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Talking about gamification


One of my buddies and fellow SAP Mentor Ethan Jewett wrote a thought-provoking piece about a topic currently seeing a lot of hype (especially here on SCN): gamification. For a change – I mostly agree with Ethan that points, badges or achievements are not the silver bullet to keep people engaged or motivated. At least not in the long run!

I had my share of gaming (been slacking lately) and I spent more time playing on my Xbox the last couple of years than I would like to admit. My favorite game types are RPGs and sim-racing titles.

From my personal experience I can confirm that good storytelling and creative game-design is what keeps me engaged. One of my all-time favorites is Mass Effect: brilliant story and a great interaction design. What really makes the game special though is that it remembers the decisions you make throughout the game and there are multiple story lines, so no pre-determined path to trot down – but ‘find your own‘.

Another game that kept me up late at night has been the Forza Motorsport series. I spend a little fortune on hardware (wheel, club-sport metal pedals, …) and it got really competitive at some point. I even ended up co-founding a racing team with players from all over the world. We participated in competitions and started to take over the leaderboards just to get our team handle on there. As Ethan said, you can really make friends that way! What fascinated me about Forza was the depth of the game, the complex game physic, which made you actually feel the car (especially once you got a buttkicker!)

But I’m getting carried away here… back on the topic: gamification.

The thing that separates great games from the rest of the pack is just the right level of difficulty. I want to be challenged – not bored! The right level of difficulty results in the fact that people feel they have accomplished something. Take sim-racing for example… boy, I sure spend hours on a particular track with a particular car just to get the perfect lap. I mean, not the #1 time or whatever, but my own personal perfect lap. It felt like Zen… you repeat something over and over again, just to make it (as) perfect (as you can.) It sure was a dang good feeling once you hit that lap and got your name (and your team’s name) in the top 100 for everyone to see… Was that the motivating factor for me to spend all that time – to make it to the leaderboards? Sure not, but it added to it and it was a good feeling getting KUDOS from the rest of the squad (and the respect of the other players.)

So, no… you don’t play games for these achievements (well, some do!), but if done properly they add in keeping one motivated. Just like work… I mean none of us works for the respect of our managers or peers, but out of intrinsic motivation (if not, find another job!). Yet, it sure is nice to get a ‘well done‘ email once in a while.

Points, badges, awards, achievements (or any kind of perks for that matter) only add to the experience, but they won’t be sufficient to make you keep your long term motivation or engagement. Yet, sometimes they can be the trigger to make you try one more time or just a little harder.

See at Forza for example there are several categories of car classes and plenty of tracks. There are leaderboards for every possible combination and even roll-ups (e.g. all tracks for a particular car class.) Now, I surely ‘invested’ some time to pull off a somewhat decent lap in some of my less favorite tracks/car classes just for the sake of a good overall time. If there would not have been an overall leaderboard I may would not have bothered (and would have never mastered some of these tracks.)

Same with other games: if I was only missing one or two badges I completed the related missions, just so that I got a perfect score and I sure would have missed out on some great story plots if I would not have done so. Consequently I believe that gamification of the enterprise does work – to some degree. If you do not like your job, no gamification system in the world can motivate you (for long!) Yet, if done right (and in a clever way) it may just be the motivation one needs to go the extra mile.

Let’s take SCN for example: I do know of people who just wrote that extra blog to get ‘Active Member’ status. If there would not be such a status, they may would not have written that extra blog post (at that specific time.) To sum it up, gamification can work in the enterprise as it helps to encourage certain (wanted) behavior.

Example: assume we would have a ‘good citizen‘ badge on SCN, which people would get for marking correct answers on questions they raised. I’m sure we would see more questions being marked as ‘answered’. Now… would there be people gaming the system by posting questions so that they (or their buddies) can mark them as answered. Sure, there would. (All I can say to such people is “Common, get a life, folks!“) 

However, in total I think it would benefit the community as people would be more willing to answer questions raised by ‘good citizens‘. Add a ‘help a newbie‘ badge to make sure that new people have a chance to get their questions answered as well. [Insert your own badge ideas here!]

So – will gamification help us to get all the people contributing to SCN? Probably not! But it may help to make the whole experience more pleasant for everyone by encouraging certain behavior that is in the best interest for the community as a whole.

PS: Oh, and that ‘Journey‘ game sure looks interesting 😛

Credits: Free Symbly Gamification Icons by DigitalDelight (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License)

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  • Hi Matthias, great blog post! I also struggle to get more participation into our community and I also thought about a focus on gamification. Your argumentation in this matter is very straight forward. Thank you!

