How do “gaming techniques” address the disengagement challenge?

The application of game-based design to human factors is an extension of business process improvement efforts. During the last 20 years, enterprises have focused on improving most business processes by establishing consistent ways of performing and consistent data descriptions for those processes. How employees think and feel about the work (what’s called engagement) has not been part of this process improvement. The more the human part of work moves online, the easier it is to capture and study how it is performed and how to improve it.

The body of scientific research around human motivation is substantial, but some of the most relevant research for online environments is informed by gaming. In contrast to other business verticals, the gaming industry has been fully attuned for decades to the challenge of motivating users. The industry is now starting to directly share its knowledge with other businesses.

Ryan, the self-determination theorist, confesses, “I got into this field, in part, because I was impressed by the motivational power that games had. Most people in psychology were looking at the negative effects of video games because of overuse and other side effects. I thought, if people are overusing video games, we need to know what’s motivating them.”

Through trial and error, the best game designers managed to crack the motivation code needed for successful gaming environments. One central element of their success is their focus on intrinsic motivators and the associated mechanics used to deepen engagement.

Within the past several years, vendors such as Bunchball have taken the simpler mechanics of games into online business environments and mapped those to the potential motivators they could tap.

The figure below illustrates the interaction of basic human desires and gameplay. The red dots signify the primary desire a particular game mechanic fulfills, and the gray dots show the other areas that it affects. Each human desire listed is tied to deeper intrinsic motivators, including autonomy, competence, and relatedness of self-determination theory. Rewards come when underpinned by intrinsic motivators, gain more effectiveness.

The Game Mechanics

These game mechanics and design strategies provide ways to motivate the disengaged. As long as they’re well thought through, the use of game mechanics can be helpful in a range of applications. Online business environments, like gaming environments before them, are now becoming laboratories for experimentation.

Mario Herger, technology strategist and community manager at SAP Labs, points to four traditional and emerging business concerns that are seeing the most adoption: marketing and branding, training, community management, and human resources. PwC gives some examples in the last issue of Technology Forecast.

Gallup survey results show consistently high levels of workforce or customer disengagement. These results don’t necessarily indicate that enterprises aren’t interacting with user constituencies. But they do indicate that the nature of the interaction is shallow and uninspiring. As Fulton points out, more interactions should include more feeling as well as thinking and learning components.

Online environments offer unprecedented opportunities to stimulate user engagement, but adoption of the mechanics to encourage greater engagement has been slow. Emotion and overall responsiveness are lacking from many online business environments. So it’s no wonder that users have been disengaged. The good news is that there are numerous proven techniques from the gaming industry that everyone else can build on.


4 thoughts on “How do “gaming techniques” address the disengagement challenge?”

  1. Interesting as an avid gamer I love these kinds of studies It make sense I have found that certain qualities in games keep me wanting to play and keep playing now if only some of those factors existed in the work place.

  2. When I read the list of 6 gaming mechanics you mentioned, I realised I’m hooked to each and every one of them… your writing was eye opening for my own behaviour. Thanks.

  3. Definetly something to think about. I’ll pay more attention when needing to engage people, thanks for the tips.

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