The gamification market has exploded from being a $7.8 billion industry in 2019 to a projected $76.3 billion by 2030 (PS Market Research, 2020). One of the key reasons for this growth is the rapid adoption of this technology by the corporate sector. Over the past few years, gamification has become a key tool for companies to engage, train, reward, and retain employees. Whereas gamification used to be confined to HR requirements such as onboarding and training, it has branched over to other departments and is now seen as instrumental in helping boost sales, customer service, and marketing efforts.
This article aims to provide additional information on gamification and its applications in the corporate sector. It also hopes to provide an understanding of what makes gamification effective in corporate training requirements. A brief discussion of the major features of gamification as well as some known case studies will be included in this article.
Upon reading this post, the reader should be able to develop an appreciation of gamification, its practical applications, and relevance to today’s corporate requirements. The article’s coverage is limited to gamification applied in training and elearning and does not cover gamification in an employee’s everyday work tools.
The concept of gamification is not new, having existed since the late 1970s and maybe even earlier. The earliest known examples can be seen in ancient military forces, where outstanding soldiers and officers who displayed extraordinary bravery and leadership get rewarded with titles and riches. The founding of the Boy Scouts in 1908 gave the concept of awarding badges to members who successfully completed a set objective (King, 2020). Since then, gamification has become a key element in getting audiences engaged in an activity. In 1999, Stephen W. Draper suggested that a fun user experience should be a major requirement in software design.
The recession of the late 2000s saw traditional training methods begin to experience a decline in return on investment (ROI). Disengaged employees jump from job to job in the search for a better placement. As the recession ended and companies started to recover, new training methods were needed to stay competitive and provide a fresh approach to training. This resulted in the application of elearning (and with it, gamification) in corporate training (Marcus, 2018).
According to TalentLMS, 33% or one out of three new hires leave the company before his or her first year. In addition, losing an employee during this timeframe is equivalent to losing three times their salary. Training and development opportunities will influence the decision of 70% of employees whether to stay or not. An LMS investment can help with employee retention by providing elearning training. But does it? The same TalentLMS survey reported that every dollar spent on LMS training returned a $30 increase in productivity on average. Companies that use elearning generate 26% more revenue per employee compared to those who don’t (Andriotis, 2019).
By definition, gamification is “the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation” (“Gamification,” 2020). These turn the task into a game-like activity complete with challenges and accomplishments. Note that the task mentioned should be a non-gaming activity, otherwise the training method will be known as game-based learning or serious gaming. Instead of having attendees go through the training module mechanically, gamification makes participants feel like they are being challenged to complete the task or perform better than other trainees. It does so by exploiting motivations inherent to the competitive nature of games (Cronstedt, 2017).
Traditional training programs usually involve having employees come over to a common training room and listen to a presentation or a lecture (whether live or on video). These sessions usually involve a lot of planning on the part of the company’s learning and development department on booking a training center, selecting and scheduling participants, arranging for travel and accommodation, coordinating with trainers, and collecting results and generating a report. Despite the huge amount of time and resources spent, most participants come away as bored or disengaged (Designing Digitally, 2020). Hussain et al. (2018) presented findings that attest to the difference between gamified and non-gamified work: motivation and retention are reduced post-test in non-gamified, monotonous environments, while motivation, engagement, commitment, and loyalty increased in a post-test gamified environment.
In addition to apparent disinterest in the module, traditional training programs often utilize a singular approach to training, which ignores the fact that workers can consist of several generations. Beginning with Generation X, workers have started getting comfortable with digital technology designed to increase productivity. Moreover, millennials, who are mostly digital natives, have already occupied 41.4% of the workforce in 2020 according to LinkedIn. By 2030, Millennials will comprise 36.9% of the workforce, Generation Z will hold 34.7%, and Gen X will drop to 28.4% (Lettink, 2019).
Human brains are wired to positively respond to reward. In addition, people are also attracted to recognition and are drawn to the idea of competition. When used as a corporate training program system, gamification helps employees learn by keeping the employees engaged. Gamification of learning systems also provides motivation to the trainee, especially when gamification is executed properly. For it to work, Cronstedt (2017) points to three distinct factors:
In a recent LMS survey in 2019, only 28% of corporate trainees felt motivated after a non-gamified training, compared to 83% of participants of a gamified program. Almost half of non-gamified training attendees also reported being bored during the training, while 12% said they were unproductive. (Apostolopoulos, 2019).
Jackson (2016) lists four elements that should be incorporated into the design of learning experiences. Common among these are that they can be addressed through the use of gamification.
The aspects of play and psychology are inherent in successful games. Gamified training modules can grab and sustain user engagement by incorporating short, discrete puzzle-solving with a rewards system and progress meters. By progressing through levels, trainees can unlock newer quests and climb up leaderboards, which by themselves generate further engagement.
Similar to actual work, the practice of any given task improves performance. Various neuroscience and education research confirm the positive effects of practice over time. Engaging games keep the learning activities at the front end of the learning curve and should feature challenges that are demanding but not too difficult. Higher levels of gameplay often combine previously mastered skills with new challenges. Gamified training should contain support for repeated practice with differentiated problems, which can lead to competency and enhances transfer.
