Gamifying to Engage | with Karl Kapp [Transcript]


Link to podcast episode:  Gamifying to Engage | with Karl Kapp

Jesse Lahey: Welcome to the show, Game Changers.  This is the show for CEOs, HR executives and other business leaders to learn about internal gamification.  Over the course of this series, you’ll hear examples and pitfalls, discover how to assess when it’s an appropriate strategy and learn to evaluate gamification partners and game design ideas.

I am Jesse Lahey and our guest today is Karl Kapp.  Karl is professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University, an author of five books on the convergence of learning and technology including The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.  Karl is currently working on a field book about the gamification of learning and instruction, which will be published in early 2014.

Karl, welcome to “Game Changer.”

Karl Kapp: Jesse thanks!  Thanks for having me here.  I’m excited to be here.

Jesse: Karl, what’s your personal history about how you came to be involved in gamification?

Karl: At first, I came involved in gamification really through, I have two sons who are avid gamers and are always playing games and I’m a professor of Instructional Technology.  Clients and students are saying, “This e-learning, this online instruction is interesting but it’s not that exciting.  It’s not really as engaging as maybe it could be.  ”

But I saw how engaged my kids were in the games and thought, “Wait, is there some elements maybe from the game that we could put into a learning setting or performance setting that would really help people become more engaged?”  I struggled with articulating those ideas and trying to get that information across.

Then, one day on the internet, I came across the word gamification and I said, “Ahhh!  That’s it!  That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”  I’m trying to take elements of games and put them into other situations.  Not really create an entire game but take the best of games and put them in different performance situations, learning situations and employee engagement situations.

That’s really how I became involved, really in the late 90’s, early 2000’s through the idea of video games and what my kids were doing and trying to make, which we call, regular learning — regular e-learning, a little bit more exciting.

Jesse: You are one of the first people to actually come out with a book on the topic, and so you spent longer than most in thinking about what gamification is.  You sort of defined it there but you if you had to put it into a sentence or two, how would you define gamification?

Karl: I originally define gamification as using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game-thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning and solve problems.  As I’ve been thinking about it and writing about gamification more and more, I really think there are two types of gamification.

One, I call, “Structural Gamification.”  Structural Gamification is adding a game structure around the content, around the activities.  So, in the learning perspective, if you would’ve answered this question then you get five points.  Then, you’d move to the next level once you answered ten questions or in employee engagement you would do health care.  If you went to see the doctor, you get so many points.  If you read a thing on diabetes, you get so many points.

So, in Structural Gamification, you’re not changing the contents or the engagement at all.  You’re just adding game elements to it.  That’s the points, badges, leader board type thing.  In Content Gamification, you actually change the content to be more game-like.  So, for example in the health example, you would instead of having people just simply go to the doctor, you would simply say, “You’re on a mission to find out what your cholesterol is.”  Go find that out.

So, now it’s more of a mission-focused rather than a task or an activity-focused.  Content Gamification in learning works well, typically, we give people objectives and we tell them what they’re going to learn but you could turn that into a challenge and say, okay, for example, a lesson on embezzlement.  Lots of times we give you the objectives so you can learn about embezzlement and how to prevent it and et cetera.

Imagine turning a class, where you come into class and say, “Okay, today you’re an investigator.  You’re a boss has just been accused of embezzling $10,000.  What do you do now?”  So, now the content is different because instead of giving you the answers, you kind of have to figure it out.

So, I really think gamification is involving two distinct but related avenues.  Yet, there can be overlapping.  It seems like consumer gamification is going one way and learning and instruction gamification seems to be going a little bit in another way.

Jesse: Yes, that’s a pretty fascinating separation there.  I hadn’t heard anybody put it that way before.  Now, why is it important to even be thinking about gamification?

Karl: I think gamification is important on several different levels.  I think we’re meeting gamification because it’s coming together at a really kind of an opportune time.  One, I think, especially in the learning field but in other fields as well.  Traditional applications, traditional methodologies are very boring, for lack of a better word.

So, if you look at your average order entry software and incredibly straightforward [inaudible 00:06:23].  Sometimes it’s difficult to find out where everything is.  Even when you look at something like the Microsoft Office or Excel, it’s just kind of, you know, head down to your work.

