Gamification: Driving Behavior Change in the Connected World

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Gamification: Driving Behavior Change in the Connected World

Posted February 26, 2013 in Data Analytics & Digital Technologies

In this issue:

Everything in life is a game. Someone is always keeping score. Everyone is being measured, whether we like it or not. Gamification, a technique that all business leaders need to become familiar with, takes advantage of this fact. It takes measurement, behavior analysis, and engagement into the business setting in ways that can enable organizations to meet their objectives, providing a real-time understanding of performance to all those involved.1

Since this month's Cutter IT Journal is focused on social, mobile, analytics, and cloud (SMAC), it seemed like an ideal opportunity to provide more detailed information about how gamification can enable organizations to reach their goals at the convergence of these four other trends. Since it is a broad topic, I'll focus mainly on a framework for understanding and planning for a gamification effort within an organization.


Gamification is the use of game design techniques, game thinking, game mechanics, and analytics to enhance a business context, thereby changing the behavior of employees and/or customers. Despite what its name might imply, gamification is not really about games. Its focus is on measurement, behavior identification, and structured change. Gamification is much more than using the scoring elements of games in a business or educational context. When implemented effectively, gamification is goal-oriented and designed to address specific business objectives. It moves the interface of a business process beyond a simple human-computer interface into a broader, behavior-based feedback loop.

Since the first salesman was hired, businesses have been using some of the techniques that are today considered part of gamification. For example, sales personnel are all familiar with the measurement and reward methods used to improve sales performance. Standard techniques include the use of public leaderboards, sales incentives, and peer pressure to increase performance. The sales bonus plans used in most organization are a basic example of gamification. More recent strategic techniques, such as the balanced scorecard,2 include information gathering, analysis, and informed decision making -- all activities that gamification embraces.


Gamification does not mean making everything a game by adding points and badges. Doing something at work that is fun, like playing solitaire at your desk, is definitely not gamification. A gamified solution may be fun and needs to be engaging, but that is a side effect of the effort; fun is not a goal in itself.

Gamification is not about using simulation (in a game-like environment) to model the real world. Simulation can be part of a serious business game, but it is not the same as gamification. A focus on modeling real interactions can be very useful and can be used to understand human behavior in situations, but its focus is usually on providing the "player" with a model of the way the world responds, not changing the player's behavior directly.

The focus of a gamification effort needs to remain on the goals of the organization, the behaviors demonstrated, and the metrics and feedback mechanisms used to adjust behavior to reach a desired result. Not all gamification experts agree3 with this relatively strict business perspective, but that is the perspective I will use in the rest of this article.


One of the problems many businesses face is that they may have goals and initiatives, but they do not have a solid understanding of the progress they are making or the behavior changes that need to take place to meet the goals. Addressing these insight and behavior gaps are at the core of gamification.

Many retail organizations use "employee of the month" techniques to increase employee engagement and loyalty programs to encourage shopper faithfulness, so the concepts are not really new. With the social and analytic tools available today and the fact that many individuals keep their computers (smartphones) with them all the time, a more formalized and proactive approach to shifting behavior is possible. We can now apply techniques that influence decisions at the time these decisions are being made, using corporate metrics and knowledge repositories to provide detailed performance information to leaders and individual performers early enough to make process course corrections possible.

The capabilities for interaction have changed as well. With the advent of virtual reality and other advanced interaction techniques, the barrier between the "real" world and a virtual world (i.e., a game context in which performance can be measured, scored, and adjusted) is more permeable. This allows for new behavior modification techniques and business value generation, augmenting real-world activities with performance information.

One of the scarcest resources in business today is the timely attention of employees, both those in leadership and in individual performer roles. Thanks to IT advances, there is an abundance of data and computing resources to automate the normal activities of the business. Gamification is one technique for taking advantage of these analytics and automation practices to help focus the attention of the organization on what needs to be addressed, by whom, and how.

The techniques defined by gamification can be applied to business opportunities such as those shown in Table 1.

