Game on for Employee Gamification

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 5.10.32 PMWhile speaking at a recent HR conference in Las Vegas, I had occasion to meet Jane McGonigal, game designer, speaker, author, and probably the world’s biggest advocate for gamification, the idea of adding game incentives like points and prizes to non-game activities.

While within the HR community gamification is still catching on (I find a number of my clients don’t even know recognize the word) gaming, in all forms, is incredibly popular. When the latest Call of Duty video game was released in November, one in four workers planned to call in sick. Look at it from a productivity standpoint: The amount of hours it took to create all of Wikipedia’s content in 12 years … is spent every three weeks playing Angry Birds.

During Jane’s keynote speech, she cited the 2012 Gallup study that found that 71% of American employees aren’t fully engaged in their work, making it “impossible to innovate” and costing $30 billion in lost productivity annually.

It’s no surprise that she believes gamification can help. Evidently she’s not alone. A study by gamification company Gigya showed that gamification increases website engagement by 29 percent, website commenting by 13 percent, and social media sharing by 22 percent. Here are some recent employee gamification success stories.

Motivating Employees

Risk Management Services recently turned an internal re-branding into a trading card game. “Another email or intranet page just wasn’t going to get employees on board,” vice president of talent acquisition and employee engagement Amelia Merrill told IABC. “This contest was fun and different from anything we have ever done.” Merrill said the initiative was a “smashing success.”

Orientation and Onboarding

Recruitment marketing agency Maximum recently won a Creative Excellence Award for Best Interactive Media for its Deloitte China Virtual Tour campaign. Maximum virtually mapped Deloitte’s offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, allowing job-seekers to explore every department — and get a firsthand look at what working at Deloitte China is really like. More than 20,000 job-seekers took part in the tour’s game feature, Green Dot Mission, and shared their scores on China’s most popular social networks.

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Health and Wellness

Aetna recently partnered with social media company Mindbloom to create an enhanced version of Mindbloom’s Life Game, an online social game for personal wellness. Players grow an on-screen tree by attaining personal goals, ranging from health to relationships to finances. According to Forbes, activities include “substituting water for soda, taking the stairs to the office, cleaning your room each day, or simply thanking a friend.” Players earn virtual rewards while making progress in their real lives.

Employee Referrals

Just last month, Herd Wisdom launched Most Wanted, a mobile app that gamifies the employee referral process. How? “Every action — from choosing an avatar to sharing a job posting – earns points and get participants in the running to win giveaways from Herd Wisdom,” the company says. The game offers “instant gratification,” since employees can earn points and prizes before they refer anyone, and features funny animated scenes to keep them engaged. Mobile apps like Most Wanted turn social sharing and mobile gaming, which just about everyone likes, into a talent pipeline for any company.

Are you ready to gamify your careers site, social recruiting channels, employee referral program, or other HR initiatives?


Jody Ordioni is the author of “The Talent Brand.” In her role as Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Brandemix, she leads the firm in creating brand-aligned talent communications that connect employees to cultures, companies, and business goals. She engages with HR professionals and corporate teams on how to build and promote talent brands, and implement best-practice talent acquisition and engagement strategies across all media and platforms. She has been named a "recruitment thought leader to follow" and her mission is to integrate marketing, human resources, internal communications, and social media to foster a seamless brand experience through the employee lifecycle.


17 Comments on “Game on for Employee Gamification

  1. I’m curious as to how these organizers measured their success. What were their goals heading into these efforts? How did they quantify those goals? How did they measure whether they attained those goals?

  2. Steven, it seems that success was measured in different ways.

    The Gigya study showed an increase in website engagement, website commenting, and social media sharing. One can assume that these lead to an increase in sales or applications. Engagement and commenting keep the content on the site, but social sharing means that someone is broadcasting your content with their friends and family, which is a very powerful recommendation.

    Risk Management Systems’ trading-card contest had 25 “earned” winners, 5 instant winners, and 5 random winners. The VP of employee engagement said: “This contest was fun and different from anything we have ever done. Our culture tends to respond well to something completely new when it is done well.” Employees were trading the cards with their colleagues all over the world via email and SalesForce, which is pretty impressive engagement.

    Maximum defined success by attracting 20,000 job-seekers — and winning a CEA award.

