18 October 2018

Just press play: how gamification can make work, work

In a recent Ciphr webinar, Marcus Thornley from Play Consulting explained how gaming principles can supercharge employee engagement by simply tapping into three key human motivators


Rachel Wakefield

Rachel Wakefield

Rachel Wakefield was a copywriting specialist for Ciphr in 2018-2019.


Employee engagement Strategy culture and values Technology


In a recent Ciphr webinar, Marcus Thornley from Play Consulting explained how gaming principles can supercharge employee engagement by simply tapping into three key human motivators

As an HR professional, do you find improving performance is hard work? One that’s even harder when employees feel disengaged or feel negatively about their job? Then you might want to consider incorporating gaming principles into your HR initiatives. Marcus Thornley, founder of of Play Consulting – which creates gamified software for workplaces – says playing games can measurably improve engagement and happiness, and he can prove it.

But, what does this buzzword, ‘gamification’, mean? According to Thornley: “Gamification is about harnessing game mechanics and experience design to engage and motivate the achievement of personal and business goals.”

It is crucial that HR professionals consider both the personal and business motivators when considering introducing gaming principles to initiatives, he adds. “It’s not that the business goals aren’t important, they are clearly important, but unless you can deliver experiences that absolutely focuses and gives value to the employee, and deliver against their personal goals, you haven’t got a chance of ever delivering against business goals.”

If you feel that a gamification solution is a trivial answer to your people engagement problem, think again. In a survey about out-of-office gaming habits, conducted during our webinar, more than two-thirds of HR professionals said they had played a mobile game in the past month.

Thornley believes there is value potential in leveraging these gaming habits in the workplace: “There is a whole generation that has been ‘gamified’ from birth – they are our colleagues, our customers, our suppliers, our children. People are increasingly receptive to the trigger, the stimuli, from these very quick, reward feedback loops that are pioneered by the incredible devices that we all hold in our pockets.”

So how can HR teams capture the magic of games, and use those principles to influence people’s behaviour? Thornley’s answer is simple: tap into what makes us humans tick.

“Gamification is not particularly new. It’s as old as the hills. But digital has super-charged it and made it instantaneous. And by being instantaneous, it’s more powerful. In a gamified digital experience, you do something, and that reward feedback loop is instantaneous; it’s the shortness of the distance between action and reward that makes the whole experience so much more powerful in driving habits and forming behaviours.”

He adds: “At its core, a game gives you a measurement of self. It gives you some sort of self-insight in an environment that is so engaging that you want to optimise around that self-insight, so you progress and get better. In games, that measurement really could be trite: you could be playing FIFA and it could be as pass completion, or how good you are swapping candies in Candy Crush. The general notion is that if you can measure something and you can put it in an environment that’s appealing and motivational, you can then drive the self-optimisation of that measure. This notion of using measurement in a fun way to improve yourself is core to a game.”

The bespoke products Thornley creates do not focus on fighting bosses, flying spaceships or building cities, but the digital tools or the in-game currency used to measure human interaction do include gaming elements such as XP, badges or leadership boards, which encourage employees to alter their behaviours – whether that’s taking up more healthy habits, or improving the quality of their data capture.

Although industry experts tend to talk about ‘gamification’ Thornley – who previously worked at EA Games – says he prefers to talk about the ‘games mindset’. “Successful games deliver three components to users: they deliver high degrees of user autonomy; they deliver high degrees of user mastery; and they deliver high degrees of purpose. These three fundamental human motivators are very important in the games and experiences we build – and also very important in the workplace culture that we hope our experiences drive.”

Thornley says that gamification can really help drive the cultural agenda forward and HR, as opposed to IT, is the most natural leader for gamified initiatives. “Organisations have to start seeing culture as a strategy and I don’t believe you can deliver a business strategy if you haven’t got a really high-performing culture. If the games mindset can drive engagement, deliver habit formation and behavioural change through driving new user levels of autonomy, master and purpose, then what HR should be doing is using gamification to push the cultural agenda forward. You don’t need to commission a bespoke software product – you just need to find the element of fun that will engage and motivate your workforce to unlock business success.”

Want to hear more from Marcus Thornley about gamification at work? Hit play to watch the on-demand webinar below now