Is gamification over-hyped?

by Sarah Megginson10 Apr 2014
Gamification has emerged as a significant trend in recent years, being described by technology research and advisory company Gartner as “a powerful tool to engage employees, customers and the public to change behaviours, develop skills and drive innovation”.
But according to motivation strategy and design expert, Dr Jason Fox, we need to be “incredibly sceptical of it”.
The hype surrounding gamification all began a number of years ago, Fox explained, when people started noticing that video games were outselling Hollywood several times over.
“Gamification is the use is game-like mechanics and game thinking in non-game concepts,” he said.
“When done well, gamification can be incredible. But in those instances, it’s unlikely that the organisation is doing true gamification; it’s more likely that have established a structure of sound motivational design.”
One such clever example popped up in Silicon Valley a number of years ago, when a billboard was erected that simply said: {first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com.
A small number of people cracked the code and accessed the (now-defunct) website,, which revealed a seemingly blank website of 0s and 1s.
“A very small group of players stayed with it and unlocked the code to some poetry, which lead to another website, and then another,” Fox said.
“Eventually, through a few different websites, it was revealed that it was Google who had created the convoluted maze. They needed a new engineer and they wanted to make sure applicants had the right skills.”
While this situation proves to be a perfect collaboration between gamification and recruitment, Fox believes the opportunities for the wider HR community are less robust.
“A few years ago, Gartner predicted that 70% of organisations would have gaming models in place within five years. Then all of this rubbish [gamification] came out, so Gartner revised their estimates, saying many initiatives would fail due to poor design,” he explained.
“A lot of my work is about avoiding the pitfalls and working out what actually works to motivate people, because what we should really be asking is, ‘How do we actually get the motivational design right?’ Even good game design is really about how we can design challenges to be motivating.”


  • by Harley 10/04/2014 11:06:02 AM

    This is a good summary. Its probably important to note that most new L&D platforms use certain gamification mechanics. These can include things like Avatars, progress bars, badges (or the like) and points.

    I've recently completed an online course in Gamification, and it was stressed above all else that you do not gamify something just to gamify it. You need to (as with all projects I suppose) be extremely purposeful with your plans. The second thing that was stressed was that you need to continually revaluate the success of the implementation. Throwing on a point system to a Personal Development Plan could do nothing, or perhaps be a detriment.

    All in all, good artical!

  • by Robert Cowen 10/04/2014 11:55:34 PM

    Concluding Commentary 4/9/2014; Paul Stockford, Research Director, NACC and Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research,

    Sometimes things in the industry just bug me. Know what I mean? Rather than gripe around the water cooler, I thought I’d bring my industry pet peeves to the NACC and see if any of these things bug you too.

    First up – what’s with all this talk about “gamification?” I understand the concept. It’s been around for a long time. Back in 2005, I organized the first annual Saddletree Forum conference at a really nice resort in the high Sonoran desert of Carefree, AZ. One of the attendees was Brooks Mitchell, PhD. Brooks was a professor at The University of Wyoming and the founder of Snowfly in Laramie, WY. Snowfly created games designed to motivate and reward agents for their performance. This was in full swing nine years ago.

    Today, vendors talk about gamification like it’s some sort of revolutionary application that they just dreamed up. Did it really take that long for the industry to figure out the use and benefits of motivational programs in the form of games for agents, or was Brooks Mitchell just way ahead of his time? Here’s another news flash for all you vendors that just woke up to gamification – there’s this new Internet site called YouTube. Check it out.

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