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Home / Resources / Why you’ll have to work harder at gamification in the…

Why you’ll have to work harder at gamification in the…


An interview with leading gamification consultant Pete Jenkins.

“I live and breathe gamification and apply it to anywhere it can be useful,” says gamification consultant, Pete Jenkins.

As the Chair of GamFed, the international body for gamification, Jenkins is playing a leading role in fostering best practice in the use of gamification in business.

He lectures in gamification at the University of Brighton and runs his own gamification business, Gamification+.

In this special interview for #gameweek, Jenkins discusses how L&D can make a case for gamification, where it fits into 70-20-10 and how different generations respond to gamification.

Do you think businesses and organisations have accepted gamification as a learning technique?

The short answer is, yes.

The businesses I come across have heard about it and are even implementing some sort of gamification in learning.

Gamification and learning return more than 1.5 million results in Google. That is a lot of people paying a lot of attention to the subject. I think businesses have generally accepted gamification as a learning technique. They can see that increased engagement in their learning is going to help it be more effective.

I do find businesses tend to think of gamification as a game or simulation and are still  unsure about what gamification actually is. But I think that is fine because it always starts the right sort of conversations.

Look at the work of Marigo Raftopoulos from the Strategic Innovation Lab in Australia. She has done research on over two hundred corporate case studies of gamification. One of the interesting things that came out of her study was that corporates see gamification as including serious games, simulations and playful experiences.

Personally, I think gamification is simply about learning everything we can from what makes games engaging.  So right now I'm looking at how we can learn from the massive success of eSports and translate that across into learning.

What barriers are there to the adoption of gamification in learning?

There are certainly some barriers but I don't think the word itself is a barrier, which it used to be.

A lot of people have tried it now but sometimes there are poor results from their previous attempts. Maybe they have chosen the wrong approach to the content. Perhaps they have gamified the platform when maybe they should have been doing gamification of the content. So we have to overcome bad experiences from previous attempts.

Another barrier is not doing enough to understand the player types or the key motivators of your target audience. You can spend effort on the least relevant game mechanics or not including enough game mechanics to make it relevant and enjoyable for everyone. If you don’t do all that it can make it much harder to create a successful project.

What areas are seeing the biggest impact from gamification?

Anything involving engaging and motivating people. But seriously, I'm beginning to see it have a strong impact in projects aiming to engender culture change across an organisation. Such as when the only way to win a game built for the project is to play it using the new cultural motifs.

There is a great game, that's very topical at the moment following the Panama Papers scandal. It typifies how you can use a game to highlight culture change and how you can make decisions under the new culture. It's called the Stairway to Tax Heaven.  I'm obviously not designed to be a tax cheat. I had to play the game loads of times before I won and 'offshored my wealth successfully'.

I’ve also noticed a big impact in short learning engagement, such as adding gamification around new product launches, to kick-off sales events or around cross-selling.  I like the statistics from a competitive quiz app in Spain called retaME.

More than 35,000 people have used the game, answering more than 8 million questions. Generally, the game only lasts for five days because this type of engagement works best over short periods. The average knowledge increase for players is 30 percent. Interestingly, 80% of players end up playing outside of work hours with the most common playtime between 11pm and midnight. Now that really shows how fun and engaging this type of gamification can be if people are playing in their own time.

How can L&D prove the link between gamified initiatives, learning outcomes and business results?

Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to track your key metrics before and after the gamification is implemented. It sounds simple enough but most projects I see don’t track the metrics before the introduction of gamification and after it has been in place for a period of time. They get very excited about the gamification and just launch into it which means it’s really difficult to do the comparison.

Three years ago, I came across an example for Yapi Kredi Bank, one of the biggest banks in Turkey. They wanted to train their counter staff in the products they should be selling.  After getting the employees to play it over a number of weeks, cross-selling went up by 12 percent across the bank. They also saved thousands of hours on in-person training so they made great cost savings.

Video: Pete’s top tip for gaining business buy-in for a gamification project

Do the different workplace generations respond differently to gamification?

It’s a really interesting question. The answer is that gamification works on everybody but people are interested in different games.

Some research recently discovered that the older generation tends to enjoy strategy games while the younger generation enjoys action games, such as first person shooters. However, the study revealed that younger people also like strategy games. If you put your effort into creating a strategy game then you are going to be able to please all the generations.

I think the appeal of strategy games is that they not only give you time to think but you can also apply your experience to them. So as you get older, a strategy game can actually become more interesting.

I’ve also done some research on Generation Z, using my own university students. An interesting and consistent finding across all the students I have interviewed is that while technology is important to them it is also making them more socially awkward and anxious.  For Generation Z, I think we need to be designing more in-person social interaction game or events as well as the online stuff.

If the workplace becomes increasingly gamified will gamification lose its value?

I don’t think gamification will lose its value but instead every element of our work and jobs will get more and more engaging. I think it’s going to be great.

The caveat would be that poorly executed gamification is going to be less effective and you’re probably going to ignore it if the other systems that you’re using are more engaging. So if you have something really important to get across, and everything else is gamified, you’re going to have to put more effort and attention into it.

At the moment, I think it is really easy to make a great impact using gamification but it is going to get more competitive really quickly.  If they are well-designed, more trivial elements of gamification such as feedback, badges and levels can be highly effective.

If you don’t believe me, play Cookie Clicker for a short time (although you will end up playing it for longer.) You can see an analysis of the game on our blog. It’s very engaging even without the higher motivations of meaning, purpose and autonomy.

Where does gamification fit into 70-20-10 learning?

To my mind, too much energy and resources are going into the formal training versions of elearning. The 70-20-10 model for L&D illustrates some of my thinking behind this when it says that:

  • 70% of workplace learning and development happens from ‘on-the-job’ experience.
  • 20% of workplace learning happens from feedback and by watching others.
  • 10% of workplace learning happens through formal training (classroom events, elearning, downloadable resources) and reading

Are we being truly effective if we are putting more than 10% of our resources into elearning?  We should be looking at gamifying the actual job roles and on the job training.

For the 20, that is where I am looking at what we can learn from eSports. For the 70, I am looking at applying game mechanics to the job in ways that give you a safe place to fail.

Video: Pete on where gamification fits into the 70 percent of the 70-20-10 learning model

Are learning designers being taught how to use gamification effectively?

It depends who they are learning from.  If they are listening to people like Karl Kapp, Andrzej Marczewski or Yu-kai Chou they are going to be doing the right things. Perhaps, they could look at some style-driven approaches.

I like Michael Wu’s data-driven approach or Gabe Zichermann’s engineering-driven approach, which is all about trying stuff out and seeing what works in order to replicate successful results every time. As long as they are looking at human-centred design and what’s going to motivate people to be engaged and learn, I think learning designers will be on the right lines.

They also need to look at the research going on about how to apply gamification practically. For example, the EU-funded Beaconing Project run by Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab. You need to stay open-minded to all the results and research. We’re going to be getting better and better at gamification and your learning will need to stand out from all the other gamified aspects of the workplace.

To find out more about Pete Jenkins and connect with him visit