Gamification refers to the use of game elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards in non-gaming contexts, for example the workplace or educational settings. Many organizations are turning to gamification to help improve employee motivation and performance. Previous studies have shown that gamification can be effective in motivating employees and increasing engagement–meaning the extent to which employees feel connected too and enthusiastic about their work. This particular study (Lieberoth, 2014) investigated how merely making a work activity seem like a game impacts employee engagement (rather than designing a complex gamification system).
“Framing” and the Power of Context
Social psychology has long recognized the importance of “framing,” meaning the context that something occurs in. For example, we can take a boring activity and make it seem interesting by presenting it in a fun context. For example, Bluewolf used gamification internally as a way to get employees more engaged and actively involved in building their brand. They used different gamification elements such as employee ‘Pack Profiles’ and offering points and rewards for various collaborative tasks and other achievements. The company saw increased employee investment as well as other targeted improvements. This however is a complex gamification design. In the current study, the researcher hypothesized that simply framing a serious activity as a game could lead to changes in behavior and employee motivation. This is referred to as shallow gamification, whereas deep gamification would be a more complex system, like the one that Bluewolf used.
The Study: Shallow Gamification vs. Deep Gamification
Participants were given the same problem solving task but were separated into groups. One group had no game elements added, a second had shallow gamification elements added, and a third group had deep gamification elements added. Each group had to rate the input given by members, and the shallow gamification group had a game board where individuals progressed along the board as they participated. The deep gamification group was given a board as well as other game mechanics, for example using a special rating scheme to determine progression and the eventual winner.
The Results: Shallow Gamification Works
Participants rated the gamification conditions as more engaging than when the task was done without game elements. This lends support to the idea that making a serious activity more game-like can enhance enjoyment and engagement. However, the difference between the two gamification conditions (shallow versus deep gamification) was not large. This is surprising, as you’d think that the group who experienced the deep gamification condition would report significantly more motivation and interest than both the non-gamification group and the shallow gamification group. In light of this result, the researcher posited that a simple design that helps frame a task as a game can be just as effective in facilitating engagement and perceptions of enjoyment as a task that uses a complex gamification system.
Implications of Gamification in the Workplace
The research confirms previous research that gamifying certain serious tasks is effective because it turns out that our brains crave puzzle solving, feedback, reinforcement, as well as other experiences that games can provide. Providing a well-designed and nuanced gamification system will help an organization, but this can be time consuming and expensive. This research provides initial evidence that simple designs that help ‘frame’ a task as a game can be just as effective in facilitating engagement and perceptions of enjoyment. This highlights a possible cost saving approach for organizations who may be considering gamification as a way to engage employees and increase productivity.