What is a game in gamification?

There are many varieties of ‘game’, and although there are some shared characteristics, not all of these apply to every kind of game (Callois, 2001).

Salcu and Acatrine (2013) cite Huizinga’s (1971) notion of the magic circle ‘a physical/virtual boundary that divides the world of the game from the real world’ which ‘separates the game world from real world (ex: soccer field), and while in the circle, the game rules matter, not the rules of the real world. The challenge and the opportunity for gamification is how far into the circle the player voluntarily goes. If the player feels that the constraints in the circle are realistic, he/she will be motivated to play’ (p770).

So game players play games. Again, Sacu and Acatrine help in inthe delineation betwen the two: ‘Callois (2001) described “play” as being the expenditure of exuberant energy, whatever is done spontaneously and for its own sake, and free movement within a more rigid structure. Play can be understood as “a type of human experience regardless of the particular activity the individual is engaged in, and not a form of distinct human activity with clear boundaries” (Cantaragiu and Hadad, 2013, p. 835). The gamified sense of play seeks to create a zone of fun and exuberant energy for the player within a contained environment.

Fullerton et al. (2004, p. 5) consider the game as being “a closed formal system that engages players in a structured environment and resolves in an unequal outcome”. It contains a series of meaningful choices and a domain of contrived contingency that generates interpretable outcomes. It is a problem solving activity, approached with a playful attitude. A game is a set of choices, which lead to certain outcomes. The path chosen to lead to the outcome involves an element of freedom – play’ (P770).

Caillois, R. (2001), Man, play and games, The Free Press, USA.
Fullerton, T., Sawain, C. and Hoffman, S. (2004), Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games, CMP Books, San Francisco.
Huizinga, J. (1971), Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, Beacon Press, USA.

Gamification…HR are slow so do they need help?

One area of HR innovation I am becoming increasingly interested in is in the notion of ‘gamification’. Gamification involves ‘the use of game elements and game design techniques in a non-game context’ (Deterdinget al., 2011, p9).

Whilst gamification is proving popular in many arenas, its use is slow to be adopted in HRM/talent management. This is not surprising. A Spring 2013 study and annual survey of 130 HR executives (the Global HR Barometer survey) by CapGemini Consulting revealed that the overall digital maturity level of HR processes is low and that HR is lagging in the use of digital technologies generally. They found that 75% of HR and talent managers believe their companies are behind the curve in the use of internal and external social networking technologies, with only 26 of Fortune 500 companies offering a mobile-optimized job application process and only 26% of talent acquisition leaders reporting that their organization uses workforce analytics well during the hiring process. Very few organizations have established best-in-class digital processes to interact with current and potential employees.

The CapGemini Consulting report takes a positive stance on gamification, reporting that such techniques incorporating the effective use of digital platforms can dramatically improve learning outcomes, and ‘enhancing employees’ ability to learn by as much as 40%’. NTT Data uses gamification to build critical leadership skills among its employees. Their “Ignite Leadership” game ‘enables employees to experience a variety of leadership scenarios and offers them the opportunity to learn more about new management subject areas and the role they aspire to. It allows them to collaborate online with their peers, get instant feedback and be recognized for their game — all the while increasing their visibility as potential leaders’ (2013, p5). Impressive results have been reported, with the “Ignite Leadership” game leading to a 50% increase in the number of employees taking up team leadership roles, compared to traditional training and coaching methods.

Let us look a little closer, though. NTT Data actually offers gamification processes to clients, so it is hardly surprising that they have success. Here is an item from their web pages:

Strong business performance depends on motivated and engaged stakeholders. That’s why adoption of gamification to boost productivity, encourage collaboration, and problem solve is on the rise. In fact, Gamification uses game design principles to modify or drive employee or customer behavior through meaningful incentives, a sense of purpose, and fun. Yet, for gamification to be successful, organizations must have clearly defined business objectives and a roadmap for application deployment and adoption.

NTT DATA can help. Our gamification team, made up of game designers, application developers, and behavioral psychologists, creates highly engaging experiences that can change the game in core areas of your business, including IT, finance, HR, and marketing.
We combine proven experience in enterprise IT strategy and development with innovative and creative insights about how to change behavior using game mechanics, such as leader boards that encourage friendly competition, points and rewards that motivate employees and customers, and avatars that encourage collaboration.

We work with you to plan and execute your gamification strategy, from objective-setting, game design, and proof of concept to the development and hosting of your gamified application, using our Ignite Game Platform.

Ignite is a robust and configurable cloud-based gamification platform that enables us to quickly configure and host a gamification solution that maximizes ROI for your organization.

So, once again, HR/talent managers behind the curve? We know there are reasons: HR is always seen as an on-cost so getting funds for innovation is difficult; current HR systems are not integrated well to other organisational systems; senior management get very nervous about social media and other technologies like gamification impacting on the employer brand and lack of data drive insights as the norm preclude innovative development of technologies for HR/TM (see CapGemini report for more detail, 2013, p6+). As we can also see from NTT Data’s blurb, developing HR innovation systems in areas such as gamification may revolutionise performance management and appraisal and other areas of talent management, but it takes a highly specialised, hybridised disciplinary team to carry out the design, development and implementation work.


CapGemini Consulting (2013) ‘Using digital tools to unlock HR’s digital potential.’
Digital Transformation Research Institute, dtri.in@capgemini.com. Accessed 5 February, 2014 at http://www.capgemini-consulting.com/resource-file-access/resource/pdf/digitalhrpaper_final_0.pdf

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khalled, R. and Nacke, L. (2011) ‘From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining Gamification’, in MindTrek ’11 Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, 28-30 September 2011, Tampere, Finland, pp. 9-15.

NTT data, company web pages on gamification at: http://americas.nttdata.com/Services/Services/Application-Development-Management/Application-Development-Management-Offerings/Offerings/Gamification.aspx

Salcu, A.V. and Acatrinei, C. (2013) Gamification applied in affiliate marketing, Case study of 2Parale. Management & Marketing Challenges for the Knowledge Society 8 (4) pp.767-790.