Behavioral Science

Use Video Game Mechanics to Improve Your Business

by . September 22nd, 2014

In his TEDTalk, Seth Priebatsch, owner of SCVNGR, said that the next step after social networking is gamification. He said that the world is almost as socially connected as it can be, and only minor and cosmetic improvements can be made. He said that the next step was to apply game mechanics to everyday life to rekindle with the productivity that was stolen from us.

Gamification works. The only reason why it’s still a niche idea despite years of research put into it is because a lot of people don’t take it seriously. Once you add “game” to anything, stigma defines it as fun and not professional. But the theory is sound. You see it everywhere from Summer sale periods, to promotion openings at work, to even the last day of Ramadan for Muslims. Raids, quests, and events to give you valuable loot and extra experience to level up in life.

So it got me thinking. We have all these things like HabitRPG and Classcraft that can lead the way to improving small aspects of business through gaming, but there hasn’t been a system to wrap a whole company in an immersive gamified setting.

Seth noted that there are 7 basic features to make a game, but only noted four. There was also a pack of cards that got released by SCVNGR on game mechanics. Like many others, I presumed that Seth had lied about the full number, and that there were actually 47 mechanics just as the cards in the deck. However upon inspection, I noticed that most of the cards were actually facets of more core properties. Thus, in addition to the four he stated (which I will touch on in a bit), I deduced the three others. Note that they might not be correct and it’s all just calculated speculation.

Here are the seven (deduced) game theories and how you can apply them to your business for improved productivity.

Appointment Dynamics


Imagine that if you reading 50 pages of books everyday, you’d be rewarded with new stuff. And as you gain a streak of consecutive days of reading those 50 pages, the prizes would grow better and better. Imagine how much more productive you’d be and how much more skills you’d have.

Appointment dynamics basically means that if you follow a routine, whether it be watering your veggies in Farmville, or finish your daily quests in an RPG like World of Warcraft, you get stuff out of it. I noticed that certain tasks are easier for me to do if they don’t follow a deadline, but rather a fixed schedule. It makes me more productive. Instead of thinking that I can do it later, I tell myself that this is the only time I’ll be able to do it. Maybe it’ll work as well for you or your employees.

Also, it might help that you not only punish tardiness, but also award time management. And it doesn’t have to be money. Actually, that’s almost always a bad idea for a motivator. Instead, provide little things, like an hour’s rest, or the privilege to bring a gaming console to work, or even unblocking a favorite website. Even brownies would be cool. Since you’re awarding responsibility, distractions like these shouldn’t be detrimental. And if they prove to be, then you could always take them away. Except if they already ate the brownie. That’d be gross.

Influence and Status


As you go through certain games, the amount of things you can do to influence the world increases, whether it is a game mechanic, or simply your skill alone. Background characters start calling you hero, you discover creative ways to get around a problem, and you produce much more gold than the tiny amounts you did at the beginning of a game.

In the real world, this is seen in things like moving on to college or getting a job promotion. However, we can’t be lashing out things all the time. You can’t have a team of 1,000 managers and no entry level workers. Instead, you could award people who have proven themselves over time by giving them more influence on things like the topic of the next brainstorming, or ideas for themed Fridays (e.g. silly hat day). Be creative and fun. People will love you for it and it will give a longer lasting impression than a few dollars more in the paycheck.

Progression Dynamics


Progressing through a game not only means an increase in wealth and power, but also a deeper connection with the story and the community. This is what makes games special. You cry when the inkeeper that found you dies, or feel relieved when you save the little girl who kept you smiling. You delve into the world as a second home, understanding things like history, religion, and geography.

Unlike the previous two properties, progression dynamics does not give you a physical prize. Instead, the prize is love and passion. Remind your employees on how much you’ve gone through together. Show new ones the community they can achieve. If your business seems boring, create the excitement. Be the story. And I don’t mean make more sportsfests. I find them cheesy and intrusive. Find smaller ways to build camaraderie. Make jokes. Invite people to the movies. Treat your employees as if they were your family.

Communal Discovery


If you search online for a game, perhaps Destiny, you’ll find a huge number of threads composed of lots of people sharing their discoveries. Whether it be a faster way to get through a game, or hidden surprise details, or even a personal way of dressing up a character, people love showing off the little things that make a game bigger than it actually is.

