There's been a lot of talk about Gamification lately, and while I'm no expert, I'd like to take some time to explain why I just don't get it, why I don't think I ever will, and why I think the current treatment of the subject is overblown and heading into "trendy fad" territory.

Gamification 101

So the first thing I did was hit the Wikipedia page for Gamification to reconfirm my understanding of the term Gamification itself, and confirm that it does mean what I think it does. To directly quote the great democratic source of information:

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems."

Hmmm ... game thinking and game mechanics. OK, I get this bit, it's the use of theory of game playing, and the mechanics of such play in a non-game context. In other words, at its most simple level, we should be able to take the elements that make playing games fun, and apply them to work situations.

So far so good, this makes sense to me in that we would try to apply such thinking and mechanics to certain types of jobs and functions.

Now having done a Strategic Human Resources module in my MBA (long before Gamification became a popular buzz word) I understand the application of Maslow's Hierarchy to the workplace: our need to belong, our need to be recognized for the work we do, etc. So I can develop this train of thought by considering that far more intelligent people than I have gone along this path and applied game thinking and mechanics into a century plus of occupational psychology and HR theory and practice, and so all must be good! Yes?  Well, maybe.

However what is missing for me is direct experience. One of the best presentations I have ever seen on Gamification was at an OpenText Content Day event in Toronto last year by Corrine Schmid (@itzcorrine) and her excellent presentation is available on  here. If, like me, you're not an expert in this field, Corrine's presentation is a great introduction, and she has great examples of how gamification has been used in real world scenarios within OpenText.

Also during many evaluations of the SalesForces product portfolio last year, I saw numerous demos of its platform, and how it uses elements of gamification to engage, encourage, reward and even provide formal assessment and feedback.

And yet, I remain unconvinced ...

Applying Gamification to My World

I guess my problem is that while I can understand the theoretical benefits of gamification to salespeople by adding features to their CRM or other specific scenarios, I just don't see benefits in the wholesale adoption of gamification to the Intranet, collaboration and Information Management spaces.


I am fully prepared to consider that I may be an oddity (!) in that I have never really played games. I like sports and have played many, but I was never big on board games (ok, I went through a Dungeon's and Dragons phase, I admit it ...) and I have never really played video games, other than some flight sim's and occasionally taking on my son at Wii Sports Resort.

Surely I am not alone though? If we universally apply some elements of gamification to the intranet and the enterprise social collaboration platform, would we actually be annoying and disengaging some employees ?

Our friends such as Rajat of BunchBall (@bunchball) in articles such as his recent "Gamification is here and it means business" are very, very upbeat about the positive impact of gamification on employee engagement -- but how do we apply this in a universally acceptable way on the intranet for example ?

If we look at one of the staple features of gamification software, that of employee recognition, it often revolves around the giving of badges to the individual for recognizing some achievement. So if someone looks up my "rich profile" on the intranet / enterprise social business platform, they can see I have three badges for being "grumpy old man," 1 badge for having ten documents "liked" and a half dozen badges for being addicted to responding to articles posted in certain forums.

So I scream at the advocates, so what? I am simply not the kind of person who cares whether or not I have more badges than my peers, or that various VP's or even my direct reports can see how "actively" I collaborate via the intranet. My employer has a "recognition" program, I have been sent "Bravo's" and I am happy to receive them; and I send them out, too. However I am not one of the people who prints the certificate and sticks it on the wall for people to see, nor would I be interested in the electronic equivalent.

No Panacea

In summary -- I am a grumpy old man, who does not understand the "big picture" when it comes to the benefits of gamification. I do think it could be great when applied with considerable thought and planning in specific scenarios and certain contexts, but I don't see the universal application to the Intranet or holistic Digital Workplace being a panacea for employee engagement.

As ever I will be absolutely delighted to be proved wrong, so please tell us in the comments section, especially if you have applied gamification in a broad based or totally universal fashion across your Intranet / Digital Workplace.

Image courtesy of Ulrich Willmunder (Shutterstock) 

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more thoughts from a grumpy old man? Check out Jed's The Employee Digital Experience - The Need for a User Centric Workplace