Continuous assessment should be embedded in the gameplay as performance-based activities. In well-designed courses, assessment is continuous and measured by player actions, while cause-and-effect variables are affected by player decisions or non-decisions. This leads to a wider pool of worker competencies and areas for improvement that can be assessed on the fly.
Compelling gamified courses should provide instant feedback on how the participant is faring. Positive results should happen once a trainee applies the correct action. Conversely, negative consequences (or non-progress) will result from an incorrect or incomplete action. Providing a continuous state of awareness of the learner’s development is one of the pillars of adaptive learning, and gamified training should incorporate this as well.
The main benefit of gamification in corporate elearning is to engage employees in completing routine but important elements of work. Training using game elements reinforces the objective as well as the needed learning in order to successfully complete employee tasks. Both trainees (employees) and management stand to gain benefits from gamification. Sanal (2019) and Play2Growth (2020) break down the benefits applicable to employees, businesses, or both.
Source: TalentLMSDesigned by
Typically, Learning Management Systems (LMS) handle the development of training courses for elearning. They are software applications that handle administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs (Ellis, 2009). Companies can choose to develop their own courses or have an established LMS do it for them.
While it would be ideal to simply insert game elements into existing modules, it takes more than just plugging in to make training more effective. For training modules that target more youthful workers, Vinichenko (2016) also recommended the involvement of creative people within the organization (apart from HR and line managers) in training staff using gaming techniques to improve organizational activities.
King (2020) outlines the need for planning, organization, research, and resources to make a successful integration. He listed the gamification tools that every LMS should have:
A reward system addresses the participant’s need to validate performance in the training program. This can come in the form of badges, points, or other scoring system types. In some cases, a higher aspirational reward such as a top prize for elite participants may be needed for further encouragement.
Incorporating levels into elearning courses helps show a trainee’s progress. Once participants meet a certain requirement, they will be conferred a level (or rank) signifying their place in the overall program. This should also show what a trainee needs to achieve in order to get to the next level.
Many learning management systems have interactive progress trackers that provide users with control over their training journey. A map of the overall system, plus a “you are here” indicator can provide participants with a method to benchmark their progress. Forks in the module can also be included that gives the flexibility to pursue different modules, giving trainees the ability to dictate their own pace and direction.
Many employees love the idea of competing against others, and gamified training modules are perfect for this. Leaderboards help the facilitator to identify the achievers in the group and at the same time, allow participants to compare their progress with those of other participants and motivate them to improve as well.
These are features that cater to LMS providers and corporations planning on developing LMS in-house. Both templates and custom options help design unique courses without having to start from scratch.
To get a better idea of how businesses can leverage gamification, detailed below are examples of corporations applying gamified training for their employees:
Parr (2020) shares the story of how McDonald’s Japan addressed the apparent lack of fast food skills of new hires who lacked experience in fast food or kitchen operations. Instead of subjecting them to corporate headquarters training, McDonald’s Japan spent $2.2 million on game development for a training module for use in a Nintendo DS system. Each of McDonald’s 3,800 stores in Japan was given two units of the game console, which new hires can use during their free time to learn how to cook fries, arrange burgers, and clean workstations. Human Resources Manager Hideki Narematsu reported that training time for workers was cut in half.
Galderma is a joint venture between Nestlé and L’Oreal that develops dermatological products. To help gain familiarity with Galderma products, the company presented its sales team with an avatar-based game where salespeople can work individually or in groups. Each avatar is tasked to travel along a path towards a goal. Along the way, participants are subjected to role-play scenarios and quizzes to test their knowledge of products. Instead of heavy competition, players were encouraged to share ideas and practices so as not to leave anybody behind. While joining the game was voluntary, over 92% of the sales team joined the quest (Schuurman, 2012).
Similar to Galderma, AstraZeneca turned to gamification to train over 500 sales representatives about its new drug. Using a voluntary, game-based learning system titled “Go To Jupiter,” the game featured team cooperation challenges, mini-games, virtual items, rewards, leaderboards, and progress levels. Despite the voluntary nature, 97% of the sales team signed up to play, and 95% were able to complete the quest. Surprisingly, most agents were reported playing the game after work hours (Orendorff, 2015).
With the rise of the Millennial and Gen Z labor force, modern training methods are fast becoming a necessity. Traditional classroom lectures and seminars, unfortunately, will not be as effective for generations who were born into digital technology. With shorter attention spans and an eagerness to engage, training methods should be designed to cater to these needs. Gamification incorporates elements that directly interact with the human brain’s innate need to be rewarded, recognized, and even challenged.
The benefits of gamification features give it superiority over traditional methods. Some of these advantages include higher engagement, improved motivation, faster feedback, and lower implementation cost. More importantly, gamification works. Gamification helps enhance the work experience by augmenting the environment for it to become more enjoyable and less monotonous (Sarangi & Shah, 2015).
The only challenge for companies who wish to adopt this system now is to ensure that the elements of gamification support the training objective and not just to entertain participants. Foster & Warwick (2018) noted that engagement during training may be hard to define, as while participants may be engaged in the gamified elements rather than the subject material. In order to realize the full potential of gamification and achieve effective employee engagement, organizations need to think deeply about gamification initiatives and rationalize game elements in a structured fashion rather than thinking about gamification as simply the addition of a fun videogame layer on top of existing business process systems (Ruhi, 2015). Otherwise, gamified training will become just another interesting sideshow in the daily life of a worker.