Why gamification works - process creation

Why Gamification Works? Part 1: Process creation

Gamification Creates Process

In order to work efficiently and stay motivated, human mind needs a few things:

  1. It needs to know the goal: what needs to be done, how it can be done, and why it should be done.
  2. It needs to know that the task is not infinite. Ideally, the time of completion should be known and not too far in the future. Tangible representations of progress are the second best thing.
  3. It needs to know, rather than expect or guess, what the outcome will be. The results should be predictable and beneficial.

Most real-life tasks don’t meet these criteria. In a grocery store, there is a seemingly never-ending stream of customers, and the task seems infinite. In an office, the physical or digital paperwork keeps piling up, and it takes a moment to remember why each document is important. In a recruitment scenario, there is usually no way for candidates to tell if their applications have been met with enthusiasm, if they’ve made a good first impression, if they meet recruiter’s expectations, and so on. When running a business, we know we need to turn profit, but how exactly do we do that? Where do we start? How do we verify that our strategy is working?

Dealing with these difficulties takes time and effort. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, we are distracted by the need to reassure ourselves that performing it is a good idea. Gamification solves this problem. Gamification is a productivity measure that removes emotional and mental barriers between the person and the job.

Traditional productivity tools aim for the same result in a static manner. For instance, SWOT analysis is an efficient procedure that helps make sense of a complicated business situation, but it’s completely blind to the actual problem we’re trying to solve. We need to fill in the blanks on our own. Performing a SWOT analysis is a skill that takes time and practice to develop.

Gamification is different in that it adapts to our behaviour. It tracks our actions and responds accordingly. It guides our learning process.


Programmers create software in a series of discrete steps called „commits”. Each commit adds a small improvement to the software or fixes a mistake. Programming is a highly involved activity, so when programmers finish a commit, most of them take a break. It helps them recover from mental strain. However, when they’re back from their break, it’s not easy to get „in the flow” again. Which task should they deal with next? Can they get this commit done before lunch? This tea is so good, so why not have another one?

To our advantage, all commits are performed through a dedicated programming tool. We can gamify it in three steps:

  • We introduce a fun activity triggered by a commit. Instead of switching to Facebook or going to the kitchen, the programmer can take a break within the tool.
  • We design the activity in such a way that the break doesn’t take too long. Crucially, when it ends, it gives the programmer a very strong sense of closure. This makes the break feel much more satisfying.
  • At the end of break, we immediately follow up with a clear, prioritized list of things to do that the programmer can choose from. Thus we make the tedious task of choosing the next programming task as simple as possible. The programmer immediately realizes what to do next, how to do it, and what the outcome will be.

Common mistake:

In the gaming community jargon, successful games are often called „addictive” rather than „compelling”. This results in a popular misconception that gamification is a form of conditioning. The truth is gamification can only be successful when the user retains a sense of agency. Games are all about doing awesome things, and not being told what to do! The relationship between the game and player is like a race driver – pilot team. Even though the driver usually does exactly what the pilot said, the car is still being driven by the driver, and it can go faster that way.

In the next article I’m going to show you how gamification creates engagement.



Published by

Justyna Wojtczak

CEO and Co-Founder of GetBadges, a Polish start-up that created a revolutionary motivation system which transforms your work into a game. Through GetBadges, development teams can play a game at work and at the same time improve their performance. The result is an increase in employee motivation and more engagement in IT teams.

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