In a business, you’ll have a hierarchy of positions. You’ll have your juniors, your seniors, your team managers, your senior managers, etc. And some businesses have the terrible habit of not letting the people with lower jobs make a change. Not only is this less productive, but it’s also inefficient. Why have 10 people think, when you could have 300 instead? Finding new ways to work makes the daily droll more exciting. And what makes this even better is showing off what you have learned for both communal improvement and self assurance that you did something great.

Free Lunch


Now we’re delving into the three properties that weren’t stated specifically by Seth, but rather I deduced them.

The definition of free lunch here is not literal. Instead, it means people getting something because other people’s work. It’s like how Groupon makes certain things cheaper, because a number of other people bought them. This motivates two different types of people in specific ways. The person that payed before the discount is motivated by doing something good for the hopes that people would pay it forward. The person that payed after the discount is motivated by cheaper stuff.

Stuff like this has to be planned carefully, or you’ll get people complaining “Why do they get it for free, when I did all the hard work?” To avoid this, you have to make sure that the work was fulfilling on its own, and that you (the free lunch manager) has been transparent since the beginning. Another good way to do this is by giving the early birds bonuses that the late ones don’t get.

Another example of this is Kickstarter. Even though everyone gets the prizes they paid for, the bulk of everyone’s contributions gets translated into stretch goals that even the people that didn’t pay anything attain. And because the stretch goals are so game-changing, people want to donate more so that they get something tons better than the original product in mind. Thus people are not doing free lunch for others, but also for themselves.

Disincentives and Avoidance


Just as much as we want to attain certain things, we want to avoid other stuff too. Losing life, losing gold, getting frozen, going down in the leaderboards, etc. However, some would argue that this can be very unnerving. So how do you get rid of all the negative stress that comes with punishments, but keep all the positive stress?

You make it fun. Or rather balance the seriousness with the fun. Don’t make a punishment more serious than it should be, and if it’s not that serious, make the punishment not that serious either. When I was in high school, we’d serve detention by doing squats or polishing the floor. But the teachers would make it fun as well. There was this really talkative guy who would get a book from the encyclopaedia on his arms every time he spoke too much. Soon, he got the whole volume for a few seconds, and everyone, including him, laughed and treated it as a slapstick comedy. When we’d wax the floors, we’d sometimes over wax places, so we could slip and slide through the room. After the end of detention, the teachers would reassure us that even though we were punished for not doing homework, it was all still in good faith.

However, be warned. If you make it too fun, you end up creating a cult of people that like punishments and don’t take them seriously… which happened once in second year high school. Reassure the punishment and tailor the seriousness towards each individual and their current train of thought.

Another thing to note is that in games, punishments tend to be swift and severe, yet short-lived. They give you the ability to start again right away and don’t bring you back too far. This lets the momentum and passion stir inside you with the coals are hot.

Blissful Productivity


You’re at work, and you say you’re really tired. However when you get home, what do you do? Sleep? No. You go to things that interest you more. You go to Facebook, play with the kids, go shopping, whatever. And with these things, you spend so much more time than you do being productive at work.

In another TEDTalk by Jane McGonigal, she states that a Wolrd of Warcraft player can play for 22 hours a week after a full days work. That’s as much as a part time job. Being a gamer myself, I can say that that number is really REALLY tiny. I know people who seem to be able to balance their responsibilities with their addictions.

Anyways, back to the topic. Blissful productivity means that humans are inclined to like hard work over stagnant rest. As lazy as we can get, we love knowing that we can do something important. And being lazy doesn’t mean you don’t want to do it. It means that you’re sure that there’s a way more efficient process you just haven’t discovered yet, and that you’re adamant to it. However, people are more productive, when they see and click with the progress. Meaning in order to make people more productive, you have to show each individual the possible success in a way that clicks with them automatically. Let them love the project in their own way, and solve it in their own way.


When we were kids, it was obvious that intertwining life with game mechanics made life more fulfilling, productive, and happy. Why shouldn’t it at our age? Are we too addicted with our own image that we can’t have fun with serious things anymore? Use game mechanics to make worklife less sterile and more efficient.

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