What Is Gamification?

Definition & Examples of Gamification

Employees playing a game during a meeting

aldomurillo / Getty Images

Gamification is the incorporation of game-like elements to help achieve business goals. By introducing elements like a point system, entertaining interface, or prizes, your business can increase productivity and attract new customers.

Here's how to use gamification to plan initiatives and ensure the greatest chance of success.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is any addition of game-like elements to something other than a game. Gamification improves an existing experience by using the same motivational techniques that make people love games. In business, this often involves taking a regular task or project and adding an element of competition to it. It encourages participation and can improve the overall experience of completing a task or project within the business.

You can gamify anything, including daily business operations, customer engagement, social media, HR management, or any other aspect of your business. By adding games or game-like elements to a product, app, or service, you can boost customer participation and loyalty, and engage your employees.

When done right, gamification can encourage your employees to improve sales numbers, increase customer satisfaction, better engage your customers with your brand, and more. Though gamification is often used by larger organizations, small businesses can also benefit from this mindset, process, and technology.

Game aspects that can be added into an existing system may include: 

  • Points and badges for customer actions or purchases
  • Challenges, competitions, and contests with personal or team scorecards
  • Leaderboards that list competitors based on how many points they’ve accumulated
  • Rewards for winners and participants

How Does Gamification Work?

Gamification can be worked into the customer experience by adding gaming elements to your business's app or website. You can also create in-office games for employees, such as by introducing a reward system or creating a whiteboard leaderboard that tracks productivity. When possible, try to introduce digital gaming elements—it's easier to create exciting, instant rewards with a digital platform.

If you use a chat system like Slack with your employees, you can incorporate gamification into everyday communications. For example, you can create a channel specifically for announcing new employee competitions. Open the topic up for discussion and let employees use Slack to suggest future games.

Reward Customers

An easy way to gamify the customer experience is to add reward points. For instance, a gym could use a points-based system to boost customer referrals and member retention. Members could earn points for a variety of actions, including social media posts and friend referrals. Points could then be traded in for perks like a reduced cost of membership or free protein powder. 

There's an opportunity for gamification anytime a customer spends money, attends a company event, shares a post from your business, or checks into your store on social media.

Gamify Onboarding and Training

Instead of using a paper manual to walk employees through an onboarding process or training session, you can use an app to gamify the experience with quiz modules, memory games, or group trivia. 

Create Competitions

Turning aspects of an employee's workweek into a competition is an easy way to gamify their experience at work. Marketing and sales departments—which both have clear metrics and performance data—are well-suited for this kind of gamification. You can have employees compete against each other on an individual basis, or you can create teams to introduce a level of teamwork and socialization to the game. Winners can receive a prize, either a physical reward, cash, or a work-related prize like a long lunch or extra vacation day.

Bestow Employee Awards

Fitbit gives badges for steps, but your small business can give badges for employee goals, customer satisfaction, an employee of the month, or other defined categories. As a bonus, add instant notifications or public acknowledgment of achievements, such as featuring the winner on your company’s social media channels. Of course, the stakes may be even higher if you throw in a trip to Hawaii for the most helpful employee. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it.

Disadvantages of Gamification

When done correctly, gamification is a win-win for everyone involved. Customers or employees have more fun than they otherwise would have, and they may even win a prize, while your business benefits from increased productivity, sales, or customer engagement.

However, there are some ways that gamification can go wrong. Watch out for these pitfalls as you conceive a way to introduce gamification to your business.

Rewards Can Be Ineffective

If your reward for an employee who has won an office game is a dusty VHS tape you found in your attic, then the gamification will likely be ineffective. You must motivate your team with prizes that they actually want. Talk to your team or customers and learn what they’d appreciate as a reward for their work or loyalty. If the employees don't want the prize, the gamification tactic won't work—and it could even backfire by making you appear out of touch with your workforce.

Rewards don’t need to be monetary to motivate. They could simply be much-appreciated recognition in the form of an "employee of the month" placard in the office or convenience-related like the best parking space in the lot. What's important is that employees want to win the prize.

Some Players May Have Unfair Advantages Over Others

If an employee or customer feels they have no chance of winning, then they won't participate, and they may even come to resent those who win. There are many ways to ensure that the game is fair, and it starts with designing a game that everyone has an equal chance at winning. Teams could be chosen with fairness in mind. Teams or goals could be randomized or otherwise swapped out after every game. You might even consider changing the format of the game entirely after a few rounds.

The Wrong Behavior Could Be Rewarded

If you’re not clear in your game rules about desired metrics, goals, and outcomes, you may be more susceptible to rewarding the wrong behavior. Employees should understand they’re part of a fair and objective system in which they have a real chance of success by working harder—not by looking for cheats and shortcuts.

Employees Could Become Too Competitive

Gamification should foster team member cooperation and collaboration. Strive for healthy, fun competition, not an overly competitive, winner-take-all approach that may lead to hard feelings and office hostility. To prevent this, ensure some kind of reward for many or all participants. You could also design a game that is enjoyable enough on its own. That way, the winner's reward is a nice perk, but playing the game in and of itself is rewarding enough to satisfy all players.

Key Takeaways

  • Gamification is the introduction of gaming elements to something that isn't inherently a game.
  • In business, gamification can be used to improve customer experience or entice employees to work toward specific goals.
  • Common examples of gamification in business include a points-based reward system for completing tasks or reaching milestones.