It’s all in the game: How play time is becoming the new work normal

Tools based on video games are fine for millennials, but what about older workers?

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – or Jill a dull girl. But as the line between work and leisure time becomes increasingly blurred by mobile technology, so too does the way we are engaging with work.

The problem is, many people aren't engaged with work at all and would much rather be doing something else.

Efforts to get employees connected with a company, involved in their jobs, absorbed in a task and more productive have led to "gamification" – employing the devices and techniques of video games to make people more motivated to do well at the task in hand.

In the field of visual entertainment, nothing has grown more rapidly than consumers' appetite for video and computer games, with new releases attracting the kind of fanfare once reserved for a movie blockbuster.

In a noisy world where organisations compete for the attention of students, talent or customers, the potential of an immersive experience has seen gamification creeping into areas such as education, work and healthcare.

It's not hard to understand why. As the workforce becomes dominated by younger generations, for whom playing video games is as natural as putting a dime in the jukebox, old methods of attracting and engaging people just don't fly.

‘Gamification normalises the painful notion of failure and turns it into a possibility to improve’


Motivation in simulation

Although gamification has been pioneered in workplaces, it's also taking off in education. In the school of economics at UNSW Business School, Playconomics is an interactive experience that teaches economic principles while playing like a videogame.

Created by senior lecturers Isabella Dobrescu and Alberto Motta in 2013, Playconomics challenges students to make decisions and observe economic outcomes as they unfold in a simulated world. The experiential learning provides continuous feedback based on students' actions.

The initiative has now spread to the school of medicine and into the universities of Queensland and Adelaide. This year, Playconomics was used to deliver an introductory microeconomics course to 3000 students at UNSW and to more than 6500 across universities, making it the world's first gamified course in economics. Feedback from students and academics has been almost universally positive.

Outside academe, many employers are just as enthusiastic about gamification. One in four Australian organisations is using gamification methods in some form to either attract, educate or assess their workforce.

At the Australian International Education Conference last month, Nannette Ripmeester, director and founder of Expertise in Labour Mobility in The Netherlands, spoke about the benefits of gamification in creating resilience and making people more employable.

"Gamification normalises the painful notion of failure and turns it into a possibility to improve. [In simulation], dying, getting fired, picking the wrong option and levelling down doesn't put people off from playing again – it motivates them to push their limits and get better," Ripmeester says.

In other words, learning from mistakes makes us more able to deal with the ups and downs of working life.

Assessing candidates

For employers, gamification has much to offer in the way of homing in on top talent and in psychometric assessments. Revelian, a people analytics company in Australia, has developed a game-based assessment tool called Theme Park Hero which requires the player to construct a water park by fitting jigsaw pieces into a contained space.

Revelian product manager Salih Mujcic says it's a great way to engage talent as, "people don't feel like they are doing a test and all the anxiety that goes with that. They get completely immersed in the narrative arc or end goal. Games are very good at that."

Big data works well with game-based technology, adds Mujcic. "We are looking at everything a candidate does or doesn't do: how long it takes them to make a decision and the quality of that decision," he says, all backed up by a team of psychologists and engineers who extract meaning from the data.

They've learned that some candidates are more open to new experiences and will jump in and play around with different solutions, while others are more conservative players, take longer and are more cautious – but they're also more accurate.

"As certain roles have different requirements, this is useful to know," says Mujcic.

Global auditing firm KPMG is among those using gamification in recruitment. Susan Ferrier, Australian managing partner of people, performance and culture, says: "These young people are digital natives. To get a true understanding of their potential we have to immerse them in an assessment where they will respond naturally – rather than a host of interviews and written tests."

Candidates are given 10 minutes to complete a game where they reveal how they would respond to specific situations. According to Ferrier, the results provide deeper insights into candidates' strengths and abilities than would traditional assessments.

‘These young people are digital natives. To get a true understanding of their potential we have to immerse them in an assessment where they will respond naturally’


Once candidates are recruited, the game-playing continues. In Australia, 24% of organisations are using game techniques at work for adult learning, according to the Digital Australia 2016 report from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA).

Gamification platforms are a growth industry. Ambient Insight research reveals that global revenue from the purchase of game-based learning tools in the corporate, healthcare and not-for-profit sectors was US$157 million in 2013 and is predicted to rise to US$288 million by 2018.

'You don't have to be a gamer'

Deloitte Australia turned to gamification when faced with a problem of wanting to get their people certified but always having to chase staff to do the education and training. They created an online community where employees received credit for completing education and training stages which then raised their online status. In a carrot and stick approach, it combined social pressure not to be left out with recognition and reward.

Frank Farrall, lead partner at Deloitte Digital, describes the process in rewarding behaviour "like a dopamine release in the brain".

Gamification is also transforming performance review methods, says Peter Williams, chief edge officer at Deloitte's innovative Centre for the Edge.

According to Farrall, these kinds of platforms are moving away from KPIs to objectives and results.

"Gamification turns performance management into an ongoing thing rather than a periodic thing, with employees asking: 'What activities do I need to undertake to make an effect on the scoreboard'," Farrall says.

WooBoard takes it one step further. On the digital platform, employees receive a Woo! from their peers whenever they reach team or individual goals, as a way of creating a culture of recognition and appreciation. Ernst & Young, ninemsn and UniSuper are just a few of the companies Wooing each other right now.

Despite positive feedback, hard evidence on whether game-based assessments are working is a little way off. Is it really matching the right candidate with the right job, or gauging an employee's development?

Some critics have suggested that companies are just attracting clones, who all think in the same way and are too alike. While millennials may be at ease with video-game tests, older workers may feel intimidated and disqualify themselves as potential hires.

Mujcic denies it's a problem, saying it comes down to good simple design: "The designs minimise disadvantage and have built-in tutorials. You don't have to be a gamer."

But it helps …


You are free to republish this article both online and in print. We ask that you follow some simple guidelines.

Please do not edit the piece, ensure that you attribute the author, their institute, and mention that the article was originally published on Business Think.

By copying the HTML below, you will be adhering to all our guidelines.

Press Ctrl-C to copy