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Gamification and using game mechanics: a brighter future?

Blog posts | 04.05.2021

Brian Bell

Content Scriptwriter at Kineo UK

It was circa 2011 when the term ‘gamification’ first began to gain traction in the learning & development world. The buzz around the application of gameplay elements in non-gaming settings prompted numerous Ted Talks, a sold-out ‘Gamification Summit’ in San Francisco, a glut of books on the subject of gamification and bold claims about how it was going to revolutionise employee engagement. Then there was the inevitable backlash, typified by a widely read blog entitled ‘Gamification is Bull****’ by an influential and sceptical games designer, Ian Bogost.

A decade on and we’re dealing with a global pandemic which has employers justifiably concerned about levels of motivation and engagement in their dispersed workforce and how this is affecting productivity and resilience. So, do these difficult times provide gamification with the opportunity to really come into its own, get learners more engaged with workplace learning and prove that its more relevant than ever?

Let the games begin

Kineo’s Chicago-based Director of Content Development Brian Beverly has been well-placed to observe gamification’s evolving role in digital learning in recent years - not to mention how it’s been frequently misunderstood. “I think the term ‘gamification’ implies that it’s a ‘game’ which probably led some in our industry to dismiss it and call it a ‘fad’. The reality is that it’s not about playing a ‘game’ but rather about using ‘game mechanics’ to add powerful tools to learning and tapping into the data-rich gamified interactions. Now more than ever, clicking next to continue just isn’t going to cut it for learners and we think game mechanics is a vital tool to better engage them.”

For organisations who want their workplace learning to be as engaging as it is instructional, using these game mechanics allows them to get into the grey areas that exist between correct and incorrect, while also adding an element of ‘risk’ and ‘consequence’ when learners are tackling multiple-choice questions.

“It’s getting way beyond learners’ responses being simply right or wrong,” says Brian. “We can now collect data such as ‘confidence’ from how much someone risks before answering a question. Using subtle mechanics like this makes the learner’s experience different and personalized to their own experience. I’d say this personalization aspect is one of the biggest strengths of gamification."

Gamification: substance over style

As for the suggestion that gamification elements are often included in a course just to make clients feel they’re getting the most state-of-the-art digital learning experience, Brian is adamant that Kineo never uses gamification for gamification’s sake and always bases their approach on four key principles:

1.       Start with clear goals, needs and motivation of employees.

2.       Design for results instead of just building content.

3.       Focus on behaviours that drive performance.

4.       Achieve all of this via focused and engaging learning techniques.

Before applying these principles, Brian stresses that identifying and defining the target audience is essential: “The more we start to interview and test learners, the more we can understand if gamification would work for them or not,“ he says. “As well as motivating employees beyond clicking ‘next to continue,’ we can gather more data using gamification than we can with simple multiple-choice questions. This data can be highly valuable but for any gamification solution we’re going to offer, it’s vital that it aligns with the client’s business objectives.”

To make gamified solutions more affordable, Kineo has spent over a year developing a plugin tool that gives designers a great deal of flexibility in devising ways to award points for learner interactions and question responses. The tool enables the gathering of endless pots of information and the tracking of factors such as ‘time’, money” and ‘client satisfaction’, to cite just a few examples.

“We developed our tool to remember how you answered one question early on and have it impact a question much further down the road of your experience,” explains Brian. “We layered in a ‘badging’ element that also allows you to ‘collect’ things during the course, triggered by the game mechanics. We realise that not everyone’s competitive and would rather collect things and simply express themselves rather than moving up a leader board.”

So, with Kineo having already invested in the tech behind their plugin, they’re now able to offer it to clients at a very affordable cost. This shrewd investment has also made Brian very optimistic about the future of gamification: “What we’ve developed is only as limited as our imaginations are at any given time. It allows us to be innovative for years to come which is a tantalising thought.”

If you want to know more about deploying game-mechanics to create personalised learner experiences, our team are here to help.

Brian Bell

Content Scriptwriter at Kineo UK


Brian has been writing creative digital content for Kineo since 2017, and his work helps enable businesses globally to improve performance through learning and technology.

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