Monthly Archive: June 2014

The Dark Side of Gamification

After many years of trial and error, we now know that Gamification (if designed and implemented correctly) helps to bring about a dramatic increase in engagement of consumers and workforce. We also know that this increased engagement can lead to a Return on Investment (ROI) of Gamification programs of 100% and more. So,100% more engaged costumers on your site; 100% or more people engaged in your organization. With customer engagement at an all time low and only 30% of the workforce actually engaged on the job (and 17% of all staff showing actively hostile anti-engagement behavior), what’s there not to like about Gamification?

Well, like with any other tool that impacts significantly human interaction, there are some real dangers to Gamification, especially in (quasi-) immoral work settings or business culture. Here are the 4 most dangerous pitfalls of Gamification.

1. For a Fist-full of Dollars: extrinsic motivator dogmaDollar-Sign-in-Eye
The availability of precise data may lead some managers to overemphasize the effects of extrinsic rewards (bonus, commission etc) on tweaking those data. With extrinsic rewards you can get fast compliance and motivation, however when you take these rewards away at a later stage (or simply not increase them enough regularly) motivation may plummet and the Gamified project will fail miserably.

2. One Size Fits All: Ignoring player dimensions & lessons learned

one_size_does_not_fit_allAnother ‘epic fail’ in Gamification efforts happens when we try to implement blanket approaches for diverse groups of users. Let’s realize that not all users are the same. Although most people like strong social interaction, only a very small group of people like competition. It’s a stubborn myth that if you just create some competition, you will see a dramatic increase in engagement. In fact what you will often see instead is most users going back to the comfort of Facebook.

3. Big Brothers: Behavior control, micromanagement and manipulation

1984 Gamification creates an enormous amount of data about your users. This is great and it gives actors like companies, HR executives, health care providers, and marketing departments complete new levels of insight into user behavior. On the one hand this means that products, services and policies can be adjusted to really fit the wants and needs of the users of these programs.

On the other hand, such ‘exquisite’ data, in the wrong hands, opens opportunities for less benevolent actions. One example is bosses trying to control and micromanage workers in everything they do (“Hey Julie, I see that you spend 4.2 seconds on a customer call. Don’t you know the standard is 2.6?”).

4. NSA R’ Us: Data Abuse
nsa r usThe last pitfall of Gamification occurs when HR, Marketing or other departments implement Gamification just for the sake of data gathering. Gamification should always be about increasing engagement, motivation and people’s happiness and satisfaction with products, websites and work environments. THAT is the objective. The data gathering that is a result of the increased interaction is seed money for creating even more engagement and fulfillment. It is NOT meant for further control and black hat strategies.

As we all know now, the NSA has been sidestepping its mandate to safeguard the security of the American people and has been behaving in immoral behavior by tapping into your telephone data. Luckily there were enough concerned citizens to successfully monitor, protest and counteracts Big Brotherness of the Government. It now looks like the Government has been toning down the NSA operations (as far as we know 😉 ).

We need to have the same activist approach towards Gamification as we have with agencies like the NSA (or companies for that matter) that are trying to spy on us. Gamification works and will help mankind in bringing about amazing changes in well-being for people in the coming decade. Just think of the reach we can have in education, environmental awareness, and health care applications alone.

Let’s protect our baby and stay alert for attempts by people to abuse the successes of Gamification for darker purposes. If you are doubtfull about Gamification efforts in your company or Government, please share with me on

Keep the faith!

Bored, tired and not interested

Group of young bored teenagers hanging around the shopping Centre at Kingston,  South London.People in Europe are bored, tired and not interested in the European Union (EU). Not engaged, not motivated to know or to support. And because they don’t know what is going on in the EU, they couldn’t care less. Not only is the average European citizen careless, but when they do care it is in negative terms. The EU is this big monster that wants to eat you alive, so we better keep it as far away from our homes as possible. “No sir, no need to know more. It’s dangerous. Out with it!”.

And who can blame them? Why should they bother going through hundreds and hundreds of pages of information about policies, instructions and laws to inform themselves. “How boring, surely THAT is not the duty of a citizen? I mean come on, I have litte time left in my day and I have my Facebook page to check. Now if learning about the EU would be as fun as my Facebook account, maybe then I would be interested….”.

bureaucrat1The politicians in Brussels also don’t get it. I mean they did everything they could to inform people about the benefits of the European Union. Hundreds of brochures with very helpful information have been sent to people all over Europe! “Surely they have read them? Surely they know how important the EU is? What more can we do? I mean, we are all very busy and we hardly have enough time to attend all my meetings!

Now, If someone could find me a way to actually save time AND create engagement with citizens…I’d be all for it…..”.

Enter, gamification: the art of making seemingly boring things fun to do. Not because the topic as such (“Euro-information”) will all of a sudden be cool, engaging and awesome. Absolutely not. Politics and policy as such may never be that. But, we CAN make the process of getting people to interact with (political) information fun and winning.

Here’s an example. Our Octalysis Group Guru Yu-kai Chou is working with a client on helping their employees learn extremely boring accountancy and financial regulation. Normally this is done via traditional workshops and reading page after page of rules and regulatory text. Yawn! What Yu-kai Chou is doing is to make these employees soak up these rules and regulations, without reading ANY documents. All fully gamified via Human Focused Design: putting the person (and it’s motivational drives) first, rather than the product or policy. And they are lovin’ it!

So we know that we can make learning about accountancy and application of financial regulation fun and motivating, and achieve something like this:

happy accountant

The Happy Accountant!


Can we do the same for people and the EU?

People spend an average of 10 seconds on a webpage before going back to their Facebook pages. Why do they do that? Simply because Facebook is more fun and engaging. We know that we can make serious things engaging and fun through well executed Gamification, and politics and policy is no exception. Obviously, we also need to tackle issues in policy itself (economic development, inequality, growth, immigration and integration issues), but in order for people to even WANT to engage, the process itself needs to be engaging. If not, people will just go back to their Facebook accounts…

Obviously this will involve a lot more than just slapping some cool badges and leaderboards on the EU website or spamming citizens with messages about being in Flow through reading EU policies. What it takes is understanding what truly drives people in their behaviour. What makes a policy platform motivational for people to interact with? Does it tickle my innate craving for autonomy, purpose and creativity/development? And also, does it inspire me to interact now by embedding elements of surprise, curiosity and scarcity? Finally, how does the platform allow me to have social influence and interact with other users?

Gamification doesn’t always mean crafting a great website or app experience. A lot of the simplest games we played on the street as kids already had most of the elements I describe above in them. We need to start thinking creatively on how gamification can help in reaching bored, tired and not interested people. If it helps in getting people to enjoy learning boring things, who knows there may still be hope for the EU.