Meanwhile, in almost every other aspect of life, if you look at the console-based video games, PC-based video games, if you look at the iPhone or the Android operating language, those are variants to the very easy and almost game-like in many aspects.

So, people will say, “How come when I come to work and have these game-type aspects?  I can’t have some of the more engaging aspects that I’m surrounded with.  Even the kiosk at the gas station where I order my food is more engaging than some of the learning or some of the applications that I work with.”

So, I think that’s one key factor.  The other factor that is kind of interesting is a lot of schools, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, saw video games as—well, kids love video games, school’s trying to recruit kids.  So, they say why don’t we create a video game program and will graduate kids who know how to make video games?  That’s fantastic except that there’s only so many EA’s.  There are only so many game development companies and they are not really hiring all these kids.

So, what do they do?  Well, they go to another type of software development.  They go to other type of creating applications and they bring those games sensibilities with them.  So, I think that is a convergence as well.  Then, finally, if you look at what Apple did in several ways is they said, “Look, we can still have fun and still be serious.”

So, they took something like the iPhone.  They made the phone fun, intuitive and easy to use but seriously is a business machine with some Smartphone capabilities, your ability to track expenses, your ability to work on the iPhone and all those kind of stuff.  So, I think all these things converge together and people said, “Look this idea of gamification really makes sense when we look at all of these elements.”

Then, when we look at the other side where employees are more disengaged than ever at work.  I just read something the other day about a big fast food manufacturer or restaurant and they said their service is the worst it’s ever been.  So, really, how do you engage these 18 year olds who are not going to be there for the rest of their lives —most of them — who are only there for the paycheck?  How do you make it more engaging for them?

Well, after they go home and work at this fast food restaurant, they go play games.  So, why not add those elements to their work environment to make it a little bit more fun.  So, I think all these things come together to make gamification very attractive.  In the e-learning field especially, we took the worst of online classroom instruction and we put it all online.

So, now it’s the boring lecture stuff, only faster and more efficiently, so we’re boring people more effectively than ever.  So, there’s got to be a better way and I think gamification is that way.

Jesse: You mentioned young people.  You mentioned students.  You mentioned 18 year olds.  Is gamification primarily useful just with the younger generation or is there a broader application when you think about work or employee engagement?

Karl: That’s really a good question.  We tend to think about gamers as being young.  Of course we know the average age of a person who plays games is in their late thirties and it’s actually getting older all the time.  The fastest demographic is women over the age of forty playing games.  So, actually, game education works —if done correctly just like anything else — it works on almost every single level.

So, if you look at —a classic example of gamification is loyalty programs.  Most people in frequent flier loyalty programs are older folks who have to fight for business and they’re very engaged in that process.  Everyone, being a human, likes certain things like humans like challenge.  Not too hard, not too easy but we do enjoy the challenge.  Humans like to have answers, we want things solved for us.  If we give somebody an open-ended question, they want to try to work toward that answer.

People like social rewards.  So, if you can give people social recognition, they would really like and enjoy that.  So, all of the elements of gamification together really tap in to basic human needs, instincts, socialization patterns.  So, regardless of your age, you’re going to want to buy into it.

Having said that, there are people that don’t like amusement parks.  There are people that don’t like getting into a car or getting into an airplane.  So, everyone’s not going to magically fall in love with gamification and go, “Oh, my gosh!  This is great.  I love it.”  But it will engage a large number of people to a large degree regardless of their age and regardless of their position.

I mean, if you think about gamification —I always say if you look at life and death situations, we always gamify that.  So, probably the biggest life and death situation is fighting wars, war fighters.  Well, they have war games and they’re very realistic situations, and you get points for taking out the enemy.

There’s the blue and there’s the red.  You look at medical, you have these medical dummies.  You get points if you do the code correctly, if you do it according to standards.  So, why do we only do this in life and death?  Now, the technology’s available that we could do it for sales process or negotiation process or a performance review.  All those people, all those situations are people at varying ages, so everyone, I think, can be engaged in the gamification process, given a well-designed process.

