5 Myths About Gamification Everyone Should Know

January 22, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

Gamification. Whether you know a lot about it or only a little, we now live in a world where it is almost unavoidable. Gamification is one of the hot trends of the new millennium, showing up in how we spend our leisure time, how we buy, and most recently, how we work. Companies use it to:

  • Motivate employees
  • Engage employees
  • Make work more fun


Despite all the recent attention, there is still a lot of confusion around gamification. What it is, exactly? How it should be implemented? What makes it work?  Many see it as a magic bullet.  After all, Gartner has predicted that by 2015, “more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes.”

But before you jump into gamification, consider this: Gartner has also reported that by 2014, 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives, primarily because of poor design. Too many people, lured by the siren’s song of gamifying, add a few badges and a leaderboard into their processes and call it gamified.

Paige Thelan, from the pioneering gamification company Bunchball puts it like this:

“ There is good gamification and bad gamification. Simply slapping badges on your site might see some initial positive results, but we’ve seen that ongoing engagement is only achieved through a well-designed and relevant program.” 

The truth is, it is not a magic bullet. Especially not when the goal is to engage employees with the company. What many people call gamification—points, badges, titles—is something else entirely, and sometimes, when businesses concentrate only on these trappings of real gamification they lose the underlying mojo that makes games such powerful motivators. It is imperative that we understand gamification—and what makes it work—before we jump into using it.

I’m going to get nerdy here, but, to that end, here are five myths about gamification that I hope will help you sort the good gamification from the bad:


Myth #1 –  Gamification is Pointsification:
Gamification can be unpacked into two different qualities, both found in gaming environments. One, which experts call “poinstification”, includes things like status icons and badges. (This is what many people mean when they talk about gamification.) The other, which experts like Sebastian Deterding call “ludification” (or playfulness) is achievement-based, and includes elements like skill-based learning and “big wins” that come from achieving something difficult, unexpected or arduous. Ludification is the more critical part about what makes games so appealing.

So yes, the first column in the table below contains many elements often associated with gamifying, but many of the most real and engaging benefits of gamification come from the second column. Do not neglect them in favor of the first!



Ludification (Playfulness)

  • Competitive
  • Badges
  • Scoreboards
  • Pre-set goals
  • Status Icons
  • Collections
  • Social
  • Skill-based learning
  • Self-directed goals
  • Achievement-based
  • Puzzle solving
  • “Big wins”


Myth #2 – Gamifying Anything Makes it Better:
Gamification certainly has many benefits. When done well it can increase production, build teamwork, motivate employees to achieve goals, create fun and enjoyment, inspire friendly competition and increase voluntary engagement. But when implemented in a haphazard way or onto the wrong processes—or focused only on “pointsification”—there is danger of:

  • Goals shifting to “winning” when winning isn’t what’s important
  • Cheating or “gaming” the system
  • Keeping thinking “inside the box”
  • Masking a flawed product or process
  • Fatigue–meaning stakes must constantly rise to be effective


Be sure that you make smart decisions about how to gamify that do not run the risk of negatively impacting your workers and their engagement.


Myth #3 –  Gamification Offers Motivation:
This is less a myth than a misdirect. Gamification almost always provides some sort of motivation. But the question here is, is it the right sort? Not all motivation is equal. Motivation can be extrinsic or intrinsic.



  • Rewards come from reaching pre-set goals
  • Workers work solely for that reward
  • Lack of reward results in demotivation
  • Not sustainable, causes reward inflation
  • Rewards are not expected
  • Satisfaction comes from personal sense of achievement
  • Can be more emotionally driven
  • Inspires creativity and out-of-the-box thinking


Experts agree that intrinsic motivation is by far more powerful and sustainable. In fact, extrinsic motivation alone can be outright demotivating. I experienced this first hand recently with my 3 year-old daughter. I was giving her a sticker when she did well getting ready for school. At first it worked, but soon she was asking for two stickers, and eventually wanted the entire book. Worse, if I didn’t offer her a sticker, she flatly refused to get ready at all. My system of reward was not sustainable. Conversely, in getting ready for bed at night I had employed a system of expressing my great pride in her when she got herself washed and ready for bed. Often I would accompany praise with a reward, but it was always unexpected. She beams with pride when she tells people why she got a sticker. It dovetails perfectly with her intrinsic desire to be “a big girl” and take pride in herself.  For more on this effect, you should check out Daniel Pink’s book, Drive.

But on the other hand, purely intrinsic motivation, with no reward at all, is also problematic. It can be so self-reliant and internally focused that it is disconnected from your company. It does nothing to further your relationships. It does not inspire emotional engagement with your employees (see below).

The best combination of motivator for business, therefore, is a balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. An unexpected reward accompanied by public praise is the ideal solution to ensure the right motivation with the right connection. Make sure a gamified solution does not focus too much on one to the exclusion of the other.


Myth #4 – Gamification is Engaging:
Games are engaging, so gamification is engaging. But once again, there are two flavors of engagement. Transactional engagement and emotional engagement. Only one encourages a beneficial long-term connection between company and employee.



  • Pay for performance
  • Does what is required as long as rewards are forthcoming
  • More likely to jump ship for a better offer


  • Attached to work and company
  • Desire to do more and get more in return
  • More likely to stay the course

When the CIPD looked at the two different types of engagement, it found that “Employees who are transactionally engaged report higher levels of stress and difficulties in achieving a work-life balance than those employees who are emotionally engaged. What’s more, transactionally engaged employees are more likely to indulge in behaviour which might actually damage the organisation than their emotionally engaged counterparts.”

Different elements of gamification map to different types of engagement. It is important to understand that the ways in which you gamify your solutions are tied to your company values and resonate with your employees. Do not allow your employees to be caught up in more transactional aspects of gaming such as competing for points or collecting badges, which might pull them off course.


Myth #5 – Gamification Must Have Badges & Points:
Yes, gamification can be built on points, extrinsic motivation and transactional engagement. But good gamification concentrates far more on ludification, intrinsic motivators and emotional engagement. That means a gamified solution can be gamified without ever offering a point, badge or status icon.

For example, at Globoforce, we’ve created a solution that is achievement-based and self-directed, that is fun, that incorporates emotional engagement, that relies on the optimum mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, and that is fundamentally focused on social interaction and relationship-building. Is that gamified? I would argue it is. Is it pointsified? Absolutely not.

 Gamification is a powerful force. But it does not begin or end with pointsification. To be used effectively, gamification must be thoroughly understood. Be sure your solution taps into the right motivators and the right sort of engagement for maximum effectiveness.

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