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Gamification on Intranets: The Risks of Playing Along

Gamification on Intranets: The Risks of Playing Along

There’s an interesting article on how Accenture used gamification to drive intranet adoption. But there’s a risk that game theory (aka gamification) on intranets can reduce creativity and co-operation because it relies on shallow motivators.

There have been a number of other good posts on intranet and gamification such as:

These are interesting illustrations, but what most of them boil down to is: points and badges.

I’ve been reading Dan Pink’s book “Drive” on motivation (there’s also  great video animation summary of the core concepts of drive). But points and badges are a very basic “carrot” approach. Pink says that in the main carrots and sticks don’t work except for basic repetitive tasks where there is little intrinsic motivation. For anything involving knowledge or creativity, what matters is:

  • Autonomy – deciding how and when to do things
  • Mastery – the reward in gaining a skill and learning
  • Purpose – the sense that the task is part of a greater goal

What concerns me is that points and badges are none of the above, they are just  extrinsic motivation. Where extrinsic motivation is offered, this actually lowers creativity. So in adding gaming, we may be damaging the real value that an intranet could bring:

  1. Generally, when simple rewards are offered in return for acts that should have intrinsic rewards, people start to forget the real reason they are sharing and optimise their game-based scores instead. For example, instead of giving 1 comprehensive answer, they give 3 partial answers for 3x the points. Or people may withhold answers until they can maximise their points – ceasing to co-operate.
  2. Differentials in reward can de-motivate the many to the benefit of the few. Just as high salaries for the top 5% can breed resentment in the other 95% and make them less productive, so can an element of competition can switch off the masses who feel their efforts won’t make a difference to the leader board, even if it would have made a difference to  the real-world problem on the Q&A forum.
  3. Usually games are rewarding for a while and then people tire of them – they hold limited appeal for mastery. If you’ve made it central to your collaboration approach and this happens, then what?

So why are there gamification success stories on intranets? There aren’t many good case studies yet, and the Accenture figures are not that compelling: 50% of employees have filled out personal profiles (good, but no better than intranets without games as an incentive) and a 0.4% contribution rate to blogs is way behind somewhere like IBM. However, Pink’s book indicates that there are circumstances where it works:

1) Making intrinsically dull tasks more interesting. Steve’s IBF blog cites Zappos, who “have  a “Face Game” facility which requires users, when logging o,n to to match the correct name to one of five random photos of employees.”  For one-off activities where you want participation, gamification can be fantastic.

2) Where mastery developed in the game is a re-usable skill. People devote hours to winning video games for no other reward. If you want employees to develop these skills, it can be far more effective than traditional training. When Microsoft first developed Windows, for example, they included the Solitaire card game because it trained users on every possible mouse gesture of double clicking, drag and drop etc.

3) Where the only purpose you can offer is recognition. In certain areas getting ‘guru’ status can be highly motivating (as for Amazon book reviewers). For expert domains if someone wants to progress their career, then having a recognition system can help drive knowledge sharing, provided that the recognition is linked to quality and the points are transient.

It’s early days yet, and to be fair to Accenture, the team recognise that what they do should link to ‘Purpose’ as an employee drive too. I hope as the field matures some good case studies emerge, but for now  if you want employees to share knowledge or collaborate more effectively, then games are low on purpose, irrelevant at best to autonomy (and at worst they may get in the way) and may also suppress creative thinking.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

  • Posted at 11:02 am, 26 September, 2011

    Hi Sam

    I agree there has to be a reason and ultimately a benefit in employing gaming techniques on your intranet.

    I was thinking back to a recent example where an intranet manager used a game to show staff how to use the intranet – very successful…a reason…a benefit.

    But if you launch something because it’s there and it looks like fun then its bound to fail and will certainly hamper future efforts to deploy things the sensible way.

  • Posted at 7:52 pm, 26 September, 2011

    Gamification on intranets: the risks of playing along – Sam Marshall…

    This article has been submitted to Intranet Lounge – Trackback from Intranet Lounge…

  • Posted at 12:33 am, 19 December, 2011

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