We Need Some Stinkin' Badges - Gamifying Enterprise Applications (Part 4) 1
Arrows ("points" - get it?) (Image by Travis C, CC 2.0 licensed

In previous posts in this series I started by asking “what is the goal of gamifying enterprise apps?” Is it to make them more fun, is it to make them more engaging? The answer is “neither” – the goal is to enable the users to be more effective or better at their jobs. Making applications more fun and engaging is a plus but it should be a side effect of enabling users to be more effective. The fundamental driver behind this concept is that the users of enterprise applications are already motivated to do a good job – that’s why they have the job in the first place. And the problem of enterprise applications isn’t that they’re not engaging enough or fun (although those are problems). The problem is that the applications typically make it hard to get the job done correctly or right or easily. This isn’t good for the users or for management.

I then laid out an example of an application that I’m very familiar with, Accept360, that will be a good testbed for some ideas about gamifying enterprise applications. And then in my previous post on the subject, I listed out Gabe Zicherman’s (@gzicherm on Twitter) six rules for gamification, and started to work through how those rules applied to the example application.

Now we’re on to the next step: to start applying some game mechanics to our example app. Again, not to make the application more fun or more engaging, although those are desired side effects, but to make the application support the goals of the users to get the job done well in a more effective way.

Points and Points and Points, Oh My!

What are some approaches that we can take as a first step to making this application better at helping people get their jobs? As Mario Herger has said, “Even the s***ty stuff leads to double digit changes [in engagement].” And even though engagement is not the goal, it is a good tactic that will have impact on improving the quality of work that’s done with the application. So let’s start with a very simple addition, in fact, what’s usually the first step. We’re going to put a point system into the application. This is also the approach that Gabe Z uses in his book, Gamification by Design – he starts with adding a points system to his example.

What shall we reward points for? There are a lot of activities of people do in the application that are either considered good in general, or are indicators that the user is doing something useful. These are activities like:

  • Logging in to the application
  • Creating a new element within the application
  • Editing an element with an application
  • Participating in a discussion thread

The primary benefit of points is to encourage individuals to use the application, and the use of different point values for different activities influences their choices as to where they spend their time.

Encouraging Collaboration

But in addition to encouraging use, I have two other ultimate goals in gamifying Accept360: 1) encouraging and promoting collaboration between users and 2) promoting quality work, by pointing out and featuring excellent examples of the work products of the application – which means requirements, product plans, value propositions, and all the other types of elements that can be created within the application.

We’ll combine points with the mechanism of badges as the approach to achieving those two goals. To encourage collaboration, I can reward users who initiate collaboration, using a set of “collaborator” badges. And I can reward users who provide expertise with a set of “expert” badges. I want to encourage users who need help to ask for it, and more importantly, to know who to ask.

So for each of the activities, we’ll specify one or more badge series to which the activity contributes. For example, if you participate in a conversation about a feature, you are working on your Collaborator badge. If you create a new requirement, you are working on your Author badge. If someone votes up something you wrote, you’ll be working on a Expert badge. If someone marks one of your items as an example, you’re working on a higher level Expert badge (perhaps the “Master” badge).

This also requires adding a few more activities that are directly related to collaboration and becoming an expert:

  • Voting up an item (gives points to both the voter and the author of the item)
  • Nominating an item as an exemplar

The Story So Far

So, summarizing what we have so far. We have a points system in which the following activities are rewarded:

  • Logging in to the application
  • Creating a new element within the application
  • Editing an element with an application
  • Participating in a discussion thread
  • Voting up an item (gives points to both the voter and the author of the item)
  • Nominating an item as an exemplar

And then we also have a set of badges or recognitions that you work toward as you do the desired activities, including the following series:

  • Collaborator
  • Author
  • Expert/Master
  • Resource

That’s all we have space for in this post. There’s obviously one key piece of data missing so far, which is how many points do each of these activities get you? And we also need to explore how you build up enough points in the badge categories to get the badges. I’ll cover those in the next post in detail.

After that, we’ll need to come up with a few UI approaches for displaying all this new data – the points and badges, as well as leaderboards, at minimum.  Then we’ll playtest these settings to see if they have the desired impact. We’ll take up that discussion in future posts, and start talking about more advanced ways in which to increase engagement, which are more than just “slapping points” onto existing activities.

For one thing, we’re going to talk about turning certain activities into actual mini-games or puzzles. For example, one of the things that people doing product management should do is create what’s called a “value proposition” about their product or release. But this often doesn’t happen, and this is because value propositions are somewhat difficult to write, even though there is a canonical form, and they are extremely valuable when creating marketing materials around the product, or indeed, in deciding what features to add to the product and which ones to defer or drop.

So, a mini-game around the creation of value propositions will give users a fun and engaging way to do a task that they normally prefer to skip, despite its value. And by gamifying that task, users may even end up with higher quality results than they would have without gamified tool support.

As always, please let me know what you think in the comments, and feel free to sign up for my email list so you can get new blog posts in your email.

About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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  • Very interested to see where this is heading. Alarm bells are ringing with the words "Extrinsic rewards for Intrinsic Motivation" But, you mention turning things into games etc, so I am assuming that the points / badges is just a method of initial introduction / engagement to the system, rather than what you are going to be using to keep people motivated all the way through.

    • Andrzej – thank you for the great comments. I completely get your point about "extrinsic rewards for intrinsic motivation." I think I should expand on this in a later article, but one of my fundamental beliefs, especially for the sample application I'm talking about, is that the users are already motivated, but the application needs to give them feedback about how they are doing. That's what the points and badges (and other game mechanics we'll talk about later) are for. I guess an analogy would be something like if World of Warcraft didn't have levels and points you might still like to play it because it's fun to explore and to kill monsters. You could imagine that the game has an "invisible" mechanic where you get better and stronger the more you play, even if you didn't get points or levels for it. You'd definitely get better at killing monsters over time, and, as I say, you'd enjoy it. (Note: I'm saying that a game like WoW is intrinsically rewarding, even without points or levels.) But by adding points, you not only increase the reward quotient a bit, but you also let people understand how they're doing, where they are, how they compare to other players/characters, and so on. And, for example, the comparison is not just in order to know who is better than whom, but also know if you might be able to ask the other player for advice, or ask him or her to join you on a quest.

      Again, thanks for the question – it's helped me in my thinking!


  • Great article. Interested to see what else gets added in other than Points and Badges as well, to try and prolong the engagement. The idea of mini games sounds like it could be really good.

  • May have submitted 2 responses :-S it is tough. I agree, when you are in a job, the intrinsic motivation should be to do your job! It is really hard to not make the whole thing patronising though lol. Great video by Dan Pink about it here http://ow.ly/dnqpr. Trying to get my head around the alternatives though hehe.

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