July 10, 2013

It’s Not All Fun and Games; Potential Risks of Gamification

Gamification is a powerful business strategy that can provide useful information and yield incredible returns. Through game dynamics, it can dramatically increase motivation for your employees or customers. Although gamification strategies can deliver enormous gains for your business, there are risks and potential negative consequences. It is extremely important that you thoroughly research your customers, employees and work environment before attempting to implement gamification strategies.

Foremost, gamification should not be confused with good management.  Although many great leaders are implementing gamification, it doesn’t guarantee quality leadership. In order to see tremendous gains in productivity or sales, it must be implemented in an already effective and properly managed work environment. It can dramatically increase the productivity of your workforce but only if your employees are motivated to complete worthwhile tasks.  Adding a leaderboard to a useless task will not enhance the quality of the task itself.

Bad game design can waste money and time. Consequently, it is essential to thoroughly understand what motivates your customers. Without proper research, companies risk rewarding ineffective customers while punishing valuable customers.  In the workplace, there is a risk that game dynamics will encourage inappropriate behavior or poor time management. An employee might become too fixated on achieving status or rewards in one facet of their work that they neglect other integral tasks as a result.  Additionally, competition between employees can be good for output but could lead to hostility or tension between individuals if it is not monitored correctly.

Another risk is that promising exceptional rewards can set up unrealistic expectations.  Although rewards can motivate powerfully, it is important that the rewards you provide are sustainable. A terrific customer loyalty program could encourage participation but don’t let the rewards you offer negate potential profit increases. Similarly, the demand for rewards can increase over time. If an employee becomes accustomed to a reward, they may lose motivation if new and better incentives aren’t added. There is a high-risk for employee burnout if the reward is no longer compelling. Make sure that sustainability is possible before adding incentives for repetitive or common tasks.

In addition to money and time loss, there are ethical risks to gamification practices. Leaderboards can encourage competition through socialized achievement but they can also create issues of pride and public humiliation. For example, an employee may lose motivation and lower their self-worth if they continually place last on a company-wide leaderboard. Subsequently, it is important that your gamification procedures are multifaceted. Extrinsic rewards can be a powerful tool for initial motivation but too much reliance can actually decrease motivation over time.

Finally, gamification can be viewed as manipulative or exploitative. Your customers or employees may become disheartened and skeptical if your gamification motives are overt or perceived maniacal. Consumers may grow to resent your brand and products if they feel that your gamification practices are scheming. Likewise, an employee may lose motivation in their work if your gamification strategies ignore their existence as individuals.

It is important to consider the risks of gamification before making it a part of your business. The risks discussed here are not intended to discourage you from finding and implementing your own sytstem, but instead, are given to help make your strategies more effective. If you have had experience with gamification risks or solutions, please share them in the comments section!

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