Gamify: A book review by Bob Morris

GamifyGamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things
Brian Burke
Bibliomotion (2014)

How and why focusing on gamification can help organizations to motivate their people to achieve shared goals

I was introduced to game theory when I enrolled in a course one summer at the University of Chicago taught by a protégé of John von Neumann. He encouraged us to check out Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, co-authored by von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. I did, finding it a challenging read but thought-provoking.

In essence, game theory is a study of strategic decision-making. More specifically, what David Nelson has characterized as “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” I recalled this background as I began to read Gamify in which Brian Burke explains how and why gamification (a term attributed to Nick Pelling) “engages and motivates people across all kinds of activities using game mechanics such as badges, points, levels, and leaderboards.” According to Burke, the working definition of the term at his firm, Gartner, is “use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and mo0tivate people to achieve their goals.”

He poses three questions that he then proceeds to answer: “What’s new about gamification? Who is getting it right? How can your organization be successful with gamification? When should you think about using gamification in your organization?” These are excellent questions. For Burke, if the objective is motivation, then gamification is the process by which to achieve it.

I commend Burke on his skillful use of reader-friendly devices that include dozens of “Figures” that illustrate key points or relationships as well as an end-of-chapter “Wrap Up” section (Chapters 1-11). He is also very specific when explaining a core process such as one involving seven separate but interdependent steps to design experiences that will motivate people to achieve their goals:

1. Define the business outcome and success metrics
2. Define the target audience
3. Define player goals
4. Determine the player engagement model
5. Define the play space
6. Define the game economy
7. Play test and iterate

These are among the dozens of other business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Burke’s coverage.

o Gamification Defined (Pages 5-6)
o Gamification Is All About Innovation (18-21)
o Don’t Mistake Business Goals for Player Goals (21-23)
o What Is Different About Gamification? (26-29)
o Gamification Is Not About Fun, and, Gamification Is Not a Payback (29-31)
o Leveraging Gamification to Engage the Crowd (35-37)
o Rewriting the Customer Engagement Model (41-44)
o Guiding Employees to Success (44-48)
o Driving Social Collaboration (48-50)
o Gamified Steps to Change Behavior (53-57)
o Inspiring Learning at Khan Academy (59-61)
o Energizing Employee Training (63-65)
o Captivating the Customer (65-68)
o Gamifying Skills Development (68-72)
o How Gamification Spurs Innovation (82-85)
o Player Experience Design Process (89-94)
o Apply Design Thinking (94-96)
o Promoting Player Engagement and Launching the Game (146-149)

Thoughtfully, in addition of dozens of gamification ‘do’s” And how to do them, Burke includes (in Chapter 8, Pages 127-136) an explanation of three reasons why gamification initiatives fail: The business outcomes haven’t been clearly defined; the gamification solution has been designed to achieve the organizational goals rather than the player goals; and finally, the solution engages people on a transaction al level rather than an emotional level. He includes an explanation of how to avoid these “don’ts,” also. For me, some of the most valuable material in the book is provided in this chapter, reminding me again of two quotations. First, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all”; next, from Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

With regard to the future, Brian Burke observes, reminds us, “Nobody wins the human race. The only way to win in life is to set your own course, to work hard to achieve your goals, and to contribute to something that is bigger than yourself.” One of those goals should be doing everything possible and appropriate to support effective collaboration with others because we “don’t win this race individually, we all win together…Gamification is not new. Game mechanics and design have been used to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals throughout human history. Gamification is about rethinking motivation in a world where we are more often connected digitally than physically. And it is about building motivation into a digitally engaged world. And we are just getting started in this journey. Gamification will continue to develop for many years to come.”

I presume to add that the design of human experiences will engage and then inspire people, to activate and nourish their self-motivation, only to the extent that storytelling is among the core competencies developed. At least since Homer, man’s most powerful ideas have been anchored in human experience in the form of narratives with which subsequent generations identify. For me, that is the single greatest challenge to gamification…and the standard by which its success will be measured.

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