Table 1 -- Applying Gamification Techniques to Business Opportunities

Gamification Application Example
Customer retention McDonalds promotes customer retention with its Monopoly game, which encourages customers to keep coming back to collect more game pieces and thus increase their chances of winning prizes.
Employee engagement and training Providing clear objectives and real-time feedback to call center personnel about how they are performing in relationship to others can help shift their behavior to maximize value for both callers as well as the organization.
Collaboration across organizational boundaries Organizations can encourage collaboration by defining goals and providing points for sharing ideas between organizations, as well as increasing diversity to improve innovation.
Business process adoption and improvement To focus people on the activities that require their creativity, organizations can use real-time analytics and automation capability to automate normal situations and reward staff for shifting to innovative work. The move to cloud computing offers numerous examples where this approach can be applied.
Improved consistency and quality Organizations can improve consistency and quality by providing metrics on performance versus benchmarks and letting employees know how their efforts compare to their past performance and that of others.

Gamification is widely applicable and in no business space more than services. It has been used to expose users to new capabilities or train personnel on the best way to handle various situations. Software development has often been viewed as a target for the application of gamification,4 especially with regard to project management, where IT's performance record has always been a concern. There are companies like RedCritter5 that have gamified the management process of software development and delivery. They have tried to use gamification to focus the developer on specific tasks and provide greater information detail to project managers than previous techniques.

I've already mentioned how sales activities across the globe have always been gamified to some extent, but even in this relatively mature area, new techniques are being applied every day to measure performance, communicate goals, and positively influence behavior. The following sections will describe a model for approaching a gamification effort, the elements it includes, and why all of them need to be present for a gamification effort to be successful.


At the highest level, a gamification effort focuses on business goals, rules, and feedback mechanisms used by both the player and the organization (see Figure 1). Below I describe the component layers of the model and the role they play.

Figure 1

Figure 1 -- A gamification model.


In the model, the goals layer is the most complicated, since this is where most of the planning for the organization's and the player's wants and needs is conducted. It is also where the project team decides how the desired (or undesired) change will be measured.


The first step is to determine what goals need to be met. From there, the project team specifies the players who will be involved. These can be individual performers, the organization's leadership, and/or other affected parties. The players themselves must perceive their participation as voluntary. If they feel they are being manipulated too directly, they may reject a gamification effort.6 The techniques used need to be engaging and increase the players' (and their leadership's) desire to reach the defined goals. Understanding the motivation, activities, and actions involved is an important component of the initial effort to define the gamification project.


Next the project team needs to determine the metrics that can most effectively describe the progress toward the goals. Like many initiatives today, a gamification effort is iterative. As the project team learns more about the situation or as performance changes over time, it will need to make adjustments to the various model elements. If during the process of the gamification activity the team sees unintended consequences (e.g., cheating) or a misalignment of goals and behaviors, it must make a change. Part of the gamification progression is giving everyone greater insight into the goals, behaviors, and impact of actions. It is natural that there will be changes as understanding develops. Figure 1 shows the elements addressing the goals as a circle because gamification efforts will take a few turns as they develop and mature.


Next the project team needs to identify the behaviors that should be changed. As the team pinpoints these behaviors, it will likely recognize new players and metrics. For example, if the organization is looking to improve employee mastery of new skills, it may need to identify additional resources and embrace them into the effort. Consider the case of IT support personnel. When these individuals first come on board, they are usually allowed to perform a number of relatively simple support tasks. A gamification project can expose them to the fact that there are higher levels of support capabilities that they could reach. It would inform them of the skills they need to master and how they are performing against those skills on a near-real-time basis.

Once the new support staff have proven they have mastered the basic skills, additional privileges and capabilities can be introduced. From a gaming perspective, they would "level up." The call routing or support management system would then begin to route additional types of work to these employees and expose them to the next level of support capabilities they could achieve. If a new IT capability (e.g., Windows 8) were brought into the environment, new training and achievement tasks would be introduced throughout the various mastery levels. Those who strive to embrace the changes would be recognized, while the quality of service would be improved.


