Employee incentives: Why your attempt to gamify fell apart

Gamification is one of the titanic buzzwords of the last ten years for employee incentives, bobbing in and out of vogue among marketing, incentive and HR chatter and never disappearing from the public sphere for long.

Brilliantly gamified systems are still seen as a tantalising objective for developers and also often in request by clients. But many of these systems end up failing or falling well short of expectations.

Hundreds of companies have a disappointing gamification effort in their locker somewhere. There’s a few common features of why they go awry:

Using gamification as a long-term solution

Using gamification as a long-term solution:

A campaign without an end in sight, or rewards far in the future, is far less engaging than something with a tangible reward. [The McDonald’s Monopoly game] is a great example of short-term, high reward and high engagement with perennial public enthusiasm.

Trying to treat symptoms without addressing a disease:

For a business struggling with a motivation, employee incentives, or sales problem, it’s far more important for them to address systemic issues in their business rather than trying to lift performance by gamifying work life.


A pandering and unpleasant system:

Turning employees’ daily working lives into a game can be a tricky proposition; trying to “trick” employees into conducting work duties is too transparent to go unnoticed, and might make employees feel they’re being treated like children.


Reading too much into others results:

Some of the evidence for why gamification employee incentives work can be a bit stringy, especially when it comes to brain science. Games which succeed suffer from [survivorship bias] in an attempt to justify and understand success we make faulty conclusions. Don’t try to extrapolate too much from success.

If you’re approaching gamification with the right ideas in mind, there’s a few features to try and hit to make your gamification campaign a success:


Clear objectives and target behaviour

Set KPIs and desired behaviour for engagement with the game itself. Track desired outcomes like sales and referrals alongside actual employee engagement with the game by employees, like platform log-ins and uses.

Clear objectives and target behaviour

A satisfying loop

Repetition with nominal variation is a major factor of games, whether it’s board games, video games or business games. The core mechanics need to be easily repeatable, offer a small reward for every interaction, and be mechanically satisfying. Hoops to jump through or tricky mechanics will turn users away.


Right for the audience

Make sure the employees you’re targeting have the time and energy to put aside. Ensure the game itself is motivating enough, to justify getting involved without stripping too much time from their day-to-day work.

Right for the audience

Make gamification fun

The hardest part of any game, really, is making sure it’s fun. Balancing challenge, reward and time investment is one of the cornerstones of designing a video game. It’s one of the biggest problems with many game-based incentive systems.

Gamification isn’t some dead in the water corporate buzzword bandied about for the sake of looking switched-on and trendy. When gamification is used in the right circumstances, it is still valuable and effective for a short-term effort to create a fun, engaging campaign among employees.


Want to gamify employee incentives? Get in touch with one of our gamification experts at FMI. Contact Us

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