    • Thanks for joining in Jens! If you’re interested in the topic, make sure to follow Laure Cetin as she has been working on this topic for a long time and – from what I know – there’s ‘something’ coming in the near future! 😉

  • I have a lot of sympathy for both Ethan Jewett and Matthias Steiner ‘s point of view, and I guess my opinion falls somewhere in the middle!

    Points/rewards will never work as the _only_ motivator for somebody to do something well, but they do work as an encouragement. At least for some people. There are certainly people who have enough internal motivation to do something right and so don’t need points or other rewards. I suspect more of such people than would admit it still like getting them! And there are undoubtedly some people for whom rewards won’t make any difference. For most people, though, I think they will have some beneficial effect.

    The problem I have with using this system with SCN is that the points system is labelled “reputation” and is meant to mean something besides that you’re good at scoring points. It is meant to mean something in the real world. Making this a system that can be “gamed”, even encouraging that, is surely going to lower its value as a “reputation” system? I think “gamifying” (I do dislike that word) the SCN “reputation” system is risky. I’m not saying it can’t be done – I don’t know enough about these things to speak with any authority. I’m just concerned that it might make things worse.

    I’ll be watching with great interest when the forthcoming changes are announced…

    • Thanks for adding to the discussion Steve. I like your thoughts of SCN points as a reputation system and you are right – it is! The way I see it the gamification (e.g. via badges) is not supposed to replace the reputation aspect, but to help to encourage wanted behavior. One would still need to contribute with valuable content to gain ‘reputation’ among the community members, badges may help to mke SCN an environment where people still feel that their individul contributions are appreciated.

      But I’m with you… As every change of that magnitude it is not without risks. We should keep an open mind and take he right to improve the system over time in iterations based on the community feedback.

  • Really like your comparisism with racing games.

    I’m playing these kind of games since my first PC  (unfortunatelly “Forza” is not available for PC). There are really large differences in the “gamification” parts in these games, beginning with “it’s all a game” in NFS and “No, it’s not a game” in GTR Evolution where you have to motivate yourself to play along.

    • Hi Uwe,

      A bit off-topic, but let me just say that Forza’s physics engine is as deep as the one from GTR-E. They measure hundreds of data points running in 60 fps. Forza tries to aim at both casual gamers and hardcore racers alike. Achievements cater more to the former, while the physics engine caters to the hardcore gamers. Casual gamers can turn on assists and even my 4 year old can keep the car on the track then…. yet, hardcore gamers certainly are encouraged to drive w/any assists (manual shifting and clutch, no ABS.)

      Interestingly enough, there’s also a built-in ‘reputation’ system in the learboards as it shows the assists used to acieve a certain lap time. Sure was one aspect that made me learn how-to run 600hp race cars without ABS…. 😉

      So, maybe that’s a good comparison: achivements may help to encourage wanted behaviour for casual users, while for veterans it’s less important as a motivation. Does that make sense?



      PS: Would have loved to discuss that over a beer here at the DSAG Technologietage in person – you’re missed!

      • Also off-topic Forza has however become much more of a casual game as there is an increase push on “style-points” similar to project gotham instead of a focus on finishing races when they released Horizon.  For those people who don’t care about “how cool their moves” were and just care about finishing the race in 1st place it does lean the game more towards the casual gamer.  I will agree however that you can make the game as difficult or as easy as you want, and that is definitely a plus.  

        Take care,


  • Hi Matthias,

    I noticed the discussion you and Ethan Jewett had on twitter yesterday. Kudos to both you and Ethan for posting very interesting blog posts on the topic so fast. Some good thoughts on this difficult subject.

    Let me add my 2 cents:

    While a lot of games need (or thrive by) competition, a lot of them also don’t, and especially in an enterprise it’s very ‘dangerous’ to have people compete against each other. I would certainly leave this to ‘real’ games 🙂 .

    The same holds for points, badges and leader boards (PBL’s): while it might encourage some people, it can also discourage a lot of other people (“I won’t make it to the top 3/10/… anyhow, so why care…”). It has been proved over and again that extrinsic motivators like PBL’s can and will motivate people less over time, and here I mean less than they were originally before the introduction of the PBL’s! This is the discussion of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators Ethan refers to.

    I’ve written it before but it won’t hurt to do it again: if anyone is interested in this topic I can advise them to follow this Coursera course on gamification . I ‘only’ watched the videos, but came away with a much better understanding of what can work, and what the pitfalls are.

    So with all that in mind I’m (just like everyone else) very curious to see what game mechanics the SCN team will come up with, and how this will play out the coming period.

    Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences!

    Cheers, Fred

  • There is not that much reason that drive people to play games. The only and main reason in gaming theory is called ”the Flow”. When i am in the flow I stop to perceive myself, i don’t feel the time and i loose the feeling of the space. Suddenly I forget who i am, where i am, i am in inside the game. I am the hero of the game. This p phenomena also is also used in the ‘story’.If someone is telling me a nice story or if i am reading a good book, i can be also in the flow and have the same sensation.