The rewards system is the next stage the project team needs to address. Although it is possible to provide players with concrete rewards like cash, not all people do the same things for the same reasons. Psychology typically divides motivation into two categories: intrinsic (people feel good about themselves for completing a task) and extrinsic (people respond to externally driven rewards like money and recognition).7 Some people are very status conscious and like to receive public recognition, while others do not. Most gamification efforts have a diverse framework of points, badges, and performance levels included in their reward system so the players can see their progress and compare it to that of others. The reward structure is the most likely place where unintended consequences enter the system. There will be more about that in the rules section, but keep in mind that any system of rewards can be gamed.


Finally there are the mechanics. Identifying the techniques that will be used and how the process can be made interesting and engaging for those "playing" is critical. Although one doesn't need to have a Web presence to gamify a business process, Web integration and interaction techniques are typically used. Even a subtle change, such as showing progress toward completion of a task, can have a significant impact on player behavior. When LinkedIn added a résumé completeness progress bar to its interface, the amount of information added by its users increased significantly. This is probably the most cited example of the subtle nature of a progress bar and its impact on behavior.


Any game is defined by a set of rules; it doesn't matter if it is a war game or tic-tac-toe. If you don't have rules or the rules do not make sense, it stops being a game. As soon as a game feels rigged or unfair, the players will stop playing. Communication of the rules is a critical task in defining and deploying a game.

This means that the rules in a gamification effort need to be simple enough that they can be understood and must not change without a clear reason why. For example, a new hire does not have the privilege of loading programs on a system, while a system administrator does. Once the new employee receives the administrator badge (i.e., job role), new rules will be applied.

Rules place limits on how players can accomplish the goals within an effort. They can free up the creativity of a player so he or she can focus on areas where it will be appreciated. For many situations, these rules are well known but may not have been codified.

Of the numerous types of rules that may apply, the following three are the most relevant at this point (see Figure 2):

  1. Physical rules are rigid contextual constraints, such as the number of objects that can fit within a certain volume or the fact that gravity always pulls toward the center of mass. When defining a rule system, you need to ensure that physical rules are not arbitrarily constraining how you structure the game based on your own context. For example, it may be possible to put one gallon of orange juice in a one-pint container if you take some of the water out of the juice. It's true that it really isn't orange juice anymore, but that may not be as important a consideration if you are trying to ship it across the country. We see these kinds of issues with data compression in the IT space.

  2. Business rules are rules that are specific to a particular country or industry. In the US, for example, HIPAA is a set of business rules with which any organization working with healthcare information needs to comply. Process rules fit into this category as well, although some flexibility may be required -- does Step 3 really have to take place before Step 1, or is it just that we have we always done it that way?

  3. Social rules define what is acceptable within a cultural setting. These are affected by the corporate values and principles. Global organizations need to be aware of any regional mores that may come into play.

Figure 2

Figure 2 -- Rules in the gamification model.

Since one of the functions of the rules is to minimize or prevent gaming the system, the gamification project team must take care to understand the interaction of player behavior and the rule system when creating and operating the game. Much as in the real world, we have lawmakers and police for a reason. The metrics should provide enough information to prevent bad behavior from ruining the gamification effort for everyone.


In Michael Hugos's book Enterprise Games,8 he stated that "feedback systems are the new highest calling of information technology." Timely feedback can be used to change shopping behavior, process conformance, and decision making by organization leadership. I include leadership behavior here as well, since the additional information and control provided by the gamification effort should allow new decisions and options.

The feedback framework defined in the model so far has two major components (see Figure 3). The first is the audience, which is divided into the players, the leadership, and, finally, the public.

Figure 3

Figure 3 -- The gamification model’s feedback framework.

Since the wrong kind of feedback can cause players to feel manipulated by a gamification effort rather than encouraged, it is essential that the feedback be clear on what behavior is being measured and how players can control their performance to improve their scores. That feeling of control is critical to a successful implementation.

The organization's leaders need feedback on the performance as well, since their ongoing support is vital to the continuation of the gamification effort. During the goal definition stage, the project team should define the metrics and their expected changes. Updated performance information is provided to leadership on a regular basis, with an analysis of the metrics against expectations throughout the project. This will greatly increase leadership's confidence in the effort.

Many gamification efforts have a social element to them as well. This public sharing of information on performance, progress, issues encountered, and lessons learned can be used to develop a feeling of community. The camaraderie of people working together can be a powerful tool for achieving common goals.

