The Power and Modes of Gamification


This Story adapted from How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are Where You Want by Katy Milkman.

When you walk 10,000 steps a day, your Fitbit rewards you with a jiggle and some virtual fireworks, giving you a reason to stop and smile with pride. If you practice a foreign language in Duolingo several days in a row, you get a “sequence” and you are encouraged to continue it, which will give you an extra reason to strive to repeat. If companies, educators, coaches, or apps add features such as symbolic rewards, competitions, social connections, or even fun sounds and colors to make something sound like play, they rely on “ gamification ”to enhance an experience that would otherwise be crazy. I like that most of your phone’s apps use some element of gamification, but we’ve also seen it work in our workplaces and from our healthcare providers.

Gamification first started more than a decade ago. At the time, there was not much evidence for its value; the concept seems to make sense. Business consultants assure organizations that job play can be more effective in motivating employees, not by changing their work, but by changing its packaging, and creating achievements. purpose even more exciting as a result (“Yes! I got a star!”). For example, technology companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and SAP, have found ways to lose everyone from learning social media skills, sa verifying language translations, to enlarge made for sale.

Now, thanks to science, we know a lot about when gamification works, and what its boundaries look like. More than the gamified apps and software we use to learn new skills, companies want Amazon and Uber deploy it to improve worker productivity. But in order to get the results sought, in our own lives and in the workplace, it is important to understand when gamification will work-and when it will make the situation worse.

In 2012, Jana Gallus, a brilliant young economist studying for his doctorate at the University of Zurich, was aware of a problem plaguing Wikipedia-and saw an opportunity to run an early test on the value of gamification . Despite the popularity of the 50-million-entry online encyclopedia that is available in more than 280 languages, Gallus discovered that the leading editors who created it were many people. And because the so -called Wikipedians keep articles on the site from everyone Game of Thrones of quantum mechanics accurately and so far has not paid a dime, the organization needs to find ways to keep its top editors with the ever-monotonous task of curating content online without they will be given money.

In hopes of reducing turnover, Wikipedia allowed Gallus to run experiment with 4,000 new volunteer editors. Consistent with the flip of a coin, he told some worthy newcomers to Wikipedia that they had received an award for their efforts, and their names were listed as prize winners on a Wikipedia website . They also receive either one, two, or three stars, which appear next to their username, with many stars allocated to the better performers. Other newcomers who have contributed similarly to Wikipedia’s content but come out on the other side of the coin flip have no symbolic awards (and are not told there are such awards). Gallus thinks the awards will make a monotonous task feel more like a game by adding an element of fun and praise for a well -done job.

He is right. Volunteers who received recognition for their efforts were 20 percent more likely to volunteer for Wikipedia next month and 13 percent more likely than those without praise to become active on Wikipedia a year later.

Examples like this can make gamification seem pointless: Why wouldn’t a corporation want to make the job more enjoyable? Despite Gallus ’positive results, more recent research has shown that as a top-down approach for behavior change, gamification is rapidly retreating. Two of my Wharton teammates – Ethan Mollick and Nancy Rothbard – are running one experiment that proves that’s all. It involves hundreds of retailers who have a somewhat tedious job of reaching out to businesses and convincing them to provide coupons for discounted products or services that are then sold on their company’s website (think Groupon). Sellers receive a commission for each coupon that is later sold online.

In an attempt to make it even more exciting, Mollick and Rothbard worked with professional game planners to create a basketball -themed commercial game. Sellers can earn points by concluding customer agreements, with multiple points awarded for even more deals. Trading from hot lead is called a “layup,” while the cold call is called a “jump shot.” Giant screens on the sales floor displayed the names of the leading performers and featured occasional basketball animations like a successful dunk. Regular emails update the “players” who won, and when the game is over, the winner gets a bottle of champagne.



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