Enjoying work – what is game-rivalry

The notion of game-rivalry is becoming more and more popular also in respect of business. We asked expert and pioneer of this strategy in Poland about „injecting some fun in things which we should do but which certainly do not please us”.
Paweł Tkaczyk, MIDEA
Paweł Tkaczyk, MIDEA

The youngest generation of employees – the one which used to be define as Z letter, are people who have been using new technologies during their whole life and their main entertainment were computer, TV and telephone games. Therefore, it is not surprising that strategies known from games are more and more often used in real life, including work.


We managed to talk about application of game-rivalry in every-day functioning of a company with Paweł Tkaczyk, author of such books as Zakamarki marki and Grywalizacja (first book on the Polish market which deals with this phenomenon). Tkaczyk gives lectures in the area of game-rivalry at many universities in Poland and he is also the owner of MIDEA company which is engaged in creation of strong brands.


What actually is game-rivalry? Which strategies does it use and by which principles is it ruled?


The game-rivalry is a trend in marketing, HR, politics, or education – it consists in a change of human behaviors with the usage of mechanisms known from games. The theory is related to crossing of three disciplines: behavioral psychology, design of loyalty programs and games. 


The strategies and rules of game-rivalry are very simple and they are based on theory devised by Daniel Kahnemann, who received Noble Prize from economy for modelling processes, thanks to which we make economic decisions. Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky (American psychologist, author of i.a. cognitive bias theory; devised together with Kahnemann a prospect theory – ed.) considered that two systems in brain are responsible for making a decision: system 1 (automatic and autonomic) and system 2 (aware). We do many things in our life only because a force of habit is driving us which is quite comfortable. For instance, we set up our alarm-clock in the evening in order to get up to work (it is a kind of decision which is managed by system 2) but instead of getting up… we push a „Nap” (it is a decision which is managed by system 1). System 1 is „driven by fun” but it does not understand logical arguments like „you should resign from smoking”. Therefore, the game-rivalry is injecting fun in things we should do but which certainly do not please us.


How may game-rivalry be used in internal areas of a company?


The game-rivalry is based on creation of incentive, motivation to repeat activities which do not please us. There are many such things in work – starting with punctual coming to work, filling tables in CRM system, and ending with participation in training courses. The game-rivalry has something to offer in each of these areas and… employers frequently use it. 


Which aims does an employer achieve thanks to implementation of elements from games in functioning of a company?


For instance, it can make that employees will remember certain stages of a good service of a client – we implemented such system in one of the banks. Therefore, they can strive for achieving the highest efficiency rate (like amount of received calls in a call center) because the award motivates them to do it. The prize does not have to be tangible – it is one of many problems that we have to explain before designing game-rivalry. The games have two kinds of rivalry: internal (fun from playing) and external (prizes). Good programs based on game-rivalry do not distribute iPads or trips abroad. First we have to build some fun from playing, and then we may try to add something extra. And it works. A director who brings a coffee in the morning to one of the computer programmers through open space is a prize from „status” category – it works well when it is noticeable to others and it does not have to cost a lot of money.


How can an entrepreneur start implementing rules of a game-rivalry in a company?  


The basic mechanism of game-rivalry is something which is called feedback loop. Our system 1 works in a way that it is driven by „happy hormones”. If a dopamine is released, it is „do not do it again” signal. If there is no dopamine, we did something wrong. Therefore, the feedback loop brings this model to a real world – we award people for performing a basic action. Unfortunately, the designing of a feedback loop only seems to be easy but actually it is not. At the moment of implementing game-rivalry, we devote most of our effort to its defining. The basic action has to be clear (we say that it is „binary” – conditions of „winnings” and „losings” have to be ease and unarguable) and feedback has to be by all means immediate. What indicates that a certain employee, for instance a computer programmer, is effective? The amount concerning lines of a code which he hands over? The amount of mistakes which are „closed” by him within a day? It turns out that both factors are undue simplification. On the other hand: how to convey information to an employee out in the field  that he did a good job? The measure of success is very often far away in time concerning a task. We have to think creatively. For instance, we proposed some prizes in one of the companies in the form of… traditional cardboard playing cards like those we used to collect in our childhood. It is a great idea that really works.


Which companies mostly use these rules of game-rivalry? Could you give us some examples concerning application of this method?


We often notice game-rivalry in educational companies (game-rivalry applied in training courses), HR activities, call center and IT. The last one uses game-rivalry, for instance, to orientation program for new employees. Instead of assigning HR specialist to them, they use a game, in which a „new person” has to visit concrete places, talk to concrete people and acquire some skills. Such exploration is much more pleasurable in comparison to assigned protector. This method is also more and more often implemented in financial institutions, where it is used to make procedures of a client’s service more attractive. The bank for which we prepared game-rivalry strategy aimed at procedures of a client’s service won the Polish nationwide ranking which measures the service of a client. So… it works.


Will these rules bring about a deliberate effect to each company? 


If they are well designed – then yes. The mechanisms described by Kahnemann and Tversky are very universal, these are our private instincts. B.F. Skinner, one of the pioneers in behavioral psychology, devised some schemes of rewarding while working with pigeons and mice. Cats, monkeys and… people are driven by the same schemes. People of course have a reason which is able to suppress these instincts, however, we cannot deny that we feel a liking to some good game-rivalry actions. The problem is often a story – the game has to be separated from a real world. The companies are afraid of it so they frequently apply game-rivalry in the very „half-hearted” manner – they order their employees to collect some stamps, which is not particularly nice. And if it is not nice, certainly it will not work.


Which mistakes we should better avoid while deciding on game-rivalry in our office?


First and foremost, one should be careful with offering prizes for performing some basic actions. Two things are happening in that moment. Firstly, employees are building the loyalty towards a prize, and not towards a game (they are playing for iPad and they do not care if it is fun or not – when they win iPad, their motivation is brought to zero). Secondly, the handing over of a prize makes that authors of a game mislead engagement (for a prize) with fun (from a game). In effect, such game is expensive (one has intend many awards for it) and not effective when it comes to building the loyalty.


It is also worth mentioning that there is a distinction between prizes granted for effort and prizes granted for achievements. The school accustomed us to the idea that prizes are entitled only to the best ones. It is quite demotivating for the majority who is mainly constituted of nonentities. A prize for effort is something that it is entitled to everybody for performing a certain effort – if you run a marathon and you cross the finishing line, you will certainly get a medal. The fact of receiving this prize depends purely and simply on the amount of the made effort, so I am the person fully responsible for it. The prize for achievements, in turn, is depended on the effort of… others. Accordingly, if I run a marathon in my best life time, I have no guarantee that I will be on the podium. Why? Because others may be faster than me. The designers of game-rivalry are very often focused on prizes only for „the best ones” (so: in comparison to others) instead of prizes for those who did what they were expected to do.


Which status does game-rivalry have in Poland? Has it already established here?


I think that we are more or less in the place where social media used to be in somewhere around 2010. People know that there is something like game-rivalry. The curious ones are trying to have a hand in it, however, more often we notice that something does not work (because it was amateurishly designed) than it actually works. It is like a company fan page on Facebook – when we asked people in 2010 why they have it, they answered: „because it is the right thing to do” or „because other people have it”. There was no real knowledge that would allow to measure the effectiveness of these activities. At present, most of companies may answer easily that Facebook is not so necessary anymore. The same situation is with game-rivalry. The companies aim to it but before the knowledge and experience grow strong, at least one, maybe two years have to pass… There will be devices available on the market which will support the implementation of game-rivalry. Actually, they are currently being produced. Then, the levy in mass will start.


Thank you for conversation.

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