.

Question #1: Why do you use gamification in your contact center?

Neal: We have had some initial success in inspiring learning and better motivating Gamification to improve performance, quality, C Sat and other KPIs. The ability to contain all the data and manage it in the required context, in one place, that is visible, shareable, and social, is a massive plus for us.

Nate: Gamification to me is all about motivating people to accomplish high-value actions. The contact center can at times be a soul-sucking place to work. This is one of many levers that can be effectively employed in your overall employee engagement strategy and give your workforce an exciting story to tell.

Question #2: What are some of the ways you use gamification?

Nate: It all started with a prize wheel, and from there we’ve done some great stuff such as mini disc golf tournaments, a murder mystery dinner, office-wide Easter egg hunts, and much more. The theme though is uniting the team and creating a context of strong relationships. 

One we are attempting to kick off called “Lego Feedback”. As you meet your QA objectives you earn different funky lego pieces. As you accumulate them you get to build your own crazy Lego tower. It is a creative expression of your own success.  Agents often like to display their tenure with the organization, so a larger Lego tower implies longevity.

Neal: We use it to incentivize learning and performance. We’ve used our Gamification platform (PlayVox) to systematize and automate the compilation of all this data into one place, so that it is visible to all, is social (can be seen and commented on by all), and bridges various platforms and softwares that we have.

For example, we have a skin care client. The KPIs for that skin care client are: Retention Rate, QA score, and Average Order Value. We maintain a digital leaderboard for each metric. The leaderboard is visible to everyone in that program. Prizes, monetary and non-monetary, are given based on individual and group performance. We have agents grouped in teams, so there’s some competition among teams.

Question #3: What are some the challenges to gamification?

Neal: Its so tempting to want to Gamify EVERYTHING. We tried it. Dumb idea, especially at the beginning. Gamification has to be kept simple so that everyone can understand it, so it can be measurable, and so that the enterprise can set itself up to be successful and show true improvement. 

If not managed correctly, can be a distraction and take away attention from the core tasks at hand which are to serve customers. Participants can be focused on the Game itself and learning how to win the game rather than helping and serving customer.

Nate: It requires a huge amount of intentionally on behalf of the Gamification leadership. If you are on the fence about this I would urge you to wait. It requires a team of creative individuals committed to making the program special for it to work long-term.


Both Nate and Neal mentioned two specific challenges.

First, not everyone feels comfortable with various elements of gamification. Some people don’t enjoy games. Others don’t like the idea of having their performance displayed publicly. This definitely has to be a consideration if you implement something in your contact center.

Second, both said it’s important to keep things fresh. Agents get tired of doing the same thing over and over again.

My Take

I was surprised to learn I actually agree with a lot of what Neal and Nate are saying. 

At Calzilla, Neal’s using gamification to make performance data readily available. I’m all for that. Metrics, if used wisely, can help everyone know the score and improve agent motivation. A challenge he noted, that gamification can become a distraction, is my chief concern. 

I also think contact centers can get the same results (or better) without the incentives and prizes. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests customer service reps are primarily motivated by helping customers.

Nate and I actually had an interesting discussion about the definition of gamification. I told him I thought he wasn’t actually using gamification at all, but rather a rewards and recognition program that used games to build morale outside the context of his agents’ daily work.

To me, gamification is the use of game mechanics in non-game situations to motivate people to complete certain objectives.

Nate disagreed. His feeling is that gamification is the use of game mechanics to solve a problem, and the problem he was solving was an employee morale issue. He didn’t think games needed to be embedded in the agents’ actual work for it to count as gamification.

Once I understood how Nate and I defined gamification differently, I think we’re more in agreement on how gamification might play at role at work.

To bring it full circle, let’s go back to my 7th grade PE half mile match race.

I won. It was an amazing feeling for a shy, awkward kid to feel appreciated for doing something important for the team. To me, this is what gamification should be all about. 

I never even spent the Moore Moolah.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here