Challenge and competition have long been an impetus for action. Turn chores into a friendly competition between siblings – who can do it faster or better – and suddenly chores become a game, an outlet to claim prowess over big sister or little brother. A summer camp counsellor can silence a room of eight-year-olds by initiating a game of statue – if you move or make a sound you’re out; a temporary solution, but effective nonetheless.

As it turns out, this motivation inspired by competition is effective across age groups, and increasingly being applied in business. Introducing gamification: using competition and game mechanics as an incentive to promote a desired action.

Important aspects of gamification for program success are:

  • Well defined rules;
  • Transparency and traceability (statistical upkeep);
  • Elements of recognition (badges, credits);
  • Challenging goals; and
  • A competitive element. ¹

Despite being used for decades in business, gamification is a trend that has received growing attention since 2010. Fortune 500 companies are increasingly adopting gamification strategies to promote engagement, productivity and sustainability.

While the popularity of gamification is on the rise, many criticisms have been lobbied against its effectiveness. Some dismiss it as a passing trend or await the stories of failure. While there are certainly tales of troubles in applying games to business achievements there are many emerging successful cases of gamification.

Success in gamification may be represented in many measureable and immeasurable forms. Worker engagement and behaviour change are the centrepieces of gamification, but benefits may include healthier lifestyles, better lesson retention, and faster training.² Applied toward an organization’s sustainable initiatives, gamification has led to reduced waste, lower electricity and water consumption, and improved transportation choices. Many of these benefits strengthen a business through cost savings and by having happier, more engaged and productive employees.  In an article in The Guardian, Paula Owen highlighted an example of a U.K. utility company that ran a gamification trial, using a software service to track progress. Employees recorded their individual sustainable behaviour and were encouraged to make suggestions to areas they felt could be improved.  To motivate employees to take part the company established a portion of the savings would be donated to charities chosen by the game players themselves. At the end of the trial the organization had saved £41,000 and 66 tonnes of CO2, and donated over £8,000 to charity .

While some critics believe it to be a passing craze others are saying why not give it a try. And why not? Save money, benefit the environment and have fun doing it. If trialing gamification doesn’t meet expectations the biggest loss is the time put in to the program. Should the program succeed, the benefits could be a boon to business sustainability, employee engagement and increased revenues.

If you’re interested in learning more about gamification theory, case studies and first-hand experiences Sustainable Waterloo Region is holding a gamification focused educational forum on October 15th. We hope to see you there.


¹ How Gamification Can Help Your Business Engage in Sustainability – By Paula Owen

² The Engagement Economy: How Gamification Is Reshaping Businesses – By Doug Palmer, Steve Lunceford and Aaron J. Patton – Deloitte Review

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