Gamification at Work by Janaki Kumar & Mario Herger – Book Review

Gamification at Work is a new book designed for practitioners to introduce people to implementing gamification on an enterprise level in the workplace. Through promoting best practises from user research, the book aims to avoid the bad design which apparently will cause 80% of current gamified applications to fail. Here’s what I thought.

I’ve previously discussed some of the problems with gamification created by generic implementations of the mechanics and a lack of insight into the player. This book aims to avoid these issues by promoting a UCD inspired “Player Centred Design” methodology, taking advantage of the techniques from user research to create more engaging experiences. It goes into depth on techniques such as personas and mapping the player’s journey, to give practical insight into how to successfully design a gamified system.

The book also draws upon a wide range of psychology research, to justify why player centred design is important, introducing concepts such as Bartle’s Player Types, Csikszentmihalyi ‘s work on flow and research into player motivation. Although covered at a high level, these prove to be useful groundwork for someone new to user research. The book then looks at how these insights can be implemented through specific examples such as points, leader boards or leveraging social relationships.

Because this is a book about gamification in the workplace, it also has thought about its audience, and provides specific insights into some of the logistical challenges of a work-place system, including ethical issues around cheating, and legal constraints, for example if someone’s points go missing. I like how the book uses examples throughout, linking the techniques and mechanics discussed with real world examples such as frequent flyer programmes, or the game Zombies, Run! (despite getting the title slightly wrong!)

An advantage of this book is that it promotes gamification as an on-going strategy for the workplace, rather than a quick “add badges and it’s done” solution. The Player Centred Design methodology champions monitoring the system once it has gone live, and using iterative design for optimisation.

Gamification in the workplace seems like a difficult topic, as there would undoubtedly be a huge number of challenges in getting ‘buy-in’ for a major enterprise level implementation. This book does make some good steps to help this, such as identifying and disputing some myths about games (i.e. gamers are only teenage boys), and the benefit of getting an executive sponsor for the project. However it seems like a practical implementation would have many more logistical and social challenges, and so there is some potential to develop this subject further.

The book is also very short for what could be a very extensive topic. This does make it very readable, and the book can be covered in just a few sessions. However there is also a risk that by only taking high level overviews of very rich topics the reader may come away with a superficial view of gamification best practises. The book does take some steps to address this through providing lots of high quality references – although primarily useful as a starting point, this book will help someone new to user research find where to explore deeper into the subject.

The book is available in print, however is also available under the creative commons licence and can also be accessed early in a free online version here

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