Timeliness is the second major component of feedback. The majority of feedback to the players should be as real time as possible, giving them the information they need to understand and adjust their behavior while in the act of making decisions and performing tasks. Many times dashboards that gather information from multiple systems will require a batch component to gather and update displayed information. Even these information integration efforts should occur in as near to real time as the environment will support.


Even a modest application of this framework can have a measurable effect. Consider an example from my own company, HP.

Each year, HP has a global technical conference for its leading technologists. The only way to attend the conference is to submit a paper and have it reviewed and accepted into the conference by a committee of peers. This year we had about 1,900 papers submitted and accepted less than 10% of them.

To perform these reviews, we identified a hierarchy of reviewers with respect to organizational structures and reviewer skills. We assigned abstracts to these groups based on the alignment of skills and interests with the content of each abstract. This team approach helped to spread the work around and ensured a diverse set of reviewers would look at each abstract. The review process itself took place over a five-week period.

In recent years, there had been negative trends in reviewer behavior, with a decrease in reviews being performed as assigned and a reduction in the amount of feedback provided to authors. Since the only feedback authors received about their paper (and how to make it better in the future) came from the reviewers, addressing these trends was important to the value of the process. A gamification effort was defined to change behavior.


The two relatively simple goals defined were to:

  1. Increase the average feedback per paper

  2. Increase the percentage of reviews that took place, as assigned, in the time available

The "players" in this implementation were the reviewers. The leadership was the program committee of the conference.


The rules for the game were relatively simple. Points were awarded only after a review was entered into the review-tracking system.

We established word count as a simple definition of review feedback quality. Obviously this metric is not ideal and might be easily gamed, but it was quantitative, and we could readily compare it to the previous year's performance. Since this was the first year for the effort, it did not appear that anyone changed his or her performance to manipulate the game, but if we do this again in the future, we will need to define a more sophisticated rule structure.


All public feedback of reviewers would be focused on the positive performance of top performers. Any feedback that could be construed as negative would be confined to personalized feedback. We introduced three techniques for providing feedback:

  1. A reward structure of points and badges was established to recognize reviewers and their behaviors. Some of these badges were comically named to add a bit of fun to the exercise; for example, the "motor mouth" badge went to the individual who provided the greatest quantity of feedback to authors. Other badges were more performance-oriented, focusing on task performance within a specific timeframe (e.g., most feedback or reviews in a week). There were also team-oriented badges, such as one that recognized the first team to complete all of its reviews. Performing reviews and completing badges all added points to a reviewer's performance.

  2. A leaderboard showing the top reviewers and review teams was updated two to three times a week.

  3. An email was sent before and after each weekend (since that is when most of the reviewing took place) that was tailored to the individual reviewer's efforts. These emails provided relative performance information, any badges the reviewer may have received, and the Web location of the performance dashboard. It would have been better to provide real-time feedback as reviews were checked in, but that was not possible this year.

All the information analyzed and presented was collected using the same review tools as for the previous conference efforts. The only real change in interaction with the reviewers was the inclusion of a personalized analysis of performance and a leaderboard.

The Results

The results of the effort demonstrated a significant positive performance shift, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2 -- The Results of HP’s Gamification Effort

Technical Conference Review Metrics 2013 2012 2011 2010
Number of abstracts to review 1,880 1,763 1,592 1,308
Number of reviewers 332 286 277 264
Percentage of reviews completed as assigned 99.12% 95.99% 98.73% 98.69%
Reviews per reviewer 28.31 30.50 28.74 24.78
Feedback word count to authors Average 127.45 106.90 104.37 89.71
Standard deviation 82.33 84.37 85.85 94.86
Median 110 91 94 74
Private feedback on issues for other reviewers Average 5.76 4.73 4.39 4.64
Standard deviation 17.18 16.97 15.49 16.07

Some Lessons Learned

The most important lesson we learned during the effort was to make the rules more public and well defined, ideally including examples. For instance, there was confusion about the point system for the badges and their effect. At the end of the effort, when the final performance badges were awarded, some people were upset that their standing went down, long after they had completed their reviews. Although it was clear that there were badges for team performance that couldn't be awarded until the end of the review period, there were still a number of questions about the point shifts at the close of reviews. (As in previous years, we validated review feedback quality, checking to ensure that reviewers did not bloviate just to increase their average review word count.) Having a well-thought-out communication plan that is reviewed by multiple parties can make communication more effective.

