Assessing the Effects of Gamification Applications and its Benefits for the Workplace

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

30 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables

1 Introduction
1.1 Objectives of the Thesis
1.2 Structure of the Thesis
1.3 Theoretical Foundations
1.3.1 Gamification and Related Concepts
1.3.2 Flow
1.3.3 Motivation Theories

2 Methodology

3 Effects of Gamification Applications
3.1 Display Progression
3.2 Providing Feedback
3.3 Engaging Behavior
3.4 Overview and Discussion of Results
3.5 Preliminary Model for Gamification Effects

4 Conclusion
4.1 Limitations and Future Work


List of Figures

Figure 1-1: The Flow Channel (based on Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)

Figure 1-2: Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory (based on Lee, 2007)

Figure 3-1: Preliminary Model for Gamification Effects

List of Tables

Table 3-1: Classification of selected Gamification mechanics (based on Schacht & Schacht, 2012)

Table 3-2: Overview of relevant Gamification mechanics and their effectiveness.

1 Introduction

At a time, when enterprises and companies struggle with low levels of engagement and motivation but games are as popular as never before, it is not surprising that the answer and cure-it-all to those problems seems to be Gamification.

Gamification is the use of game elements in non-game contexts and promises to transfer the astonishing ability of games to engage people to the workplace (Deterding et al., 2011).

The reason for the recent emergence of Gamification is the transformation of the nature of work and the workforce itself. The design of enterprise software has shifted to a new era that largely focuses on what is pleasurable (Schell, 2010). This shift in focus is due to millenials, also referred to as digital natives who have just started to enter the workforce and have different expectations, attitudes and skills compared to previous generations. Millenials have grown up with social media and mobile technology and prefer to use the same technology at home and at work (Kumar, 2013; Schacht & Schacht, 2012). In particular mobile technology for mobile devices supports the development towards a playful and intuitive interaction (Korn et al., 2012). As digital natives are used to this kind of technology they engage and interact differently with each other in the workplace (Hiltbrand & Burke, 2011). In order to engage and motivate them, companies have to change their traditional ways of interaction. Gamification is one of the first steps towards this change and seems to be the answer to what is pleasurable to people (Schell, 2010).

As Gamification is a fairly new topic, there is few research on its effects so far (Deterding et al., 2011). Gamification is said to motivate employees and engage with customers at the same time and even though there is little proof for this assumption, learning theory works in favor of it (Kumar, 2013). The number of papers published on Gamification has grown significantly during the last years, but there is no clear understanding about which overall results they yield and under which circumstances those are valid (Hamari et al., 2014). As more and more companies implement Gamification mechanics due to its promising concept, its success has to be measured reliably.

1.1 Objectives of the Thesis

To find out whether Gamification can fulfill the expectations or whether it is really “on the way to the peak of inflated expectations” as Gartner puts it in its Hype Cycle report (2011), this thesis will examine various Gamification mechanics. It will answer the underlying question: Do Gamification applications have the potential to motivate and engage employees sustainably?

1.2 Structure of the Thesis

Before this question can be answered, the thesis will introduce the concept of Gamification and provide background knowledge about related concepts and underlying theories. It will then go on to describe the research process which was conducted to assess the effects of the different Gamification mechanics. In the following the relevant Gamification mechanics will be identified, defined and the results regarding their effectiveness presented. A discussion will display the connections between those mechanics and their relatedness to motivation, flow and engagement in a preliminary model.

1.3 Theoretical Foundations

The theoretical foundations behind the concept of Gamification are crucial to fully understand Gamification itself, where it evolved from and where it is heading.

1.3.1 Gamification and Related Concepts

Games are fun. This is the core and most important element that Gamification applications try to replicate. They try to make processes and tasks fun that are usually not enjoyable, not very challenging or even dull. A motivating effect is tried to be reached for those monotone tasks by implementing game elements in non-game contexts (Deterding et al., 2011). Therefore the main objective of Gamification applications is to replicate and invoke the same psychological experiences as games do (Hamari, 2013).

Gamification is defined as an “umbrella term for the use of video game elements to improve user experience and engagement in non-game services and applications” by Deterding et al. (2011). Singh (2012) focuses more on the purpose of Gamification applications and states that Gamification is about using game mechanics for achieving organizational effectiveness. This organizational effectiveness should be obtained by enriching the user experience in typical work applications, create enjoyment, fun and work satisfaction in order to improve employees’ participation and motivation to deal with unattractive tasks (Aparicio & Vela, 2012; Thom et al., 2012). In other words, organizational goals should be reached by intertwining them with employees’ interests. Those interests, needs and desires are met by the implementation of Gamification mechanics and the hereby provided extrinsic and intrinsic incentives and rewards (Koch et al., 2014; Singh, 2012).

