Do gamification strategies really motivate employees and customers? Are they valid ways to recognize, reward and encourage a deeper learning of concepts for better business outcomes — and push people to achieve their goals?

Or is gamification nothing more than a well-orchestrated bribe to get people to do what they should be doing anyway?

Whatever your perspective, one thing is clear. Gamification has gained traction globally in the past few decades. In fact, MarketsandMarkets estimates the global gamification market, which it valued at $1.65 Billion in 2015, to $11.1 billion by 2020 — a compound annual growth rate of 46.3 percent.

Proponents argue that gamification can enrich customer loyalty and employee productivity. It can be used in a company as a marketing tool to increase the customer base, as well as to engage employees in an organization’s strategy and planning processes.

Some companies focus on workplace motivation with rankings, leadership boards and points to encourage professional development and happiness.

So how do gamification strategies achieve these lofty goals?

Can they really persuade — or bribe — people to see routine tasks as fun, competitive social experiences?

The Question

How does gamification differ from a bribe?

The Answers

Adam Holtby, Research Analyst, Ovum

Adam Holtby, Research Analyst, Ovum
Holtby develops London-based Ovum’s research on IT service management, enterprise mobility,and employee engagement. His current role involves defining the vendor competitive landscape; and providing best-practice recommendations for enterprises and vendors alike. Before joining Ovum in 2011, he worked at KCOM Group PLC. Tweet to Adam Holtby.

In an enterprise context, gamification is not about simply turning work into a game, or simply tying a one-time incentive to a task or activity. Instead, gamification should offer new means by which employees can be better engaged through performance quantification, rapid feedback loops, and a real sense of progression — progression that is transparent and in real-time.

When used effectively, game mechanics can be a valuable tool for building status and reputation systems that can improve the motivation and performance of employees.

Nike+ provides a good consumer example of how game elements can be used to make an activity more fulfilling and rewarding: Running is an activity I want to take part in — nobody has to bribe me in order to do it.

But the game elements leveraged by Nike+, and how these are used in delivering me valuable, relevant performance related feedback, and also in how they strengthen the social ecosystem associated with Nike+, really help heighten my motivation for running.

Points, badges, and leaderboards (PBLs) are the most common elements associated with gamification, and gamification is often mistaken for being about these three things alone. Yes, they are valuable and can be used effectively in a variety of ways, but gamification is about much more than just applying PBLs to business processes or enterprise technology.

They are a set of tools that can be used to more effectively guide customer and employee behaviors, but only when used correctly and tied to a more intrinsically meaningful value system. What that value system is specifically will vary depending on the use case, but status, accomplishment, and the desire for feedback are good places to start.

So how is it different from bribery?

Bribery is the act of giving money, goods or other forms of recompense to a recipient in exchange for an alteration of their behavior (to the benefit/interest of the giver) that the recipient would otherwise not alter.

Gamification motivates behavior modification, but not to the sole benefit of the “giver.” When designed correctly, a gamified system is mutually beneficial — it empowers and motivates the “recipient” with meaningful incentive, and also delivers useful data and insight that, enterprises for example, can use in recognizing and acting on improvement initiatives with a view to better refining their services.

Brian Burke, Analyst, Gartner

brian burke, gartner
At Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, Burke specializes in enterprise architecture and, more recently, on developing research on the emerging gamification trend. He is also a researcher and speaker in the areas of IT strategy, IT organizational structures and business/IT alignment. Before joining Gartner in 2005, he worked for seven years at META Group. Tweet to Brian Burke.

Bribe is a strong word. But if you mean how do we distinguish gamification from reward and incentive programs, that’s quite simple. In gamification there are typically not any tangible rewards offered.

Gartner defines gamification as "the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals."

Since we are motivating people to achieve their own goals, such as losing weight or learning a new skill, there is no need to ‘bribe’ the audience. They are already motivated to achieve their own goals.

The distinguishing feature that drives organizations to use tangible rewards or incentives, is that the goals are not aligned with the audience’s goals, so they need to provide some reward that the target audience values to motivate them. With reward programs, the reward is the goal.

Karen Hsu, VP, Badgeville

Karen Hsu, Badgeville
Hsu was named vice president of marketing at Badgeville last year. She has more than 18 years of experience in enterprise software, has co-authored four patents and worked in marketing, engineering, and sales roles. Before she joined Badgeville, she worked at IBM, Informatica, Datameer and SugarCRM, where she focused on product strategy, product management, sales enablement and marketing. Tweet to Karen Hsu.

Bribing and gamification tap into different motivators. Bribing taps into extrinsic motivation — people do things for money, or some kind of physical reward. But gamification taps into intrinsic motivation.

People do things because they want to — it makes them feel good or helps them reach some higher goal. Here are a few problems with bribing:

  1. When you remove the bribe, the motivation goes with it
  2. The bribe may not be large enough to drive action
  3. People expect bribes (or larger bribes over time) in return for action
  4. Interest goes down over time as people get used to the bribe
  5. For people who are motivated by being socially valued or by reaching some internal goal, bribing is actually offensive and demotivating

Think of the last time you tried bribing your child to do something. Or think back to when you were child. For example, did paying for grades work over time? Or did it work once and then you/your child wanted more money?

Gamification, on the other hands taps into intrinsic motivation. When done right, gamification pulls people through higher levels of achievement. Gamification, or digital motivation, changes as people change.

For example, people may be rewarded in the beginning for simply contributing articles to an online community. After a few months, instead of being rewarded for contributing articles, people are only rewarded for the impact they’ve made on the community.

As humans, we strive for recognition. We are happiest when we are seen as helpful, valuable and part of something bigger than ourselves.