Another lesson came from a survey sent to all the reviewers to gather their impressions on the effort. It was interesting to note that almost 50% of those involved thought the effort had no impact on the quality of the reviews provided, and 27% thought it had no impact on the timeliness of the review process. Only 45% thought the gamification process should be done again in the future. This feedback from the reviewers shows that a gamification effort may be effective in meeting business goals and still be viewed as not having had much impact or possibly even as an annoyance by those involved. Care was taken in this effort to place no additional work on the reviewers related to gamification other than to read and delete the email status message that was tailored to their performance. Once the reviewers saw the actual results, many changed their perspective on the effect of the effort, but not all.

Finally, fun can be part of the gamification effort. Game elements like badges and leaderboards are an important aspect of the effort, but they should not be the only one. The game designer should create a gamification experience in which fun interaction/collaboration takes place -- where those involved will actually be interested in greater interaction and understanding what is happening.

When performing initial work on an effort like this, you will get things wrong. Be sure to understand what happened and survey those involved so that you can make improvements.


Using metrics and rewards to focus attention on specific behavioral changes can be powerful. Organizations should start small and build their skill, since gamification can be dangerous as well. They should begin with a behavior change that the leadership views as important, since it is unlikely others will care about the results if the problem is deemed trivial.

Sam Walton once said, "Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don't take yourself too seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm." These are the same principles that are at the heart of gamification.


1 Bess, Charles E. "Gamification in the Enterprise." Cutter IT Journal Advisor, 15 August 2012.

2 Kaplan, Robert, and David Norton. The Balanced Scorecard. Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

3 Huotari, Kai, and Juho Hamari. "Defining Gamification: A Service Marketing Perspective." Proceedings of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference. ACM, 2012.

4 Passos, Erick B., Danilo B. Medeiros, Pedro A.S. Neto, and Esteban W.G. Clua. "Turning Real-World Software Development into a Game." Proceedings of the 2011 IEEE Brazilian Symposium on Games and Digital Entertainment. IEEE, 2011.

5RedCritter (

6 Brandweiner, Natalie. "Gamification: Why Are Marketers Getting It So Wrong?", 13 September 2012 (

7 Zichermann, Gabe, and Christopher Cunningham. Gamification by Design. O'Reilly Media, 2011.

8Hugos, Michael. Enterprise Games. O'Reilly Media, 2012.


BigDoor (

Gamification course by Kevin Werbach, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Coursera, 2011-2013 (

"Gamification 101: An Introduction to the Use of Game Dynamics to Influence Behavior" (PDF). Bunchball, October 2010 (

GamificationU (

PunchTab (


Charles E. Bess is an HP Fellow in the HP Services and Solutions Research Lab, where he focuses on next-generation business value generation. He has been the leader of HP's global architecture capability and the Chief Technologist for numerous large clients and internal structures for HP and EDS. Mr. Bess is an avid blogger ( and regularly publishes outside HP. He has also led HP's internal global technical conference. He received a BSEE degree from Purdue and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. Mr. Bess is currently licensed as a professional engineer, certified as a distinguished architect by The Open Group, and is a senior member of IEEE. He can be reached at

As several of our authors have noted, SMAC technologies can directly impact and interact with the customer. The quality of customer and employee interaction with these technologies is thus critical for success. It is fitting that our last author, Charles Bess, discusses SMAC in the context of gamification. At the University of Kentucky, where I am CIO, our social and mobile technologies include gamification approaches so that we can maximize student interaction and engagement with the university.

About The Author

Charlie Bess is Chief Technologist of the Application and Business Services in HP ES Americas and an HP Fellow. Previously, he was the leader of HP's global architecture capability, the Chief Technologist for numerous large internal teams and client relationships, and a member of HP's services lab. Mr. Bess is an avid blogger and led HP's global technical conference numerous times. He has a bachelor of science degree from Purdue University... Read More