Feature Article - November/December 2016

Game On!

How Gamification Techniques Can Strengthen Incentive Programs

By Rick Dandes


For Example…

The most engaging tool in a gamification campaign is a game itself. If properly designed, games are completely immersive and as a result require a significant amount of attention. Points, badges, leaderboard status and prizes alone simply don't move the needle. Effective design does, Baer said.

One of the most successful large-scale gamification programs now is from Starbucks, Ozer said. Starbucks revamped its loyalty program in May. Here's how it works: Participants are given "Starpoints" for a variety of activities, for purchases with different point values depending on type of product, time of day and other factors and also for using their auto-reload payment feature, mobile app and other actions. Participants also earn the Gold level, with a variety of benefits, for their ongoing loyalty.

Over the past few years, The Game Agency has worked with one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies to train their sales force across a number of products. Specifically, the company was engaged to support sales meetings ranging from 250 to 4,000 people. These meetings run a few days and include a myriad of details about their drugs, overcoming buyer objections and selling techniques for sales reps.

All events are structured like this: The trainers give 45 minutes of presentation on huge monitors and sales reps are told that after each session, they will be required to play a game on that session's topic. This keeps everyone actively listening. During the session break, teams of sales reps huddle around a touch-screen monitor at their table and play a 3- to 5-minute game or activity. The games and activities were seamlessly integrated into the presentation through an event management tool called Motivate Live.

By playing a contextually relevant game, the sales reps were actively participating in their learning; and, in immediately using the information to play the game, the data was being driven into the long-term memory areas of their brains to help them better retain and access this information in the future. In addition to improved learning, the games also produced a treasure trove of data for the trainer. For example, by analyzing the incorrect answers and the length of time required to answer each question, the trainers could determine which material was not well understood and quickly follow up with additional information on the topic. If improved learning and retention and data analytics weren't enough, there was no doubt that the combination of games, points, badges and prizes made learning more fun.

What Can Go Wrong?

Your gamification program should not come across as manipulation, but rather as an authentic way to help participants achieve objectives or experience a brand's products or services. It has to be a win/win program.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies are attracted to the buzzword, gamification, "and apply it like lipstick on a pig," Baer said.

Just seeing a leaderboard and believing that is gamification is backwards thinking, Stotz said, agreeing with Baer. Don't gamify your program without really understanding the nuances of how to design it.

"One of the critical aspects that you need to be concerned with is defining exactly the behavior and the activity that you want," Stotz said. "Many times I hear people say, 'Well, it is simple. I want more sales.' If you just want that, establish an incentive program with appropriate rewards. But when you are looking at gamification, you are really trying to engage people in some behavior that is going to move in the direction of supporting sales. Some people who have not been involved in gamification do not take the extra effort to look at the specific behaviors that they need and then how to focus and engage people in that, through the use of these game mechanics."

Stotz urges program designers to understand what might be the unintended consequences of a poorly designed game. "As with anything else," he said, "we can get tunnel vision in looking just at what we are trying to do. And there are examples of organizations that have tried to do something and found out that it causes unintended consequences. You have to realize that with any game, people can be gaming the system. So what you try to do is design it, think about unintended consequences and try to minimize the opportunity for people to game the system."

Stotz described a system that rewards people for doing something, a specific task, but there was an individual who realized he could sit at a computer and repeat the same action and earn points, which was not the goal of the game. The goal was to do something in concert with the overall objective of sales or engagement.

Building stop points in the game can help mitigate these kinds of obsessive behaviors. An example would be to limit a specific behavior by setting a daily maximum number of points for that activity, he said.

When you gamify a program, you need to incorporate the whole science and art of gamification and look at how you engage people through a series of activities that builds over time. The focus should be on the desired behavior for a longer duration.