Gamification - pros and cons

Written by Geoffrey Isla on 11 July 2014

Hi everyone,

Wondered if you could help. I know gamification can be effective in increasing engagement but I wanted to gauge user perception. What are the pros and cons for you? Be interested to hear about experiences too.



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Submitted on 11 July, 2014 - 11:14

Hi Geoff,

Gamification in terms of Health and wellbeing as very little Cons. The only cons that I could point out is the product not being right to the client or end user.

Moving on the the pros, starting with engagement, motivation, team spirit , social fun....and most importantly personal health improvement. 

Please note that I am only referring to Health Gamification, a growing area that I am interested about. Geoff check ( this is the product that I am referring to ).

All the best in your endeavors.

Joao Bocas


Submitted on 11 July, 2014 - 12:04

Hi Geoff,

Interesting question that I've had cause to think about recently. Where I work, our internal social learning platform has a couple of gamified features and functions, so I've recently been able to enjoy looking at gamification from the user's side.

Quite honestly, my colleagues and I were sceptical about the difference it would make to our engagement with the platform. We are all familiar with the concepts and tactics gamified systems often employ, and we assumed that having some intellectual knowledge around that would insulate us from the effects of it. 

Of course, we were wrong!

The one feature that seems to get everyone's attention and has had a real impact on behaviour is the platform's leaderboard - basically, you earn a certain amount of points for certain types of interactions within the platform. The more you engage, the more points you get, and the higher up the leaderboard you go: dead simple.

We thought this would have little effect on our actual behaviour, but actually it sparked off a lot of friendly competition between small clusters of people in the office that has really driven people to get involved more. If you see yourself dropping down the scoreboard list and being leapfrogged, there's always lots of conversation and banter between the rivals, and a renewed flurry of learning activity as people look to earn more points and regain their position.

Colleagues who barely spoke to one another before are now involved in these amicable micro-competitions to see who can learn the more and develop their skills the fastest, which itself represents a positive shift in the company culture. People are finding connections and common intererests that no-one knew existed before, which is throwing up lots of interesting ideas for collaborations, and it makes selecting individuals to form teams to work on new projects much easier, and more evidence-led.   

This has had one particular unexpected benefit, in that people from diverse areas of the business are suddenly becoming involved and aware of the work that their colleagues are doing - casual knowledge levels between different departments have really improved: it seems that everyone knows what everyone else is doing (business-wise!) these days, which has made it a lot easier to get people aligned to the same goals and objectives, aiding internal comms generally.

One aspect which I think helped is that on our system your leaderboard position is displayed relative to the person immediately above and below you. This reduces the risk of blowback - it's as easy to demotivate people using game techniques as the reverse, because if you see yourself being left behind relative to others, the temptation is to stop playing altogether.

But the way we have our system configured, even if you're right at the bottom of the list, so to speak, the UI just displays your own position and the people immediately above and below you on the scoreboard, so your progress is pegged to a relative measure of where you stand, which means any efforts to advance by earning more points has an immediate visible effect of your own standing.

It's easy to get embroiled in contests with the people on a similar level to yourself, and the competition this inspires has lead to certain people rocketing up the league table and finding themselves in a new rivalry with a whole new set of people! The cycle continues...

Sorry, I'm going on a bit...! I guess what I mean is this: I was extremely sceptical of the benefits of gamification before I became a regular user of one, and now I think of it as one of the most important features - in terms of stickiness and engagement - that our learning system provides.


Submitted on 15 July, 2014 - 08:59

Nice topic Geoff.

I was going to write out my own interpretation but I thought the following pretty much sums up my thoughts:


Why Gamification?

  • Entertaining. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply to training materials. Just because you send your sales reps home with training aids, guides, booklets, and maybe even access to online tools doesn’t mean they’ll want to use them. You could be wasting serious time and effort in training supplements that sit on the shelf or fail to rack up site visits and clicks.

With a gamification approach, you make routine tasks or learning a bit more enjoyable. If users want to play the game you’ve created, then you’ll keep their attention and interest while reminding them of what they learned and how to apply it.

