Connected: the game of life

According to author Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a chosen vocation.

Connected on gamificationBy Matthew O'Driscoll

In World of Warcraft, a popular online video game, players have collectively spent over 5.93 million years in that virtual world alone. That’s 51,946,800,000 hours, or in minimum wage terms over $376 billion dollars of labour.

But what have these players learned, achieved, or become expert at?

In her book, Reality is Broken, video-game designer Jane McGonigal argues that video gamers are experts at solving increasingly complex problems. She outlines the nature of good game design, which is based on creating environments that increase, test and reward a player’s knowledge.

She also asks: can we use gaming to solve real world problems? Something that she hopes to answer with – an online game designed to help people achieve health goals by increasing their personal resilience.

It’s certainly a trend that’s sweeping the world as companies look to apply the mechanics of game design to how we tackle problems and tasks in the workplace. It’s a process called gamification.

Maybe you’ve heard of the call centre that dumped its classroom training programme and introduced a system that awards employees with points for achieving certain tasks, such as successfully responding to 5 calls in 5 minutes. In cases like this, gamification is used to rank staff members alongside each other in public leaderboards – as if performance management isn’t stressful enough.

Gamification poses some serious questions for the workplace, the very nature of how work is made up and how we interact with each other. Gamification of work promises to be too many things, from personal motivation to performance management, and more.

Research from Gartner predicts that over 70 percent of Global 2000 organisations in the US will have at least one ‘gamified’ application by 2014, and that gamification is positioned to become a significant trend in the next five years.

In addition, M2 research reports that gamification will be a US$2.8 billion industry by 2016. You can find more positive research and success stories at but serious critiques are harder to come by.

Adam Greenfield, an expert in user experience, believes there needs to be an understanding of technology, human behaviour and design elements before starting any behavioural analytic program.

He argues that many of the practices associated with gamification, like having clear goals and rewarding positive outcomes, should already be part of good management. If this isn’t the case then there is a risk that gamification becomes an excuse for poor management rather than an accelerator of business.

Other critics go further and describe gamification as ‘exploitationware’, technology to make workers think that their job is fun and rewarding when in actual fact it isn’t.

Ian Bogost, professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and co-founder of Persuasive Games, warns that gamification as a workplace transformation tool can be a flawed idea from the start. He points out that the best games in the world take millions or tens of millions to develop. Companies won’t invest the same sort of effort into getting gamification in the workplace right and will look for cheaper bolt on solutions.

Whatever happens with gamification it’s a useful start to a bigger conversation about how we organise work in New Zealand.

Nigel Haworth, professor of human resource development at the University of Auckland, believes that work transformation must happen if we are to have decent jobs, decent workplaces and a better performing economy. Something that the PSA is already tackling with its programme Transforming the Workplace, which outlines six distinct elements that need to be addressed before transformation can occur.

The six elements are: fair and secure, healthy, career development, personalised, effectiveness, and high trust.

It’s unlikely that transformation will occur overnight but the PSA is committed to creating a better working life for its members with no games or playing around.



Transforming the Workplace – The PSA’s agenda for creating a better working life for members.

Gamification – the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems.

M2 Research – a strategic marketing and consulting firm.

Gartner - the world's leading information technology research and advisory company.


This article is from the September 2013 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.