I Hate Gamification – ‘Cuz it works…

Paul Hebert Employee Relations, Games, HR Technology, Paul Hebert, Performance

I hate made up marketing words.  Gamification is one of them.  And I’m almost as turned off by the millions of posts and updates about gamification.

But regardless of how I feel about it… It works like a charm.

I’ve played in the Incentive and Reward space for years and we’ve been doing gamification since 1940 but we called it a “program.”  All incentives are games and we’ve used many of the “new” things gamification talks about for years.  If you want to know more about gamification here’s a great starting point for getting familiar with some of the terms and structures.

I think gamification – or more accurately and more professionally – “game mechanics” should be something every HR person should spend time thinking through and getting familiar with.  There are a million ways to use some of these techniques to get your employees to do a variety of things that are needed to run an organization.

Places I See Application

Here’s my short list:

  • Filling out forms/profiles in the system (progress bars?)
  • Completing employee performance reviews (special “manager badges” potentially?)
  • Recognition – this one is kind of a no-brainer – recognition has a lot of game mechanics built into it but you can use it to drive better engagement in the system.
  • Adoption of any new process or software
  • Suggestion systems and cost reduction programs
  • Potentially safety and wellness (I urge caution on safety because you don’t want people creating problems in order to be “safe” later – remember unintended consequences.)


  • Don’t game up serious things – adding a badge or special to something serious isn’t a good idea.
  • Don’t game up EVERYTHING – apply it sparingly and when it makes sense.  Not everything should be gamified (gah… I hate even writing that.)
  • Don’t rely on gamification to carry all the weight.  Games and game mechanics can HELP you drive greater involvement and engagement but it can’t do it on its own.  You must have good foundations for anything you think you want to drive behaviors around.
  • Games shouldn’t go on forever and ever.  Use them to break inertia.  Games going on forever get stale and get abused.  Use them as punctuation – not the complete sentence.

The Real Reason for This Post

All of that above was simply the dressing I needed to feel like I actually did some work because all I really wanted to do is show you this video. (Subscribers need to click through to see video)

This video shows a vending machine placed in a mall that gave away free Fantastic Delites snacks – but only if you played the game the machine suggested.  In one case it asked passersby to push a button “a number of times – one was person did it 5,000 times!  Another had to break dance – and not too badly either.

The net-net is that we like to play.  We like games.  We like surprises.

Use them wisely when you need to influence behaviors in your organization.