Gamification is often lumped together with serious games, edutainment or game-based learning, even though the concepts differ from each other considerably. There seems to be confusion about the boarders between the concepts and about their exact meaning. This confusion evolves from the fact that most of these concepts make use of game elements to make tasks or learning enjoyable, but pure entertainment is not their purpose.

First of all, games are the base of all other game-related concepts below and are described as “contests in which both players and opponents operate under rules to gain a specified objective” (Cruickshank & Telfer 1980, p. 76). Games can cover an assortment of genres, take place in a variety of settings and with a variety of characters and thus take on various forms and functions (DeRouin-Jessen, 2008). Their purpose is pure entertainment and they are completely separate from real life and usually absorb a player’s full attention (Michael & Chen, 2006). Here lies already the most significant difference between games and Gamification. The goal of Gamification lies usually outside the game context in the real world, where real-life problems need to be solved (Schacht & Schacht, 2012). The second difference lies in its purpose. Serious games are generally associated with games for purposes other than entertainment and include the following aspects of education - teaching, training and informing (Susi et al., 2007; Michael & Chen, 2006). They are defined as “a mental contest, played with a computer in accordance with specific rules that uses entertainment” (Zyda 2005, p.26). Serious games and Gamification therefore serve the same cause. However, a difference can be observed in the way that the two concept approach their aim. For serious games, the “serious” part of the game has to be subordinate to the story in order to avoid interference with the entertainment element (Zyda, 2005). On the contrary, Gamification implements game elements in a totally different context to make this context more fun (Kapp, 2012). The overall context or goal is the main component here.

(Digital) Game-based learning applications are sometimes considered to be very similar to serious games. Game-based learning is said to improve training activities through engagement, motivation, role playing and repeatability (Corti, 2006). Digital game-based learning serves the same cause but concerns only digital games and is a response to the changed learning patterns of children and adults today (Susi et al., 2007).

Edutainment is a combination of the two words education and entertainment and was not as successful as serious games. It refers to education with entertaining elements, but is usually associated with video games for educational purposes in pre-school contexts (Susi et al., 2007). The main focus of edutainment is on the mere transfer of knowledge through the teaching of facts and memorization. Game elements appear often as motivating rewards after the learning itself has been done (Koch, 2014). Edutainment can be differentiated from Gamification in so far that edutainment tries to convey knowledge in an instructive but still entertaining way, while Gamification tries to motivate employees to solve problems outside of the game context.

A distantly related concept is e-learning, which is rather general and describes computer-enhanced and computer-based learning, interactive technology and usually distance learning for adults (Hodson et al., 2001). E-learning concepts can usually be compared to online courses as they try to make knowledge available for people within a few clicks. Hereby enjoyment of the learning process is no explicit aim.

1.3.2 Flow

The flow theory by Csikszentmihalyi (1975) introduced a condition of total concentration on a specific task. The theory is widely accepted to be one of the reasons why people play games (Xu, 2011). Xu (2011, p.13) describes the condition as a “state of absorption in one’s work” which is characterized by “intense concentration, loss of self-awareness, a feeling of being perfectly challenged and a sense that time is flying”. During this state of flow the player experiences a high level of intrinsic motivation (Koch 2014). In order to experience the flow a healthy balance has to be maintained between challenge and achievability. Otherwise the player will lose interest due to anxiety, frustration or boredom (Xu, 2011). The balance between challenge and the skills of the player is also called “flow channel” as shown in figure 1-1.

Abbildung in dieser eseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1-1: The Flow Channel (based on Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)

Feelings of anxiety or boredom will significantly decrease the productivity of employees and result into a stagnation in performance (Koch, 2014). To avoid both of these negative outcomes, an adjustment of the level of challenge has to be conducted when the skill set of the player gradually improves (Xu, 2011). This adjustment of challenge will eventually help employees to grow with challenges and result in long-term motivation (Koch, 2014). The condition of flow is what is hoped to be achieved through Gamification applications in enterprises, with the objective to result in higher productivity and motivation levels.

1.3.3 Motivation Theories

Motivation is crucial for the success of Gamification applications and mechanics. According to Gabe Zichermann, the effects of Gamification are based to “75% on psychology and only to 25% on technology” (Kumar 2013, p. 59). Yorks (1976, p. 21) defines motivation as the “forces within an individual that push or propel him to satisfy basic needs or wants”. In general it can be said that the more motivated a person is, the more likely it is that this person will put time and efforts towards solving a problem or fulfilling a task. Hereby the motivation of the individual to pursue the problem or the task is highly dependent on its desirability and feasibility (Achtziger & Gollwitzer, 2006).