    In order to reach this feeling the theory of gaming use few ingredients well known: a story, a challenge and a reward. If the challenge is not hard enough i feel bored and if the challenge is too hard i also get bored. The challenge need to be hard but in the same time i need to have the feeling that i can reach the final point, this is why the games are generally divided into levels. The reward maintains me in the flow and give me the feeling that i am moving forward.

    So about the gaming in the SCN community? Someone arrive register on the community, he is new and the first thing he sees when he looks his profil is 0 Points. What is his feeling about that? For sure one of his toughts will be  to gain points like the other members of the community. He has a feeling called jealousy. Is it useful? Probably!

    In one hand it helps the community to progress because someone who has zero Points will want to have points and will make efforts in order to change his statut. In the other hand What if happen if this person is capable but not able to gain points? Should we throw him out of the community?

    The concept of points, if it is not community goal oriented is very limited. For example if I reach a certain amount of points let’s say 100 000 points. You will remark something funny: after a while you loose the sensation of the points you are gaining or that you gained. It is as if they didn’t exist anymore. At this level you will need something else to drive you. Out of that you will feel bored and you will want to do something else. For sure the other community members will continue to be impressed by your score but not you anymore, at this level you need another form of reward. All the gamers know this feeling, after a while they don’t look and they don’t care anymore abou their score!!!

    Gamification is a very good thing if it is well used but it must be clear that we can’t detach it from the reward: it can be badge, point or anything else. For sure there is no game without a reward. Nevertheless the reward should go to an individual but it should be for the whole group because he was able to achieve a challenge.

    All the games are based on the fact that there is a winner and there is a looser, the competition between people. However more and more research show that the real success is in the collective intelligence. Meaning if you take a group of people working together, not in competition one against the other, but working together in order to achieve a higher purpose they are able to solve any problem even if they don’t have any knowledge on the topic.

    The idea is to bring people to the understanding that there is more force, more fun and more flow trying to connect the individuals of the community and that each member of the group has a specific role, a speficific ability as the elements of the human body.

    So if i take a group of people with a challenge for higher purpose, a common goal i can achieve any results that will bring the community higher. In this community, I don’t receive a reward because i am more talentuous or smarter than the others but because i am helping the community to grow, because i am helping the other to achieve their goal.

    This is what what is missing the whole industry of gaming and unfortunately our children are reproducing this model.

    Let’s hope that we will be able to give the example and convey this feeling and thought to the other communities. 😉

    Cheers, Terence

    • Thanks Terence for writing all this. You sure raise a lot of interesting points! I agree about “the flow” – yet at work I only get to that point when coding or blogging. Another term I heard for that is “the zone”…

      What I think is the common denominator from all the opinions raised is that at one point rewards or perks or ponits loose their power to motivate people and then there’s either another motivation factor that keeps people engaged or you loose them.

      Hence, the way I see it the SCN community would benefit from a bit of gamification that introduces an interesting way to onboard newbies. Through badges they would be encouraged to check out the possibilities and learn about wanted/unwanted behaviors through a gamified experience. Once they are passed that stage they hopefully see the bigger picture and the value it brings to engage with the community…



  • Hello Matthias,

    I like the way you have weighed different options on being motivated. But at last, I feel, it is still inconclusive about the impact of gamification aspects on an individual. Different people have different triggering events to remain motivated. In some interview I heard a celebrity defining success as ‘Recognition’ and on the other hand I have also heard success as internal satisfaction.

    Gamification is another hyped word now. I would agree that gamification would add to make a pleasant experience but at the same time I would be little skeptical to the extent gamification would change the nature of SCN. Thanks.



    • Hi  Kumud,

      I agree with you that people get motivated in different ways but I don’t think that gamification would do any harm here. If somebody is motivated by his/her very own inner satisfaction, additional outside recognition by rewarding them with gamification points should not influence them in a negative way.



      • Hi Jens,

        That’s certainly true, in fact that would be a plus, but I would be really interested to know if someone became active in the community because of gamification. Thanks.



        • Hi Kumud,

          IMHO it won’t be the (normal) case that someone who wouldn’t be active otherwise will all of a sudden become very active just because of gamification. However, by making for example the onboarding process easier and more fun (guided tour, easy points for starting out, completing profile, etc), you might just nudge them in the right direction. Same for someone moderately active: they might just get a little more active.

          In general, if you get only 10% of the members a little more active, it can already have a big impact on SCN as a whole. And that should be possible IMO.

          Cheers, Fred