Three different types of Gamification in Learning: Peripheral, Intermediate or Core.

When we talk to our customers – business leaders and HR executives – we often hear about the fatigue that training programs bring to the employees as programs get viewed as an additional ‘task’ versus as an enabler to the existing ‘tasks’ at hand.

As a means to help employees ‘switch off’ from their work, but still get learning content that is personalized for their role, gamification of learning has proven to be a very effective approach.

But has gamification affected or created a major sense of accomplishment among end users, much like completing a world in Super Mario Brothers would, or a challenging Mortal Kombat round will elicit?

Gamification has of late become an overused word that has influenced several industries and disrupted traditional business workflows. As with any relatively new technology or approach, it’s important to sift through the noise and identify what are different types of gamification.

Three Aspects of Gamification

When we view various business applications, the most common manifestation of gamification tends to be incorporating points, awarding badges and showcasing leaderboards. The PBL (or Points, Badges and Leaderboards) phenomenon has hit many industries and business applications – from travel and food apps to SaaS based applications like CRMs, Collaboration tools, etc.

While PBLs are essential to a gamification approach and can often be the easiest aspect of game mechanics to include, they aren’t comprehensive. It’s little wonder then that even after incorporating great animations and user experience, the fundamental incorporation of PBLs do little on their own to drive user behavior.

When we think of the elements of gamification, PBLs can be thoughts as the peripheral aspects of gamification. By peripheral, we mean easiest to implement and most applicable across a broad spectrum of industries and business processes. So sales teams can incorporate PBLs to drive their CRM usage much as logistics & delivery firms can incorporate PBLs to hasten delivery timelines. Incorporation of PBLs is also a relatively less risky implementation given it’s high applicability.

The limitation, however is that PBLs by themselves do not induce a fundamental gaming environment for the end user. Taking the same examples above, incorporating badges and leaderboards to recognize sales people will not necessarily make selling to customers a game like experience – it’s a very real experience that drives a company’s topline. Similarly, delivering shipments to large businesses or end customers cannot become a gaming experience for the same reason.

To further make the gamification experience appear more game like, other features such as time, lives and rewards need to be incorporated. Think of these elements as the next phase of gamifying a business process and making the gaming experience more authentic. Like any game, a function of time fundamentally brings a sense of accomplishment of a goal which otherwise would appear more open ended and less likely to be close looped. For example, a critical business process with a turnaround time of 24 hours has a fundamental time component built into it which can make the gaming experience appear more real, in addition to the inclusion of PBLs.

Similarly, the aspect of borrowing lives via friends like in Candy Crush can also be extended to examples of collaboration across many businesses. A major hospital chain can build recognition to its oncology team by encouraging each doctor to share new publications from medicine journals with the entire team. Such social rewards, when tied in with time and PBLs can create a rewarding and sustainable gamification experience.

Elements like time, social sharing and lives can be viewed as intermediate gamification as they build on the motivating factors of PBLs. Even still, in isolation of a core gaming element, intermediate gamification may fall short of a truly gamified experience.

So to fully incorporate gamification, we have to include the core element of an authentic game-like experience… A game!

This is often the hardest and most difficult aspect of gamification to incorporate since you cannot create a sales role or a sales plan into a game, much like providing a customer experience cannot be recreated as a fundamental game. By it’s very definition, core gamification or incorporation of a game limits its applicability to business processes.

By definition, a game would need to have a closed loop which despite being repeated over and over again, would provide a fun and rewarding experience. The simpler the loop the more intrinsically fun the game would appear as is evident from the popularity of games like Candy Crush, Tetris, Snake, Angry Birds, among others. All these games incorporate a simple loop which is played over and over again with enough variations to make for an exciting and sustainable gaming experience.

Hence, a truly gamified experience would need to have a game or series of games as it’s core building block around which the intermediate and peripheral elements of gamification would reside.

By it’s very nature, education has become a huge target for gamification as the nature of learning fundamentally overlaps with principles of gamification.

Learning is a rewarding experience – complete a level, earn more points and feel you’ve achieved something substantial.

  1. We learn when we make mistakes – lose time, lose lives and hence startover till you don’t clear the level.
  2. We learn more in a social setting – play against each other or play to complete a level faster than your peers or play as a team to defeat an AI opponent.

This type of synergy allows learning specialists to re-engineers their learning curriculum to incorporate all three elements of gamification – core, intermediate and peripheral. Learning and development executives as well as business leaders can better leverage training initiatives if such elements get baked into their learning content thereby allowing employees to switch off and play games while learning as a by-product of the gaming experience.

Here’s to the best sales person or customer care executive who completed all the levels of Mario Run while consuming relevant sales and customer service learning content during the experience!