A profound understanding of individuals’ motivations will be the base for assessing the effects of Gamification mechanics.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is probably one of the most important and best known theories regarding the vast area of motivation. His theory is based on human needs that are hierarchically arranged according to their importance to humans. Hereby the appearance of one need is usually dependent on the prior satisfaction of another subordinate need. According to Maslow, needs are arranged in the following order which is often displayed in a pyramid (Maslow, 1943):

1) Physiological Needs
2) Safety Needs
3) Love/Social/Belonging Needs
4) Esteem Needs
5) Need for Self-Actualization

Two major conclusions can be drawn from Maslow’s theory. First of all, satisfied needs are no motivators for behavior anymore. Secondly, if one need is satisfied, the next “higher-order need is the most reliable determinant of behavior” (Hamner & Organ 1978, p.139). Transferred to the concept of Gamification this means that the extent to which work itself can satisfy needs, determines the potential to motivate employees (Koch, 2014).

Herzberg’s motivation hygiene theory is often also referred to as the two-factor theory and is widely respected for explaining motivation and job satisfaction. Herzberg distinguishes between two sets of factors that influence job satisfaction and performance. One, the “motivators” are intrinsic to work and relate to the content of work itself (e.g. responsibility, recognition and meaningful tasks). The other, “hygiene needs”, are extrinsic to work and describe the work environment (e.g. pay, working hours and job security). If those hygiene needs are fulfilled, they avoid dissatisfaction, but do not result in an increase of satisfaction. Motivators on the contrary have a strong impact on satisfaction but do not necessarily lead to dissatisfaction when not being fulfilled. Hereby different levels of fulfillment of the two different factors will lead to different stages of employee motivation and satisfaction. Fully satisfied hygiene and motivator needs will usually result in an ideal level of motivation and satisfaction, while low satisfaction of hygiene needs and motivator needs will lead to demotivated and dissatisfied employees. (Jr et al., 2005; Ewen, 1964).

Vroom’s VIE theory can be regarded as an advancement of the classic expectancy theory. The theory has three components, namely valence (V), instrumentality (I) and expectancy (E). Those components together influence the level of motivation of a person as outlined in figure 1-2. Four key propositions can be drawn from the theory.

First of all, individuals expect that certain behavior leads to certain levels of performance and certain levels of performance should lead to certain outcomes. In addition individuals have different perceptions and preferences on which outcomes are desirable. Eventually those individual preferences and expectations will influence the behavior and efforts a person puts forward a task (Homburg, 2012).

Figure 1-2: Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory (based on Lee, 2007)

Abbildung in dieser eseprobe nicht enthalten

This thesis uses the approach proposed by Webster & Watson (2002) to identify relevant literature on Gamification. Initially the main databases for IS research like ProQuest, EBSCO, ACM Portal and IEEE XPlore were searched broadly for the term Gamification A lot of literature was found and about 53 sources were eventually selected for a deeper analysis based on their titles and abstracts. The analysis revealed that a high percentage of the sources dealt with Gamification in pre-school contexts or applied the concept in a very narrow field (e.g. Jacobs & Timmermans, 2013). Other papers examined and developed possible design concepts for Gamification applications. These sources were generally not applicable to the topic of the thesis but were very helpful in generating a general understanding of the application of Gamification and possible objectives.

Some sources provided background information on the topic of Gamification and then concentrated on its application in enterprises. Those papers were relevant and analyzed in a second step regarding their citations to determine prior articles and papers that should be considered. This backward search proved to be crucial in the search process as it produced numerous new articles that were then reconsidered again regarding citations. It was interesting that the majority of the hereby selected papers were not available in the databases of ProQuest and EBSCO, but were found in IEEE Xplore and the ACM Portal. In particular theoretical foundations and related works could be identified through the backward search.

Eventually when the direction of the thesis got clearer and a precise outline was generated, the above named databases had to be searched again in order to find literature on specific sub-topics. In particular, literature on the effectiveness of the individual Gamification mechanics had to be found, which proved to be very tricky and was not always successful. Some necessary topics had to be researched in totally distant disciplines.

Regarding the search process itself, it was striking that the classic forward approach did not prove to be very successful. One can assume that this is due to the timeliness and the wide range of application of the topic.

3 Effects of Gamification Applications

In order to be able to evaluate the general effects of Gamification applications, it is necessary to identify relevant Gamification mechanics and their effectiveness. The work of Schacht & Schacht (2012) classifies the most important Gamification mechanics by distinguishing between in-game mechanisms and in-person mechanisms as displayed in Table 3-1. In-game mechanics are usually integrated in the software product itself and can be classified according to their purpose - display of progression, provision of feedback and engagement of users in specific behavior. In contrast, in-person mechanics are tightly connected to the person itself and therefore only work in conjunction with a person’s characteristics, emotions and feelings (Schacht & Schacht, 2012). In the following paragraph the effects of the individual Gamification mechanics are analyzed based on current research.