Jesse: Now, as you’re designing the process, what are some considerations that you want to keep in mind?  For example, I’m wondering, we’ve been talking about age, are there things that you need to do to make sure that you’re appealing to the right ages or perhaps gender differences?

Especially in the world of employee engagement where a lot of times the employee may not have a choice; if you create a program and this is the only option for doing that program, then this is what they have to use.  It’s not like out in the marketing world of gamification where if somebody doesn’t like your game, they just go to a different company.

Karl: Right.  Exactly.  So, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  The first thing I always say is, “What is the business need driving gamification?”  Often times or occasionally, I run into situations when somebody says, “I heard about this thing you called gamification.  Sounds really cool, we need to do it.”  So, I say, “Okay, that sounds nice but what goal are you trying to accomplish?”

So, the first thing is, make sure that gamification ties into a goal that is worthy of accomplishment, and that people know it has to be accomplished.  Second is making sure that the gamification ties into the process.  So, artificially adding points just for answering a question or something like that isn’t making much sense as points moving you toward new knowledge or points being part of the process.

So, I think the context works well.  So, if you just say, “Hey!  Answer ten questions and get points,” that gets boring after a while.  But if you just say, “Look, we’re trying to make you a healthier employee, for example, and we’re going to check your health knowledge by assessing how many points, and at this level here, if you have these points, here’s your knowledge of your own health.”

“Here’s your ranking against other people and notice you need to learn a little bit more about your health to be more up to the average.”  So, I think a huge thing about gamification is the context of the gamification.  I always tell this story, if you look at Nike+, it’s kind of held up as the model of gamification.

You could run, you get points, you can get levels and you even have mini character.  But after a while of running with Nike plus I got bored with it.  Now, it doesn’t mean I still don’t run.  I run but now I’ve found another application called, Zombies Run and Zombies Run does the same things: keep track of my points and how much I run and all that kind of stuff.

But it’s in the context of the story.  So, I wake up and I’m runner on number five.  I’m going out to get supplies in a zombie-infested-post-apocalyptic world.  It’s much more fun.  It’s much more engaging because it’s the right context.  So, one, we have to know what the business need is.  Two, we have to present it in the right context.  Three, we have to know what appeals to different people.

Socialization will appeal to some people.  So, you want to get them involved.  There’s some fascinating research done with World of Warcraft and they look in World of Warcraft and say, there are some people who go in there and they don’t do any quest.  They’re in a group but they’re not trying to get any progress toward the game.  What is this?

They found out that many people went in there to socialize and just to meet other people.  So, that’s part of gamification.  You need to — when you design it — look at people that would want to get all the points possible.  You’ll see people that will be engaged in the story.  You’ll see people that will be engaged in the socialization.  You’ll see people that will be engaged just in the content itself.

So, when you design it, you need to carefully design it so that one of those things doesn’t overwhelm the other.  What happens a lot of times is the obtainment of points overwhelms any other goal.  So, you have to balance obtainment of points with mastery of contents or with social interaction or with context so that you’re moving up in a balanced way.  One or two people aren’t just blasting through the contents, you know, give somebody a game and I’ll find a cheater right away.

People are always going to cheat on games and will always try to exploit the weaknesses.  So, you as the designer of gamification or somebody talking to a gamification vendor really need to think about what are the multiple measurements, multiple goals we want.  If you look at a manufacturing plant for example, you have quotas, right?

Well, people could meet quotas by just making a whole bunch of product.  But it might be kind of bad product.  So, it’s not just how many pieces, but it’s how many good pieces you create, how much scrap you avoid, how well it fits into the upstream process.  So, now I can’t just worry about speed.  I’ve got to worry about quality and I’ve got to worry about fitting the form.

So, all those things together are what make for a good gamification and engage people at multiple levels.

Jesse: You mentioned a few —let’s call them — pitfalls such as people trying to gain the system.  Are there other pitfalls or maybe even a dark side to gamification that the company should be aware of before they go down that path?

Karl: Yes, unfortunately almost with anything, there’s the good and evil, I guess.  I always give the example, when my kids were younger, we used to have a star chart.  The star chart is if you do your chores, you’re going to get a star.  So, the first day of the star chart, I thought I had found the miracle of parenthood.  “Oh, my gosh!  This is amazing.”  I’m like, “Nate, go brush your teeth, man,” and he’s upstairs brushing his teeth.

