VOXTER - Gamification: the free lunch

18 May 2016

Gamification, the Free Lunch?


Economists always say “there is no free lunch” but Gamification is suggested by many as a cheap new way to get better engagement and feedback from stakeholders. In this blog post we examine this hypothesis asking how gamification works and what needs to be done to get good results.

Why we do things?

To understand how gamification works we first need to understand what motivates people. Psychologists suggest there is a spectrum of motivation running from the more extrinsic all the way to the intrinsic. They suggest that as we move to the right on this scale, the motivation becomes stronger and so engagement increases.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in gaming

The importance of the social in motivating behaviour

Intrinsic motivation is the holy grail. If we can get people to intrinsically enjoy what we want them to do, our job is done. Psychologists name three ingredients that fuel the intrinsic. The first is Ability: people enjoy activities that match their capabilities. The second is Choice: people want to have options and the freedom to choose between them. But where the intrinsic really starts to kick in is through the third ingredient, the Social: people crave human interaction, competition and a sense of community.

The social element in gamification

Gamification: the free lunch hypothesis

But how can gamification change people's motivations? What gamification does is provides activities and rewards to motivate behaviour. There are all kinds of rewards but broadly we can divide them into four: Status (social!), Access (you have unlocked…), Power (“you can now suggest new topics…”) and Stuff (monetary rewards).

But here is where the magic is, the rewards that motivate the strongest are the cheaper ones!

Higher motivation, less cost

Gamification: Invest thought not money!

But is it so simple? Sometimes it is. By introducing costless, virtual, baseball player badges that viewers of online streaming baseball games receive, the MLB has increased viewership by hundreds of percentage points.

Free giveaways

BUT be careful. Sometimes you might harm. For example, introducing rewards might crowd out other intrinsic motivations. A very cool research paper by Uri Gneezy from UC San Diego shows how introducing monetary penalties for parents who are late picking their kids up from nursery had had an adverse effect: it made parents even more late! The monetary penalty replaced the shame of being late with an economic calculation; 10 pounds might be worth an additional hour at work! Imagine the effects of running a betting market among your employees as some companies and this FT article suggest.

So what have we learned?

Gamification might indeed be a cheap way to engage people. But do do it right you have to learn what drives your audience and give some thought as to what rewards will help you get the intrinsically motivated. So with gamification you have to invest thought, not money! In Voxter we have invested this thought to design a platform for engaging people to talk about different topics and provide you with insightful analytics in the backend. To learn more about what we do visit our website.

This post is adapted from a talk given at the National Hotel Marketing Conference, 12 May 2016.


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