Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Q&A: Kevin Werbach

Gamification works best when the desired output is defined clearly and analytics is built into the system

In 2012, Kevin Werbach, an associate professor at The Wharton School, US, and Dan Hunter of the Swinburne Law School in Australia co-wrote a book on gamification of the workplace. Called ‘For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business’, the book describes gamification and shares examples of situations where companies like Microsoft have deployed it successfully.

In May, the authors released an e-book called ‘The Gamification Toolkit: Dynamics, Mechanics, And Components For The Win ’ as a follow-up. Part of the reason for the second book is that while the idea may seem attractive, few human resource (HR) managers have been able to wrap their heads around the how-to’s of gamification.

In an email interaction, Werbach agreed that confusion persists around the idea but added that more firms are now using it. Edited excerpts:

It seems there’s still some confusion about gamification, and how it works...

A game is a self-contained, interactive experience. So if you tell someone to play a game to evaluate their skills, or you give them a simulated environment that mimics what they will experience in the workplace, that’s using “serious games" for HR.

Gamification means using elements and design techniques from games without removing people from their existing business context. Examples of gamification at work would include using game elements such as levels and badges to make a training programme more engaging, or a sales competition where employees see their performance on a virtual leader board. In both cases, the system is part of the work experience itself, not taking a break from it.

What are the key things to keep in mind while designing a gamification system for the office?

In ‘For the Win’, I describe a six-step design framework for effective gamification. There are a large number of game elements, well beyond the familiar “PBLs" — points, badges and leader boards. Even those basic elements, however, can be implemented successfully. The difference between success and failure is usually not the components of the system, but how well it’s implemented. The most crucial step to creating an effective gamification system is to test and refine it based on feedback from real users.

How do you measure the impact of a gamified system?

Measuring the impact of gamification is a big challenge. There have been several dozen empirical studies of gamification programmes, but most of them weren’t designed to isolate the effects of the gamification elements in a precise way. In addition, it’s difficult to compare the effectiveness of gamification across so many different contexts. The metrics of a gamified learning application might be very different than one for customer engagement or enhancing employee performance, for example.

In general, though, the key is to define the goals well upfront, and then to build in measurement and analytics so that success can be evaluated and the system can be refined.

Your top tips on how to do this...

In the gamification design framework in ‘For the Win’, the first step is to define clearly the business goals, and then the target behaviours, to understand what game designers call the “win states" of the system. Many organizations deploying gamification have only a vague notion of goals, but it’s important to spend time at the beginning mapping out how to measure success, and then ensure the system allows you to track performance. Gamified systems can generate a huge amount of data about user behaviour, which can be the foundation for analytics, but that needs to be designed into the process.