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How do I gamify an activity?

This post is a theoretical case study of how to gamify a simple workplace activity. We will be using a business model to outline the process for the sake of clarity. However, the same process can be applied to many situations and contexts.

Overview

The Acme Corporation has a large multi-floor office in downtown L.A.

They are concerned that their staff is not as engaged with creating weird and wacky contraptions as they should be. Most of their staff spend all day in their individual cubicles working on designs.

The first step

The first step is to figure out what system you are going to gamify. It is important to remember that you can only gamify systems not people.

Having done research on Acme Corp. and how it works, you notice that they have individual printers in each cubicle encouraging a lot of excess printing. The target system to be gamified is the printing system.

The great mistake

At this point designers start to dream up fanciful programs to introduce game elements right onto the printing system. For example, the use of avatars connected to how much printing is being done to bring social pressure onto the employees to print less, website designs and other tracking methods to introduce rewards for specific behaviors etc.

Alternatively they start looking for technological solutions to the perceived problem.

All of these ideas tend to be focused on attempting to use behaviourist models to change the employees as if they were objects with no volition. Instead, we must ask the most important question first.

How is the target system not like a game?

From this question we can analyze what we can add to it to simply make it more game-like.

The more game-like it becomes, the more likely you are to see engagement and other benefits emerge from within the simple system. In the case of the printing system, it is closer to an activity than a game. The system is designed to have as few obstacles between you and the product as possible.

Therefore the simplest way to gamify the system is to introduce some obstacles.

The proposed solution

We are going to introduce a scarcity of printing resources into the environment.

Instead of everyone having access to individual printers, they will only have access to one located on a floor different from the one on which their cubicle is located.

The influence of the new system

In many regards we are creating reverse ergonomics. By making it slightly more difficult to print, we are getting people to put some skin in the game; “If I print out 50 documents I will have to walk to the printer to get them.” This makes employees conscious of the choice to print or not to print.

Printing also takes on a social role in the new system. It gets people out of their cubicles and increases their opportunities for serendipitous meetings. Also, light exercise throughout the day has been shown to increase the creativity and productivity of a workforce.

By changing an environmental feature to introduce unnecessary obstacles we have added game like dynamics to what was a non-game situation. We have done this with the minimum of set up costs—both financially and in explaining it to the employees.

The system can be experimented with iteratively, without too much effort, to find the best balance between convenience and designed inconvenience.

The solution proposed above is a low-tech gamification case study to show how game design thinking can encourage an alternative view of problem solving. It is by no means the only way that adding game-like elements or tweaking existing game elements can be used to solve problems similar to the one above.

If you have another solution, I would love to read it in the comments below.

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