I’m like “Oh my God!  This is great.  How come nobody ever told me about this?”  But about a week later, I’m like “Hey, Nate, go brush your teeth.”  “Nate, you won’t get a star.”

“I don’t care.”

“Nate, brush your teeth.”

“No, I want two stars.”  You know, and it keeps upping and upping.  Finally, now, I have to give him a candy bars so he’ll go and brush his teeth.  It totally defeated the whole purpose.

Jesse: Brush your teeth and I’ll give you a candy bar.  That’s great.

Karl: Exactly.  So, if you just focus on rewards, you run into the problem of, okay this reward no longer has much value.  You have to keep ramping up the reward.  So, you can’t make it totally focused on just gaining rewards.  That’s something that is a downfall.  You also have to make sure that as you’re doing, as I said, you need multiple measures of success so that somebody doesn’t just focus on one success.

The other thing is if somebody’s doing something they’re already interested in or passionate about, that’s probably not a good area for gamification.  They are already internally motivated to do what they’re doing.  So, adding gamification on top of that is not a smart thing to do either.

Then, finally, I wouldn’t add gamification — and you kind of brought it up — just because I have a “young audience.”  It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to like gamification.  I also think that the only thing about gamification, again, the points, leader board and badges, that tends to be the focus on a lot of gamification efforts.

The irony to me is I’ve never played a game just for points.  I’ve never played a game just to be on the leader board.  I play because game is interesting or it’s challenging or there’s something that I want to see if I can accomplish it.  It’s a sense of mastery.  So, when we look at creating gamification we’re going to avoid some of the negative aspects.

We should focus on “How can I make this person doing this job feel they gain mastery of what they’re doing?”; “How can I make them feel part of a larger context?”, “How can I give them corrective feedback as they’re engaging in this process so I get the behavior that is best for both of us?”  So, one of the things that you can do to avoid the pitfalls and is just focus on the positive and not focus on what I think is kind of a peripheral a little bit, the badges, and those types of things.

The other thing I want to point out is a lot people are really antigamification because of the intrinsic versus extrinsic discussion.  People say, “Look, people don’t want to do things externally motivating them, you’re manipulating them.  We want to focus all on internal motivation, intrinsic.”  But it actually turns out that if you look at the research carefully, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are not polar opposites.

In fact, some of the instruments used in early research to measure intrinsic and extrinsic motivation made them a dichotomy.  You couldn’t be internally and externally motivated at the same time.  You had to be one or the other.  The truth of the matter is people are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated at the same time to different degrees.

So, for example, let’s say somebody wants to become Cisco certified and they want to become certified because they are going to get a raise at work.  That’s external motivation.  But they also might want to be certified because they want to have some sense of knowledge and mastery over the content.  So, that’s internally motivated.  Both of them can exist at the same time.

So, as you’re developing your program, keep in mind balancing the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and making sure that when you put things together they work in harmony, that you’re not just arbitrary giving badges for showing up for work.  You really want to motivate somebody through, you know, “Here’s some challenge that you want to accomplish.”

By doing that you will become really well-known in this area and maybe people in the company would seek you for knowledge or information, or you can become an expert in our product as a customer doing some kind of external gamification and we’ll send other people to you for questions.  So, now you’re an expert in this particular area.

Those are the kind of things that you need to think through for gamification rather than just points, badges or leader boards.  They play a role but those are where I think people tend to go down to kind of the dark path — too far down that path.

You know, I think Gardner said, — you know Gardner’s always coming up with some kind of salacious quote but, “So many percentage of gamification projects are going to fail.”  Somebody at one time said, “What do you think about that quote?” and I said, “That’s absolutely right.”

A large percentage is going to fail because they are going to be focusing on the wrong area and they’re going to view his as a magic bullet and it’s not.  It takes a lot of work and it takes thoughtful, purposeful design.  But it can be very successful when done well.  It’s just a miserable failure when it’s done poorly.