  • Portable. In the not-too-distant past, a trained employee’s primary option for brushing up on their new knowledge and skills was to either directly apply those on a regular basis (which still yields the best results) or refer to guides and manuals from the training session. That might be okay for a very organized and disciplined person, but most people aren’t.

Training guides, manuals, and text books aren’t portable. When packing for a business meeting or trip, how often have you thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d better bring my training binder along to peruse on the plane”? Perhaps a quick-tip guide or pamphlet, but they are two-dimensional and contain limited amounts of detail.

  • Competitive. Is there a more competitive role in the workforce than sales? Draw on your sales reps’ natural competitive instincts and peer pressure to drive accountability, and reward the right behaviors.

Games by nature usually have a winner, loser, or at least some type of leaderboard to identify the best players. Use that to your advantage to coax your sales reps into playing the game. With progress of individuals, teams, or both made public, your sales reps won’t want to be the one dragging down their group. Of course, the competition should be in good fun and shouldn’t be used to shame or penalize players.

  • Managerial Insights. When your employees are participating in a gamified learning experience, managers can observe how often sales reps are playing and how successful they are. You can quickly identify those who are struggling and not advancing at the expected pace, those who aren’t playing at all, and those who are excelling at it. This enables managers to know where to spend their time in helping some while appreciating experts. These insights would be difficult to observe with sales reps using self-help guidebooks.
  • Rewards. The only thing sales reps might like more than a good competition is a valued reward. A key ingredient of any game is a reward — not only for finishing or winning, but also for achieving higher levels and making progress. Bragging rights among sales reps or sales teams might be enough, but consider investing in real, desired rewards for the best individuals and teams. Providing an incentive to perform well will ensure that the players play the game, thus exposing them to their learned content and extending the life and ROI of your training.

Cons of Gamification

  • Lack of Strategic Connection. You need to examine your objectives and decide if it makes sense to gamify the activity. Hopefully, the training program was relevant to your sales reps’ jobs and can be easily connected to your overall strategic goals and objectives. (If not, then you’ve got bigger issues.) If you can’t make those connections, then don’t bother with gamification and go back to the drawing board. Sales people are smart, and they will see through it and quit playing.
  • Frequency. Like anything, if you overdo it, then you defeat the purpose of the exercise. You don’t want the game to take over your sales reps’ activities and priorities. It shouldn’t be in their face distracting them away from their job. You don’t want a sales rep to fall behind because you’ve tasked them with playing a game too often or for too long.

Establish limits on playing time. The last thing you need is to get your sales reps hooked on your company’s version of Solitaire or Angry Birds. The best solutions allow users to quickly access the game, make their move, and then get back to their job. Like Richardson’s QuickCheckTM, this should occupy just a few minutes per day.

  • Quality. You can tell when a website hasn’t been updated since the last millennium. The same holds true for gaming. Don’t waste your time creating the next Pong — your sales reps won’t take the game (nor you and your objectives) seriously. In those situations, it’s no longer entertaining or competitive but rather coercive.
  • Budget and Resources. This is an extension of quality but deserves its own heading. If you’re going to do something, do it right. So many companies get dragged down into the rabbit hole on the losing end of “build versus buy.” Just because you have an IT department doesn’t mean they have the time, expertise, or resources to create an effective, high-quality game to supplement your training. Easily nine out of ten companies should buy from an experienced vendor that has kept up with the latest, ever-changing technology and can adapt your game for desktop, mobile, and tablet




Submitted on 16 July, 2014 - 10:27

Hi Geoff,

For me, pros: 

Aids your technological literacy

More fun and engaging





Can have adverse effect on learning

Social isolation

Shortened attention span


I think it boils down to how you use it. LIke many things, it's good in moderation. I'd advocate but would be wary of how i'm using it.




Submitted on 21 July, 2014 - 09:35

I turned up a couple of resources that might be interesting here:

This whitepaper gives a good introductions about how to use 'gamified' techniques in learning and development solutions.

But this blog post takes it to the next level - a video gamer's perspective on innovations in storytelling and user engagement that games designers use to make their games so addictive and intuituve to play, but could easily be used in other arenas...