DOs and DON'Ts of Gamification

Gamification, which applies behavioral science to foster engagement and desired behaviors in customers or staff, has evolved from niche concept to an ROI-generator enabling numerous benefits. Despite its buzzworthy status and proponents, it still has its skeptics.

For Matthew Beucker, program development manager, groups and meetings for InterContinental Hotels Group (, the use of the word gamification itself yielded some valuable operational lessons. “Using words like engagement and interactive increased the perception of productivity; ‘gamification,’ was seen as ‘playing’ on the job,” he explains. But he calls gamification the “secret sauce” in the company’s online educational portal, which successfully leverages Bunchball’s ( gamification software to motivate sales staff to voluntarily engage with training content aimed at understanding small group opportunities in various vertical markets. Use of recognition and rewards — including the ability to incorporate the real business they win — fosters deep engagement and a community of experts to share ideas, says Beucker.

Done well, gamification can really deliver. “It’s probably been the single biggest change I’ve made in terms of acceptance in the last two years,” says Jake Joyce, VP casino marketing at Palms Casino Resort ( “We’re really starting to use it and play with the opportunity to move the needle.” In a February test, Palms earned a 13+% redemption rate using OfferCraft ( software to offer a spin and win game at a Las Vegas Chinese New Year street fair, with prizes collectible on property. Half the participants were brand new.

While gaming is nothing new to a casino, the ability to leverage a digital gamification platform in marketing has made all the difference, Joyce says. “You can change a theme, skin it differently, change the offers to impact probability, do A/B testing,” he says. “You get the game out faster and more efficiently, and you can measure more effectively.”

As much fun as gamification can be, it’s easy to get it wrong. Following are five do’s and five don’ts to ensure that a strategy will be a perfect 10, yielding real benefits and ROI.    

DO your homework. Gamification is based on game mechanics. Working with gamification experts is the best shortcut to effective games, but understanding psychological principles such as intrinsic and extrinsic rewards helps in setting goals and KPIs. Octalysis Group ( calls it human-focused design: Good games are based on one or more of eight core human drives including accomplishment, ownership and social influence. It’s also about helping the user feel competent and appreciated.

DON’T isolate gamified content. For some applications, gamification works best when integrated into real systems, such as registration and check-in, according to Cognizant ( Gamification may not be as effective when users have to check progress in a separate portal. One Cognizant retail customer flashed a green face when POS associates completed a scan in the target timeframe, driving transaction efficiency up 30%.

DO apply analytics to refine and improve. IHG learned via analytics that content needed to be tailored to each region’s work style, and how game rules needed to be modified for fairness. “How users react may be different than you think,” says Beucker. “These programs generate a lot of data that helps us better understand and improve.”

Analytics can also help personalize the gamification experience, says Cognizant, since people are motivated by different things. Newmarket ( restaurant customer Prime Brands at CARA (, which includes such franchises as Swiss Chalet, Milestones Grill + Bar, Harvey’s, Kelsey’s and more, customized challenges, goals and rewards for achievement for each associate based on role.

DON’T think game creation is child’s play. It’s hard to create a game that delivers sustainable engagement. Kronos ( says good games are clean, fun, not overly complicated, give users a reason to come back, and offer rewards. In its approach, Badgeville ( cites research from University of Pennsylvania that says key ingredients are play, purpose and potential.
Badgeville and Paytronix ( concur that understanding the target audience is key to making a game they will respond to: Why do guests visit? What motivates these employees to do their best?

DO make rewards meaningful and sometimes, random. Badges and points are meaningless unless the user base sees it takes real achievement to earn. When users invest time, the value increases — this is known as the endowment effect.

When building gamification into a housekeeping app to motivate and shape behavior, Newmarket discovered that women, who tend to hold most of these positions, respond better when progress toward team goals is recognized. Leaderboards failed with this group, but may work in male-dominated positions. Sometimes recognition and non-tangible awards are much more valued than a tangible reward, which takes away from the intrinsic satisfaction of doing a job well, Newmarket learned. Surprises work well, too. Consider this reward example: “You just cleaned the thousandth room! You get first pick of shifts next week.” Octalysis says such unpredictability helps keep games fresh.

Adding gamification to workforce management gives feedback and behavior reinforcement to restaurant and hotel workers who often don’t get any, making it deeply meaningful and effective at driving desired behavior, agree Kronos and Workjam (, which layers onto workforce management software.

DON’T go with cheap and inexperienced. Signs of an inexperienced gamification partner, according to Bunchball include: They produce games very quickly, prices are very low and solutions are not tailored to business goals or KPIs. A good provider offers strategy, analytics and technical services, on a scalable, device-agnostic platform (typically SaaS) that includes activities, monitoring and opportunity for correction. Some games require integration with CRM, POS, content management or other systems, so look for open APIs.

DO set clear goals, such as targets for increased visits or reduced absenteeism. For Paytronix customer The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille (, it was increasing guest activity in between big game nights. The 38-unit eatery incorporated games into the loyalty app that invited guests to create brackets or answer questions about an upcoming game, increasing visits by game-players 89%, and they spent 58% more than other guests.

DON’T make these four common errors. OfferCraft says this quartet of mistakes is often what tanks projects: forgettable games that don’t offer choices; overly complex games; lengthy enrollment/login; applying gamification to serious (eg., billing error) or frivolous transactions.

DO check with experts and lawyers before you deploy. Generally speaking, chance-based games or those requiring the participant to spend money necessitate an alternate entry method. Skills-based or those with a pre-determined outcome usually do not, according to OfferCraft.

DON’T underestimate the potential of a gamification strategy when applying these do’s and avoiding the don’ts. When La Quinta ( used LuckyDiem ( to ignite interest in the brand through a spin-to-win game marketed to existing loyalty members, the compelling gameplay incorporating brand amenities info and the fact that most spins delivered small rewards paid off in a multitude of ways. According to LuckyDiem, members shared the game socially, adding 5.3 new members for each existing one; sales life was 206% versus a control group; and the brand saw a 252% ROI, with new memberships driving future bookings.    
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