Table 3-1: Classification of selected Gamification mechanics (based on Schacht & Schacht, 2012)

Abbildung in dieser eseprobe nicht enthalten

3.1 Display Progression

The Gamification mechanics of the progression category, namely achievements, points and bonuses, leveling up and progression, aim at displaying the progress and advancement of users in the game.

Achievements are described as a “virtual or physical representation” or recognition of the efforts that a user has put forward to a certain desirable goal or objective (Byl, 2012; Hiltbrand & Burke, 2011). A series of tasks has to be completed, before the achievement is unlocked.

An empirical study by Grant & Betts (2013) focuses on the effects of a special form of achievements - badges - on Stack Overflow, a question and answer website. The authors observe that users spend significantly more time on the website in the months before a badge is awarded. Afterwards their activity level declines rapidly. These results indicate that the badges motivate users to actively participate in the site, though short- term. The assumption is voiced that eventually users might alter their behavior in such a way that they solely work towards the completion of the next badge (Grant & Betts, 2013). Z. Li et al. (2012) find contrasting results regarding the same website. Their research shows that users contribute even more in the community after having achieved a badge. Astonishingly even negative badges have a positive effect on participation of users indicating a high motivational impact. The authors explain the findings with the assumption that badges initially foster extrinsic motivation, while eventually users contribute more due to intrinsic factors. Therefore the badges have a highly motivating effect for users who have been awarded one, but users who have never obtained a badge are likely to become inactive (Z. Li et al., 2012). Hakulinen et al. (2013) implement achievement badges in an online learning environment and find that badges have a slightly positive impact on students. A small percentage of students seems to be highly motivated by some badges, while in particular badges that are hard to obtain have a motivating effect. These findings are supported by Singer & Schneider (2012) who observed that high goals lead to increased effort. The study supports the assumption that not only the type but also the nature of the users has an impact on the effectiveness of a badge (Hakulinen et al., 2013). However, Montola & Nummenmaa's (2009) results are not as enthusiastic and suggest that users are mostly indifferent about the badges and do not perceive them as an essential feature. Similar results are observed by Hamari (2013). His field experiment indicates that there seems to be in general little interest in badges, but again a percentage of users shows signs of motivation through increased activity. The experiment shows that implementing badges alone does not lead to a significant increase in usage frequency, quality or social interaction. The author explains these results with the utilitarian nature of the setting where users might not be receptive to gameful interaction (Hamari, 2013). Results found by Denny (2013) are very positive regarding a badge-based achievement system in an online learning tool. Even though an increase in participation levels cannot be confirmed, students seem more active and answer significantly more questions than before. There is no effect on the quality of answers but students seem to be more engaged, logging on significantly more often on consecutive days. The students experience high levels of enjoyment and show a preference for the gamified tool, most likely indicating higher intention of use (Denny, 2013). Abramovich et al. (2013) conducted a study using badges within an intelligent-tutor system for teaching maths. The results are quite controversial. On the one hand the authors generally perceive badges, which are extrinsic motivators, to be negative for learning and perceive this assumption to be confirmed by their study. On the other hand an increase in motivation and interest are reported for some types of learners, as the effects of badges varies with different ability learners and the type of badge (Abramovich et al., 2013).

In contrast to achievements, points are a numerical value that is given for any single action or combination of actions (Xu, 2011). Hiltbrand and Burke (2011) point out that the cumulative nature of points is the driver of motivation for users to remain active in their community. Bonuses on the contrary are not assigned to single activities, but earned by the completion of several different tasks, specific tasks or a combination of tasks (Hiltbrand & Burke, 2011).

Guy et al. (2011) monitor the effects of an implementation of points in an enterprise social networking site. Tagging and giving information about the relationships between users is awarded with points to enrich the network. Users are very responsive to the reward system and not only tag way more relationships than before, but an improved quality of the tags is reported aswell (Guy et al., 2011). Farzan et al. (2008) also examine the results of a point-based reward system in an enterprise social networking site called Beehive.


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Assessing the Effects of Gamification Applications and its Benefits for the Workplace
University of Mannheim  (Chair of Information Systems lV)
Bachelorarbeits - Modul
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Gamification Information Systems Psychology
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Carolin Klosterkamp (Author), 2014, Assessing the Effects of Gamification Applications and its Benefits for the Workplace, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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