When Should You Say No to Gamification?

Written By

Susan Jacobs

June 07, 2017

Gamification is not a magical wand that can be waved to suddenly transform an organization and culture. Those who have embraced gamification know that simply introducing points, badges, or leaderboards on an application or platform does not guarantee success. Here are five situations in which you should probably say no to gamification.

1. Your system is broken to begin with

If a home lacks a solid foundation, simply putting a new coat of paint on the walls will not make much of a difference. Similarly, gamifying a system that is not working has little chance of success.

“If your expenses system is so hard to use that people are often late or don’t bother using it, consider why before you consider gamification,” advises gamification guru Andrzej Marczewski. “Is it because you need 40 video tutorials to understand how it works? If that is the case, the system probably needs to be simplified.”  

Blogger Mairead Quigley of G2G3 agrees. “Gamification will not improve behaviors around projects, processes, or activities which are currently problematic in any way,” she writes. “Address the problem, don’t dress the problem.” 

2. You don’t know your audience

In a July 2016 post on eLearningMind.com, Andrew Fayad stresses the importance of identifying what motivates your learners before diving into gamification. “Dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit will motivate a reaction from the rabbit. But you wouldn’t dangle a carrot in front of a frog,” he notes. “The same goes for game mechanics in learning. Rewards and leadership boards might work well with someone who is highly motivated by achievement and status, whereas an avatar feature would better engage someone who is highly motivated by self-expression.”

3. You are educating about sensitive topics

Since gamification brings an element of lighthearted fun to learning, it is not a wise choice for topics that are highly sensitive or serious. Subjects such as sexual harassment training or Title VII anti-discrimination laws are not appropriate fodder for gamification. Likewise, it would be in poor taste to use gamification to teach employees how to notify the next of kin about a workplace fatality. 

4. You seek a one-size-fits-all solution

There is a myth that the younger generation embraces gamification while older workers eschew it, but the workforce is diverse, and its members can’t be put into neat little boxes. Although many employees of all ages respond favorably to gamification, others do not. That is why classroom and textbook training are still popular. Gamification must be considered as part of an overall strategy.

5. Your primary motivation is to introduce something new

Many trainers struggle with the fact that people’s attention spans are getting shorter and it’s becoming progressively more difficult to engage them. If your main motivation for investing in gamification is because it’s new, you may want to reconsider, because tomorrow will bring another new learning tool. Embrace gamification because you are convinced it will help you achieve your business goals—not because it’s trendy.

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