Jesse: Just a quick pause from this interview with Karl Kapp to tell the listeners about the game we’re playing to have some fun throughout the series.  First, we are giving away a copy of Karl’s book, “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction”.  To enter and win the book, simply send me an e-mail at mentioning the episode number four, this episode’s clue which is the letter N as in Neptune and whether you prefer hard copy or a Kindle e-book if you win.

We’ll pick a winner at random from the first 50 e-mails we receive.  Also, there will be other tasks and clues in each of the first 14 episodes in the “Game Changer” series.  As well as in “Engaging Leader” podcast episode 38 featuring Kevin Werbach.  From those 15 clues, if you can be the first person to guess the secret phrase, you will win a $100 gift card from Amazon.

Everyone who guesses it correctly will be honored on our “Game Changer” Genius Board.  As soon as you think you know the secret phrase, e-mail it to me.

Those three components points badges and leader boards, those are often the first things that companies think of when they think about how to gamify a certain process which tends to put the emphasis on competition.  One benefit of gamification is that it appeals to the natural motivation that a lot of people have around competition.  It’s often fun, its one source of intrinsic motivation, “I get to compete.”; “I get to do better than others.”

But that’s not the only benefit of gamification.  What are some of the other reasons that gamification works?

Karl: Competition works to a certain degree.  So, for example I like to run, you like to run, like to be physical, and I like to compete with my friends.  But if you put me on a leader board with Usain Bolt, I wouldn’t even want to compete.  What would be the point?  So, one of the things that works well in gamification is kind of a socialization aspect.

But if you put me on a leader board with friends that I run for a five K or whatever and I could see, you’re slightly ahead of me or I’m slightly behind and somebody’s right on my heels, then I’m motivated because I know I can achieve that challenge, or there’s a chance I can achieve that challenge.  That’s kind of an interesting mix of both socialization as well as competition.  So, those things work well together.

Another reason why gamification works well is, as I mentioned before, humans like challenges.  We like to see, “Oh, can we do that?”;”Can we overcome that?”;”Are we that smart?”;” Are we that clever?”  Or, “How clever are we versus other people or versus my peer group?”  So, people like to be involved in answering questions and going through that.

When you think of it, even on the simple level — look at a game like Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.  People watch those shows because they play along all the time.  Can I beat the contestant?  Am I smarter than them or cleverer?  Can I make that challenge?  So, people like to be presented with an overcome a challenge is that they feel that they can do.

They also like the social recognition.  Most people in an organization will say, “Oh, if you have any question about billing, Jane is the person to talk to.”  That gives Jane a feeling of reputational capital.  She is valued for what she knows, for what she does.  People also tend to be natural collectors.  So, badges work well and tap into that because we like to collect things.  We like to have things.  We like to, “Hey, look how many I have?”, “Oh, you have this.  Where do you get that?”

So, people really like to do that.  Again, there are even shows on television about collecting.  So, gamification isn’t into tapping into some giant mystery things.  These are things that are all around us.  If we look at television, it has a lot of these elements of gamification.  Gamification just kind of puts them together in one package.

The other thing people like is they like a sense of progress.  Gamification does a really good job of giving you this sense of movement, progress, of working toward a goal.  So, that’s a really good thing to have in there because people like that and points can help you do that because you know if you get an extra number of points, you move to this level.  There are five levels and you only have two more levels to go.  So, it gives you that sense of moving forward.

The other thing that points can do in a positive way is points can give you feedback on your level of performance.  So, let’s say that you’re answering questions or doing a task from a scale of one to 10; 10 being the highest, one being the lowest.  If I score of five, then I know I’m kind of in the middle.  I know that there’s an opportunity for me to do better.

If I score one, I know I did lousy.  I’ve got to go back.  If I score an eight or nine, then I’m comfortable with, “Okay, I’m almost toward perfection.”  I might want to try to get for perfection or I might be, “That’s okay in this particular task.” Points give me feedback on my level of competence.  So, that can be a very motivating aspect as well.  All these things together can really help people be engaged.  So, it’s the competition and also the cooperation and in terms of social awareness.

It goes back to some of the elements of self-determination theory.  It’s the theory of intrinsic motivation.  One of those things is relatedness, knowing other people.  One of those things is really being able to be competent in what you’re doing and people enjoy being competent.  People will in their lives pick out certain areas to be competent in on purpose, so that they have an area of expertise or an area of knowledge.