    As for Aetna and Mindbloom, I found this from VentureBeat in 2012: “[Mindbloom Life Game] has grown to more than 50,000 registered users who have followed through on more than 1.5 million commitments to improve their quality of life. Users visit the site an average of four times per week, with an average engagement time of 14 minutes per visit.” Eventually, Aetna gave it away to their 36 million members for free.

    Herd Wisdom’s Most Wanted app only launched last month, so no results are available for it yet.

  3. Thanks, Jason. The kind of success that I think we should most value would be attracting qualified job seekers and/or retaining valued employees. Maximum attracting 20,000 additional job-seekers certainly fits that bill.

    But web site engagement, numbers of winners, registered users, time on site? I can see how those may translate into attracting and retaining talent, but shouldn’t the success of these games actually be measured by the attraction and retention? The goal isn’t that a lot of people play these games. The goal is to attract and retain talent. If the games are popular but that doesn’t lead to the attraction or retention of talent, then the games are a waste of resources.

  4. @ Steven: Well-said. IMHO:
    If it doesn’t directly lead to helping recruiters put more/better quality butts in chairs quickly and affordably, IT’S A WASTE OF OUR TIME… That being said, I know of an ER tool which incorporates gamification, and it does put more/better quality butts in chairs quickly and affordably.



  5. I hear what you’re saying, Steven. I still think the trading card game can be considered a success.

    I’ve worked at companies where just getting employees to participate in internal initiatives is difficult; some simply don’t care. RMS was going through a re-branding, which really needs buy-in from as many employees as possible. The fact that employees were playing the game with their colleagues around the world shows not just participation but collaboration and enthusiasm. And since the VP of Talent Acquisition and Employee Engagement says it was a success…well, she would know, wouldn’t she?

    I completely agree that if the games are popular, but don’t lead to higher quality of candidates or more employee engagement or whatever the intent is, then the games are not a success.

    It’s the same with social media — does it matter if you have a lot of Twitter followers if no one mentions you, or asks questions, or retweets you? I’d say no.

  6. No doubt that the trading card game and the others mentioned could have been successful. In fact, they could have been wildly successful. My question was simply whether that success was measured in a manner that would provide actionable information for the organization. Maximum’s measurement of 20,000 additional applications is an example of what organizations should do.

    This reminds me of the old adage that a typical advertiser knows that half of her advertising dollars are well spent but she just doesn’t know which half.

  7. Almost immediately after the first call centers became operational in the 1970’s, agent KPI’s were improved via gamification. Contact centers hold contests, offer games, update leader boards and award badges. Only recently have these practices been deemed “gamification” and proclaimed the next big thing. Gamification drives sales, increases customer retention, improves adherence, increases quality, eases the on-boarding process, reduces new-hire turnover, encourages the mentoring of agents, recognizes peers, collects more money, improves FCR and enhances numerous other metrics.

    The first to computerize gamification and offer it as a service was Brooks Mitchell (Ph.D.). Dr. Mitchell founded Snowfly in 1999, understanding that organizations should capitalize on the direct link that exists between behavior modification, consistent positive feedback and random intermittent reinforcement. Dr. Mitchell and the Snowfly team have spoken at numerous industry conferences, written white papers, case studies and published articles (many of these are available on the Snowfly web site and blog). To find out more about gamification, feel free to contact Snowfly.

  8. Thanks Robert.

    As said on 3/29:
    Whenever somebody blatantly self-promotes, aka “advertises” their product, service, or book in an article or posting here on ERE they have to give the first person(s) who notices it (and Todd and John Z, too) free use of it. If I’m the person, I’ll review it and write an article on it for ERE. I look forward to trying/reviewing your service very soon.



  9. Keith:

    I would welcome the opportunity to answer questions and discuss any of the results of 13 years of gamification.

    My goal is to set the record straight and see that credit is given to those who have been doing this for many years (self promotion was not my objective). In my opinion, most of the recent hype about gamification is from folks who have not done sufficient research or background. While it’s a new name, the concept has been used for many years.

    Please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

  10. Jody,

    I recently met Jane as well. I think she would object to the notion that she is even remotely interested in gamification (Adding game elements to activities that people would do anyway). She is a game designer (one that designs games in full). Yes, at first blush they seem like the same thing. However they really are different.

    She herself does not refer to her work as gamification. She designs games that have a positive impact or a larger goal. It is tough to fully explain in a short comment. Her book explains it very well (and does not use the word gamification).

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