1. This is a nice article. And I’ll be sharing it.

    But “Gaming mechanics are the rules, tools and landscapes of game theory.” isn’t really true. In fact, it’s not true at all.

    The link between game mechanics and Game Theory is simply that they both contain the word ‘game’.

    If you’re looking for a non-ludological specialism to tie game mechanics too, it would probably be Behavioural Economics rather than Game Theory.

  2. Alex Manchester

    Hi Simon, thanks for your input. I’m keenly aware that this is a mere snowflake on the tip of a very large iceberg. There’s obviously a massive body of knowledge, debate and interpretations that warrants a lot more further research.

  3. An interesting question is whether it’s possible to build a generic points system that applies in most cases, or if game dynamics need to be customized per organization.

  4. Chris, I think the answer there is that while it might be possible, it’s certainly not advisable. In fact, I think the possibility that the generalising of such systems might well happen is one of the biggest threats to the long-term application of points-based systems in the workplace.

    Simon Bostock (who has commented above), has a blog post on the overuse of points systems, citing a Shell example.

  5. mathew

    A very interesting article. I particularly like that it surveys the pros and the cons. I’d like to dig a little deeper into this question.

    Now I can easily see that some companies would profit from introducing a gaming system to increase intranet contribution and participation, and that for other companies it would be utterly pointless.

    Why, indeed, reward people for doing what they are supposed already to be doing? In fact, one could argue that such a system would penalise those workers who have other things that they need to do. Or are forced to do by mgt.

    Introducing such an incentive scheme must therefore be carefully balanced against other management methods, or you’ll end up ‘gaming the company’ – switching resources to focus on an intranet because it offers greater rewards than, say, sales, or research. Probably counterproductive for many companies!

    Given the above, what sort of companies benefit most from this approach, and which would benefit least?

  6. Mathew, some interesting thoughts and questions there.

    I don’t think you would primarily use gaming mechanics to increase interest in the intranet specifically – their use has to be tied directly to more of a strategic objective for the business, whether that’s more structured encouragement of sustainability suggestions (as with GreenNurture), or setting behaviours around business-wide collaboration (as with Sabre) or something else.

    Subsequently, I don’t believe it’s possible to state which companies as a whole might benefit most from this approach, but perhaps look instead at which types of workers might benefit the most.

    As you have highlighted, it’s not relevant company-wide if a large majority of workers cannot contribute – or ‘compete’ – to the same level.

    Having said that, the fact that some people can spend more time on a game than others is a reality. You only need to spend an hour online in a game to find people that spend their whole lives playing and others who might get in a couple of hours here and there. Whether such a reality is also seen in business I don’t know.

    Interestingly, with GreenNurture specifically, the projected time spent on that system is around two minutes per week per employee, so it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time, despite this being an obvious first reaction when introducing the idea to a business (‘How much time will be lost/wasted?’).

    You would have to be careful in the application of gaming mechanics on an intranet, and as written in the comments above, just sticking points on everything is likely a recipe for failure.

    To better answer your question, I believe good application would consider desired outcomes, incentives, organisational/BU/team culture, the opportunities for co-opetition, workforce demographics (number of people at desks for example), and a whole lot more.

    I would also not play with this idea too lightly. There’s a big margin for error and potential to get it wrong, so approach with interest and caution.

    On that note, since publishing this article I’ve been researching a fair bit more on the topic, including talking to a number of companies providing software for gaming mechanic applications. In the coming months I’ll have more to discuss, whether in article form like this, or less lengthy posts. As said, there is a truly massive body of knowledge on this.

    The trick for intranet/business software application, and businesses in general is to consider the conceptual application, but be very aware of the deep theory underneath, and in an ideal world, get some expert advice.

  7. Roger S

    This article fits nicely with a TED lecture I just watched. It’s by Seth Priebatsch and the topic is about layering gaming on top of everything (i.e., “the world”). To the person who rejected any connection between game mechanics and game theory, I have to disagree. Game theory provides some of the key concepts that are required to successfully implement the mechanics of a game. Psychology and economics are also very necessary. They all fit together.

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Published June 30, 2010

Alex Manchester
Alex Manchester is an alumni of Step Two Designs. He specialises in intranet and enterprise social network research strategy and user experience design. Alex works with a wide range of public and private sector organisations and has over eight years experience in this field.

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