Knowledge bank

Sustaining employee engagement through gamification

Although a concept that developed in 2010, it is only now that the power of gamification is being realised by companies and more importantly HR functions around the world. Why? Gamification is proving to be one of the most effective ways of driving engagement, achievement and productivity among employees in the workplace.

Video games have changed the way we play: they’re now set to change working life as well. If you don’t already know what a strong hold games have on contemporary culture, it’s time to find out. Here’s one measure: video games are now bigger than Hollywood.

In November 2011, ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ grossed US $775 million in just five days – outselling ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’, Hollywood’s biggest-ever blockbuster, by 60%. The ‘World of Warcraft’ gaming franchise has over 12 million subscribers worldwide. Its 2011 release sold 4.7 million copies in one month, a record high for PC game sales. And that’s just two of the best-known games: collectively, gamers spend an estimated three billion hours each week inhabiting parallel worlds, defeating relentless enemies and embarking on epic quests.

If you’re well into middle age, you probably think the gaming demographic centres on teenage boys. Wrong. The average gamer is 37 years old and 42% of gamers are women. They play solo and in teams, using dedicated consoles, PCs, mobile phones and social media such as Facebook. Online multiplayer games are free-form collaborative enterprises. Player teams involve people from all over the world who mostly never meet or speak to each other, and may not even share a language. It’s an immersive experience that has shaped the consciousness of a generation - including business people who are now entering the ranks of senior management.

How games foster engagement

What could game techniques offer, in the context of employee engagement? Gaming guru Jane McGonigal1 believes that games have enormous potential in the real world because they:

increase optimism by holding out the possibility of an ‘epic win’;

help to build a social fabric (multi-player games are collaborative; and they encourage socialisation because we like people better when we have played with them);

enable productivity (people like to be busy and are happier when playing a stimulating game than when just ‘relaxing’);

create meaning – a basic ingredient of any engagement programme - by making it possible for participants to take on inspiring missions.

Gaming has many other features that can help to build employee engagement, including:

• the constant feedback participants receive on their progress through scoring mechanisms – contrasted with the annual or semi-annual performance reviews that are standard practice in most companies;

• clear success criteria, rewards and most important of all, public recognition - through the use of achievement badges, Facebook-type ‘post a comment’ features, sport-style leader-boards featuring employee photographs, and reward points as in consumer loyalty programmes;

• permission to fail, which facilitates learning– a taboo within traditional corporate cultures but acceptable (even celebrated) in a gaming context, for example in war games where players are routinely ‘killed’;

• the ability to collect and analyse data on performance enhancing business intelligence software, allowing companies to track progress, see where change is needed and assess ROI.

Since games have so many positive features, it’s surprising that businesses have only lately woken up to their potential for engaging customers, employees and others on whom their success depends. Media and entertainment companies have led the way, using gaming techniques for online product marketing. But during the last two years, interest has spread to so-called ‘enterprise’ applications. Most are private internal systems, operating below the radar, but some enter the public domain when their originators believe that there’s a broader corporate marketing benefit. Here are some public domain examples that we have come across.

IBM’s INNOV8 2.0

INNOV8 2.0 is IBM’s Business Process Management (BPM) simulation game. IBM says that the game is designed to provide ‘a better understanding of how effective BPM impacts an entire business ecosystem’. A 3-D virtual reality game in the mould of Second Life, INNOV8 2.0 allows players to form teams which jointly investigate problems, try out options, get feedback and make decisions. Demos can be viewed on and YouTube.

Siemens’ PlantVille

PlantVille is Siemens’ FarmVille-style game that allows players to learn about the interconnections of manufacturing processes. Players get to manage a bottling, vitamin, or manufacturing plant using key performance indicators such as safety, quality and delivery. They can enter the PlantVille Café, where they can discuss game solutions; and there’s the PlantVille Puzzler, where they can test what they have learned. A series of demos is available on YouTube.

The UK Department of Work and Pensions’ Idea Street

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions created an innovation game called Idea Street - a collaborative application that includes points, leader boards and a ‘buzz index.’ In its first 18 months, the game attracted 4,500 users and generated 1,400 ideas. Some information about Idea Street is available on Spark, a website about statesector innovation, .

The future: development of soft skills and behaviours


The first phase of enterprise gamification has focused on core business functions, systems and processes where there is a clear business case and a history of using training and education tools. We predict that in
the near future, gamification will be used to develop soft skills and behaviours that are equally important to the business but have an ROI that’s more difficult to establish, such the development of leadership, crossfunctional and international collaboration, and the cultivation of values and behaviours as part of branding and employee engagement projects.

How to begin your gamification journey


So what can organisations do today to be an early adopter of gamification? BergHind Joseph advises that you should:

1 Have your target audience in mind so that the experience you develop is one that they can relate to.

2 Be fun but develop a solution that serves a purpose. Employees need to walk away with a clear understanding of how a game can support them with an initiative or business challenge.

3 Tell a story in a consistent way. All too often business stories get misconstrued and key messages lose impact. Ensure your game is a true reflection of your company’s values and visions.

Sign up for updates

If you are interested in keeping up-to-date with our latest upcoming events, blog items and Knowledge bank articles, register here.

Article idea? If you have a feature you'd like us to write or piece you'd like featured, please let us know here.

Popular knowledge pieces


About the author

Ian Brownhill, Senior Consultant & Managing Director of BergHind Joseph

Ian has over has over 20 years’ experience of working in research, project management
and strategic leadership roles for a range of organisations including Which?, London Transport and the Prince of Wales’ Charities Group.

Download a copy of this article (359KB)