Game Over: How Can We Avoid Failing at Gamification?


by Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson, principal consultant, Xerox Learning Services

Gamification is the art of applying game-like mechanics to business processes. This approach has gained popularity, and it sounds simple enough. In a recent Pew Research study, 53 percent of respondents projected that the use of game mechanics in learning will continue to gain ground between now and 2020. “Game mechanics” include feedback loops and rewards that spur interaction and boost engagement, loyalty and fun.

However, a study by Gartner paints a less cheerful picture about gamification’s efficacy: “80 percent of current gamified enterprise applications will fail to meet their objectives, due largely to poor design.” Making learning more fun and engaging for the end user is a great idea, but execution really matters. A solid framework is the key to success and achieving desirable results.

It’s a tall order to create truly meaningful gamification elements in learning design, but the most important concept is simple: Begin with the end in mind. Effective gamification of your processes involves:

  • Carefully design your framework before you implement.
  • Consider your audience. Are they highly competitive people? Lurkers or explorers? Socializers?
  • Measure your results. Apply the same concepts that apply to measuring the effectiveness of any learning initiative.

Considerations for Thoughtful Design

A well-constructed game framework should be strong enough to attract and engage all types of learners — not only those profiles like lurker or socializer, but people with focused needs or who desire a greater reward such as certification. Match your rewards with appropriate measurement frameworks. Here are some considerations that will help you create a thoughtfully gamified experience:

Measurement Framework Gamification Construct
1. Identify the end goal such as organizational, learning or HR. Completion means player will reach the end of a path and “level up.”
2. Assess criteria for success in reaching an end goal like participation, test score or performance measurement. Completion will earn player a badge.
3. Break that into a set of achievable milestones, usually constrained by an appropriate amount of time. (A few days or several months.) Equate this to a quest or a challenge.
4. Identify how to assess whether or not someone has reached each milestone:•       Do you need to observe them in action?

•       Is there a point-based quiz that will ensure they know what they need to know? What is the passing score?

•       Are the learners creating specific outputs that you can review and validate?

Players earn badge for each milestone achieved.
5. Use the assessment as a way to provide feedback. Player receives cascading information.
6. Bucket milestones into mini-goals. Equate this to quest, challenge, or levels along a progression.
7. Along the path, list places where additional information is necessary or useful. This becomes a part of “cascading information,” which ensures that you do not overwhelming the person with too much information at one time. Player receives cascading information.
8. Identify points in the journey where colleagues may collaborate. Players participate in shared or community quests or challenges.


If you’ve been working in Learning and Development for a while, you probably have a meaningful measurement framework. Now, you also have the tools you need to gamify learning with these constructs. Try it out on one program, see how learners react, adjust, and then launch. The results may surprise you.

Whether you’re in the process of gamifying your learning or identifying ways in which learning can impact your organization’s core goals, starting with a detailed framework is foundational to your success. Discover more about Xerox Learning Services, and how gamification can be used to enable learning success, at


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