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BOOK REVIEW: The business of successful gamification

May 31 2018 06:00
Ian Mann

Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, by Yu-kai Chou 

ASK people about their jobs and many will tell you of the tedium, satisfaction-free time they spend earning their living. That is without adding toxic management or a negative social environment.

It really doesn’t have to be this way.

After reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal (reviewed in this column), I felt sure that gamification could well alleviate much of the unnecessary drag of the workday, and vastly improve the quality of the work experience.

Gamifying work does not rest on the altruism of business owners; there is a vast literature confirming that people who are engaged and find satisfaction from their work, produce a higher quality and quantity of results.

I have been looking for a book that could guide a company or a unit in gamifying relevant work, and Yu-kai Chou’s is the best I have found.

Here is why.

He has developed an eight-part model which he calls the Octalysis. It is not an eight-step process for developing a stunning game. Rather, it is based on the credible assumption that almost every successful game, appeals to "Core Drives" that all people possess.

These drives motivate us towards decisions and activities. On this assumption, it is equally credible that if none of these Core Drives are behind the action or output that you desire from staff, you should not be surprised if there is no motivation; and the desired outcome never materialises.

As you read through this review, it is useful to think about how you could use these "Core Drives" to promote the activity you desire from your staff.

The first of these drives is "Epic Meaning and Calling", and is the motivation behind the success of Wikipedia (for example,) the free, online, reliable encyclopaedia.

This mammoth work is only free because many intelligent people and specialists give their time freely to the encyclopaedia’s epic calling – the protection of humanity’s knowledge.

Desire to make progress

The second drive is our internal desire to make progress. This is where the majority of gamification efforts focus – awarding points, badges, or a place on a leader board.

The third drive is the sense of empowerment that comes from being engaged in the creative process, figuring out new things and trying different combinations. The satisfaction derived from this drive has the brain effectively entertaining itself.

The fourth drive is the sense of ownership and possession. When people feel ownership of something, whether it is a company, a project or a process, they innately want to increase and improve what they ‘own’.

The fifth drive is social influence and the feeling of relatedness to others, things or places. This drive would include all the social elements that motivate people, such as mentorship, social acceptance, social feedback, companionship, and even competition and envy.

The sixth drive is fuelled by the scarcity of what we desire, and an impatience to get it now. This explains people’s desire for what is extremely rare, exclusive, or immediately unattainable.

The seventh drive is what keeps us engaged when we don’t know what will happen next – the drive of unpredictability and curiosity. This is the drive that is behind gambling addictions - we don’t know if it will be the next card, or just one more spin.

The final human drive is the fear of loss - “Special offer for a limited time only!” - and the avoidance of pain and discomfort.

To achieve a desired outcome, whether it is adherence to a health regimen or installing air-conditioning ducts flawlessly, one or more of these common human drives needs to be present.

Where none is present "there is zero motivation and no action takes place", Yu-kai Chou explains.

The diagram of these eight drives is arranged in the form of an octagon. "Left brain" type activities associated with logic and analytical thought are arranged symbolically on the left side.

The "right brain" type activities of creativity, self-expression, and social dynamics are arranged on the right side.

The positioning indicates both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Those drives at the top of the octagon are more positive - the "White Hat" motivations, the joy of achieving or receiving.

Those at the bottom are the "Black Hat" motivations, and are more negative, such as the fear of a loss of some sort.

To be able to derive the benefits of gamification requires a serious amount of analysis, testing, and adjusting.

You must want - not have - to play

Successful gamification of a leisure or work activity requires that the participants want to play, not have to play.

As such, the first step is finding why people would even want to try out the experience, what positive or negative core desire could and would the "game" address.

Additionally, you will also need to communicate very early on exactly why the user should participate in your game, and become a player.

The second phase is to develop the rules and tools of the game so that the participants are motivated to achieve the outcome you desire. Then you will need to ensure that the participants learn the rules and tools to play the game.

If the rules are too complex, the motivation that could exist will quickly be dissipated. One only needs to hold the image of a cellphone game in mind to grasp the importance of accessibility to the game, for retention and satisfaction.  

The third phase is to have the participants engage with the game repeatedly and with ever increasing satisfaction. The reason the participants engaged with the game on day 1 is often very different from that on day 100.

The core drives might well change as the experience and competence of the player evolves.

One of the many psychological insights to which Chou refers is "flow". In positive psychology, flow, or ""eing in the zone’, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment.

Hungarian-American psychologist Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s model flow state is achieved when the challenge of an activity is in accord with the participant’s level of skill.

If the challenge is too low and the participant’s skill is high, they will be bored. If their skill is too low for the challenge, they will experience anxiety.

Gamification needs to take all these and other considerations into account - no simple task. However, if gamifying an activity over an extended period leads to lower costs, higher quality, greater worker satisfaction, larger profits, etc, the effort required is certainly justified.

If gamification is justifiable in any part of your business, this book is a good, basic starter’s guide. 

Readability:     Light -+--- Serious

Insights:          High -+--- Low

Practical:         High -+--- Low 

  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

ian mann  |  opinion  |  book review


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