Gamification can be an outlet for that especially in the area of work.  So, competence is very important, this socially relatedness is important and then, autonomy.  Autonomy basically says, “I am not controlled by anybody else.  I can do what I want to do.”  If you take gamification and say, “Look, if you do this, you get this goal,” if you do this, you can get its other goal.  It’s up to you.

So, wow that’s great.  Now, you’re giving people choices and people can decide how much effort or decide how much they want to do towards something.  So, all those things kind of feed the fascination, the natural human tendency toward gamification.  We’ve been trying to gamify everything.  So, for example, running is a natural human thing, right?

Jesse: Right.

Karl: But we’ve gamified it saying, “I can be beat you to the finish line.  I can do that faster than you.”

Jesse: Yes.

Karl: So, even something as natural as running, we’ve gamified over the centuries.

Jesse: Karl, you talk about all these different benefits from gamification and the different elements such as points, badges and structural gamification versus content gamification, but how do you bring them all together to make sure the process that you’re attempting to gamify is actually effective?

Karl: Yes, that’s a really good question.  I get asked that question a lot.  If I had you couple of days, I could answer it concisely.  So, that was one of the issues with the first book that I wrote on gamification.  A lot would say, “Great content.  I love it.  But how do we actually implement this?”  So, the publisher actually asked me to put together a field book called, The Field Book for Gamification of Learning and Instruction. 

That’s where we’re putting all these together.  We’re looking at in that book: How do you design for reaching out [inaudible 00:31:44]?  We have some worksheets in there that ask a bunch of questions: What’s your business’ outcome?  What are you trying to accomplish?  What task people need to do in order to accomplish this?

So, we break apart, first of all, the need, that’s what you need to do.  Second of all, in the book, we give ideas for brainstorming.  That becomes an issue sometimes.  How do we do this?  I think people go to points, badges and leader boards because they’re the easiest thing to implement or think about.

But there are other things to think about like, as I’ve said before, transparent feedback, looking at mastery or looking at competence.  So, the book talks about how do you do that?  The book talks about how you would design these things.  Oftentimes, people are confused or aren’t clear about games versus learning games or structural games versus gamification versus creating stimulation.

We break all three of those down.  Here’s what’s in the game and what game is, here’s structural gamification and content gamification, and how to think about that.  Then, here’s stimulations and what you will do in terms of stimulation.  So, we look at all of those together.

By understanding and knowing that, and by understanding what your goals are that you’re trying to accomplish, that’s how you can intelligently gamify a process, procedure, learning event, internal customer, experiences, external customer experiences, and be smart about that.  So, that’s what we really talk about in that particular book.

Jesse: Oh, fantastic.  Well, we will look forward to that field book coming out in early 2014.  In the meantime Karl, where can people find out more about you and your work?

Karl: Okay, so I have a website at  K-A-R-L-K-A-P-P dot com.  It’s a good place to start, and I have a blog called, Kapp Notes.  You just Google Kapp Notes.  I try to write all, several times a week about the concepts of games and gamification.  I do a lot of work on slideshow too, so I have a bunch of presentations out there.  I’m on Twitter, K-K-A-P-P so people can see me on Twitter as well.

I love to engage in conversations and help people figure out what’s the best way toward gamification.  The exciting thing to me is it’s a relatively new field even though the components, I believe are decades, centuries old.  But they’re put together in a kind of a new and exciting light.  So, it’s a lot of fun to see how these can fit together and work through the problems.

I do a lot of research on games and there’s been a growing research on effectiveness of games for learning.  But gamification is so new there’s not a ton of research out there.  So, it’s a lot of opportunities to figure out and what is the best way to do it right now is a kind of craft.  But it’s being more and more informed by research and so I think that’s really exciting.  We’ll know very shortly, empirically what works and what doesn’t.

Jesse: Karl Kapp is professor of Instructional Technology of Bloomsburg University.  Karl thanks for joining us today.

Karl: Thanks Jesse, I had a great time.

Link to podcast episode:  Gamifying to Engage | with Karl Kapp

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