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Gamification: Another Silly Trend?

HR leaders are about to be deluged with gimmicks that try to motivate employees by using fake money, fake status and fake accomplishment. There may be important lessons to be found in game mechanics, but it's not an idea that will be useful in most places.

This article accompanies Let's Play!

Saturday, June 16, 2012
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Marriott's coup (launching the first real game for employment branding purposes) is going to spawn an enormous wave of nonsense. Built on painstaking research and as a part of a massive problem solving process, the Marriott game is the conclusion of a rigorous process.

In a later column, I'll tell you about the deep investigation that preceded the decision to build a game.

But, that's not the answer that most software developers want to hear. If it takes expensive research and custom analysis, it's really hard to license. So, the games will be delivered in advance of problem definition in an awful lot of cases. The mantra of gamification will be repeated, ever loudly in case you didn't get it the first time.

The silly trend about the so-called gamification of daily life will take extraordinary twists. While there is an important lesson to be found in game mechanics, it's not an idea that will be useful most places. Before it's all said and done, we'll see attempts to gamify almost every imaginable bit of mundane minutia.

Most software products and services are developed in the absence of clear understanding of the customers. That's a good part of why technology adoption rates are so low in practice. As the Software as a Service (SaaS) model shoves success metrics off on the customer, new and exciting approaches to getting user level buy in will be trotted out.

You can bet that gamification is going to figure prominently in the misguided attempts to automate stakeholder commitment.

Instead of wondering why we ask employees to do stupid things, we are about to be deluged with gimmicks that try to motivate with fake money, fake status and fake accomplishment.

Here are some of the kinds of things you should expect to see.

* Formville 
In this game, players are incented to complete the corporate data collection process. A series of badges and titles are awarded to people who fill in expense accounts and the web of HR documents on time (or at all).

* Succession Plans and Zombies 
This game is for all of the people who know that they could do a better job than the current management team. Each person is allowed to construct their own corporate succession plan. Then, players wager a percentage of their paycheck on the outcome.

* Angry Boss 
Players throw various kinds of boss at pigs. Each level includes a hidden agenda that can be discovered by flipping the boss off properly.

* World of Workcraft 
Nothing much actually gets done in this game. But, there are lots of meetings and if you go to enough of them, you can give advice to novices.

* Talent Management Bingo 
Who are the most valuable people in the organization? All employees are issued a bingo chart. Numbers are called based on meritorious accomplishment. Unless you are the management team's favorite. Then you just get to fill it out yourself.

* Wage Slave Trader 
Employees earn points for getting to work on time, limiting Facebook usage, actually doing work and eating lunch at the desk. No one wants to be the Mayor of tardy.

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* ForcedSquare 
Checking in has never been more fun. Monthly bonuses given to the players who leave their desk the least.

* Club Onboard 
Your virtual employee is really the new guy in the department. Help him grow by feeding him orientation papers, HR forms, inside tips about brown-nosing effectiveness and guides to the best bathroom stalls.

* Yuck 
Reviews of food from the company cafeteria and the roach coach.

* Mr. Golden Boy 
Points for delegating your to-do list the fastest. Lose points for any task left on your list at the end of the first coffee break.

* Sourcer's Surprise 
Sourcers find new candidates then cast resume and interview spells to make them perfectly fit job requirements. The goal is to get paid before the spells wear off. (Oops, we already have that one).

Can you think of any other internal processes that will benefit from gamification?

John Sumser is the founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of the HRExaminer Online Magazine. John explores the people, technology, ideas and careers of senior leaders in human resources and human capital. John is the also principal of Two Color Hat where he routinely advises human resources, recruiting departments and talent management teams with product analysis, market segmentation, positioning, strategy and branding guidance.

The above article originally appeared in HRExaminer. It is reprinted with permission.

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