Gamification is the best way to increase productivity

Gamification is the touted as the best way to improve motivation but why?

This article examines the psychology and approach needed to work with Gamification.

  • Psychology
  • ROI, Goals, Metrics and Rewards
  • Managing the Fun
  • Getting started

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In a nut shell

To quote Mary Poppins “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”

What Mary Poppins was doing was actually far more motivationally manipulative.

Essentially gamification is the psychological manipulation of people to achieve the goals you want through offering reward.

Where salary provides basic reasoning for employment, gamification focuses on rewarding specific performance.

Motivation is specific to each person and as a manager or a company you have to find what motivates your people.

There are numerous articles and proof that getting rewarded in games causes positive chemical reactions in the brain.



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There are a number of different psychological approaches to training one of which is called Behaviourism.

In the 1930s, a psychologist at Harvard, invented an Operant Conditioning Chamber (better known as a Skinner Box).

The concept was simple:

  • Put a rat in the box.
  • Let the rat pull the lever in the box.
  • Sometimes give the rat a food pellet for pulling the lever.
  • Study what conditions cause the rat to pull the lever more or less often.

Doing that nowadays isn’t necessary as the experiment is done but on a personal note… awh the poor rat.  That electric grid was used!


Positive and Negative reinforcement

So extending the training above to childhood. Eat all your vegetables and you will get desert.  Don’t and you get nothing.”

Rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour is known as Classical conditioning or Behaviourism.

This leads to the concepts positive and negative reinforcement

By Curtis Neveu – I used Adobe illustrator, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Negative reinforcement according to research can be demotivating so gamification only considers positive approaches

Also it wouldn’t be good practice to electrocute you if got something wrong in the office?  Would it?


The Theory of Gaming Motivation

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Theory of Gaming Motivation
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In 2012 Shoshannah Tekofsky began her PhD in “Player Modeling in Video Games” and produced a doctoral paper.


The research put forward different classifications and groupings to help understand the motivations consequently the following Info-graphic materialised.


Taking that research I adapted it slightly for setting up Gamification in a business.

Achievement.  Leaderboards are all about coming in 1st place, being the winner.  Sometimes this motivation to be the top of the heap is enough to drive people on yet as a result not everyone can be a winner, that’s the point.  There is only one winner and if it is never going to be you for whatever reason then this form of motivation can wear off.

Satisfaction.  Rewards and treats.  A public clap on the back.  If I complete / succeed at this then I will be rewarded with something.

Recognition.  Badges and collecting things is another motivator.  So you’re not going to be top of the head but collecting badges, awards and tokens that say you completed milestones is enough to drive people on.  Their motivation is to hit a mile maker or achieve enough for themselves.


Go team!

There is also a demonstrable precedent that doing things for others in a team environment yields greater results.

Continental Airlines implemented a simple bonus scheme to great effect.  The primary requirement is clarity for all.

Why team bonuses are more effective


ROI, Goals, Metrics and Rewards


So if gamification is the psychological manipulation of people to achieve the goals you want through offering reward which goals do you want to achieve?


  • What process / procedure are you trying to incentivise staff to improve / maintain? (The Goals)
    • Attendance, sickness, training progress, quality, compliance, not ready time


  • What metrics are you going to use as the primary record of accomplishment? (The Metrics)
    • HR report, sickness report, training records, quality scores, quality control output, phone system reporting

Metrics are vital

A metric is just putting a number on something to allow it to be reviewed.

You need a start point and an end point.  When we began we sold 10 a week.  When we finished we sold 20 a week.

Some metrics are difficult to measure like “how happy are you?”.  As an example putting a cost on hiring and training new staff can be used to put a cost value to staff retention.

Staff retention is a major consideration and there are many strategies to improve it.  Gamification is one of those strategies.

Each of the metrics provides enumeration of what you’re trying to achieve. i.e. putting a points value on each of the goals.

The enumeration of the goals allows points / values to be gained / lost by users.

  • As a business what are you willing to put forward as reward for “winning”? (The Rewards)
    • Money, time, access to games, access to exclusive material, internal recognition

With these items answered putting gamification in place in a business is actually very straight forward.


The Project

So as a project manager there is going to be a cost to setting up and running all this.  How do you work out the cost and if this is worth doing?

The most important part of justification of gamification is the ROI (Return on Investment).

As is the constant battle of marketing you are asking the business to invest X with the hope of achieving Y. The same is true for the application of gamification.


Maths. What metric (M) is expected to rise by what delta (D) resulting in an increased output worth (W) through an investment of (I).
So long as W exceeds I, the project will return a profit.


So now the project has all the key essentials:

  • ROI calculation
  • Goals
  • Metrics
  • Rewards

Now you just need some technology to deliver your project.


The working parts

The metrics need to come from somewhere.  The more metrics you have the better you can manage the process.  If people have to generate the metrics then time and frustration will inevitably kick in.  Systems need to objective and reduce the possibility of cheating.

Once your system is generating numbers you need to sit down and work out the rewards for the three headings.

  1. Achievement.  There will be a leaderboard as a result where is that going and how do people see it?  The point of a leaderboard is public recognition.
  2. Satisfaction.  What badges will you have and where will they be visible to everyone?
  3. Recognition.  This is a points system where people collect points and can redeem them when they save up enough.  How many points and for what rewards?

Something as simple a company noticeboard removes even a technical need for systems.


The fun

Businesses often will run one of the systems.  Sales teams often have leaderboards due to the cometitive nature of the role.

If however there is one really good person who always wins, then the system will lose a lot of interest for the others.

Some people want time off work as a reward while others just seek public recognition for their efforts.

In some businesses people are actually competing to get the next piece of work that comes in and not just for financial reward.


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I have seen with companies like One4All under the careful guidance of Asa Ryan.  The system is wonderful and applied internally.

If you do something nice for someone they can give you a point.  If you get enough points you can redeem those points for different rewards including limited cash cards all the way up to paid time off work.

The scheme won local awards for its inventiveness and feel good factor.  They even suggest their cards as rewards for other’s gamification programs as well as their own.



Other solutions I’ve seen implemented include eir as they adopted the ability to have your points collect so that the boss could bring you a coffee at your desk.  Work harder and earn a few more points for a coffee and a muffin to your desk.

FEXCO in Kerry designed their own entire games engines to bolster their gamification efforts.


Badges like “HR acknowledge skills” accumulate and make internal HR recruitment and skills finding processes even easier.


Getting started

Quite simply

  • work out your Goals (what you want to achieve),
  • your Metrics (how you will calculate if your goals are being achieved)
  • and your Rewards (what you’re willing to give for improvements).

With that done, work out the ROI so the idea can be pitched to management and get budgeting approved.

Armed with your ideas chat to a business who can implement the system for you in a cost effective way.


With it in place monitor your metrics and see how much gamification really does help your business.  Invest in your people.

Remember working and being happy are not mutually exclusive!


If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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