Applying game elements to trigger challenge mindsets and desired behaviours
Amelie Veillette, Peter Massie

Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts. By incorporating game elements such as points, quests, avatars, or levels to real life challenges, organizations may create incentives that change in behaviour and stimulate innovation by supporting engagement and skills development.

  • Gamification can target either an internal (staff) or an external (customers, citizens) audience.
  • It has been widely adopted throughout the private sector to improve, for instance, employee performance, business processes, and customer retention. Governments have also used it to engage citizens and public servants.
  • It also applies to areas such as education and medical research (e.g. crowdsourcing).
  • It takes place mainly in the virtual environment on web and mobile platforms.
  • Although related, gamification and serious games are two different concepts. Serious games are actual games with a specific purpose such as teaching a skill.


Gamification has the potential to modify behaviour of a variety of actors across a range of organizations without fiscal incentives or compulsory regulations. A limited number of tools, which can be easily integrated to existing web and mobile platforms, may be necessary:

  • Points: are commonly used to keep score, provide feedback, or demonstrate status. In addition, they may provide a form of data to inform future policy design.
  • Badges: are virtual goods and awarded to players for specific accomplishments. Badges are useful for presenting desired goals, identifying certain individuals, or providing personal affirmation.
  • Leaderboards: are lists of participants in a challenge, ordered according to a desired parameter. Leaderboards exhibit the relative performance of users to incentivize competition.
Gamification can also direct collective efforts towards innovative solutions or products to solve specific problems. Depending on the context, the main benefits may include :
  • Establishing clear objectives (difficult but achievable) with simple rules;
  • provide immediate signs of success and progress;
  • giving a playful dimension to common tasks or habits;
  • providing the opportunity to contribute to community goals (sharing, supporting or generating ideas) and being rewarded for doing so;
  • balance competition to select the best ideas collaboratively for development.

Finally, the design of play-based tools often requires fewer resources than other tools, such as serious games.


  • Despite the potential variety for gamification tools, there appears to be a distinct lack of diversity. In a survey conducted by Werbach (2012) of over 100 gamification tools, few if any innovated beyond the points, badges, and leaderboards (PBL) formula.
  • Gamification relies on engagement with the individual. Users which are otherwise under-engaged may fail to respond to these incentives unless material incentives are attached.
  • Incorporating the PBL formula to any work process while neglecting to match business objectives with benefits for users is unsustainable. Gartner (2012) predicted that 80% of current gamified applications would fail to meet business objectives by 2014 due to poor design.

Policy Opportunity

  • Gamification tools could help generate innovative ideas in policy areas facing budgetary constraints. For example, in the strategic management area, tools such as the Silly Cow Exercise are used to get managers to think outside the box.
  • In the wake of conventional incentives (e.g., promotion), gamification (e.g., badges) could provide a powerful instrument for motivating and recognizing employees, and for team-building.
  • Gamification tools could also be developed to open dialogue with citizens. The public service, as the online facilitator, could guide citizens in the development of policy suggestions.
  • Gamification could be used to encourage certain behaviours by public employees or citizens (e.g., related to health or energy consumption) that would be beneficial for society.


  • Participation must build on internal motivations, and remain voluntary.
  • Gamification leverages social norms (e.g. recognition) to incentivize certain behaviours. In order for the tools to be effective, the targeted audience must be in an environment where they are engaged with peers who recognize the value of their accomplishments (e.g., badges, points). Before implementing gamification tools, know your audience and its environment.
  • Gamification may transform complex tasks into a shallow pursuit for recognition. As users become more focused on rewards, they may focus increased effort on completing a task rather than completing a task well if the PBL system is not designed effectively.

Government of Canada


Best in Class

  • Deloitte applies game principles to a range of processes inside organizations such as learning and development. For example, Deloitte Leadership Academy is an online program for training its own employees as well as its clients. The user-friendly platform includes missions, badges, leaderboards, in-depth courses, tests and quizzes.
  • Many firms such as Badgeville and Bunchball have developed platforms to support the implementation of gamification tools.
  • Nike, Starbucks, and the U.S. Army have been successful in using gamification tools; while Nike focused on building a community of users, Starbucks worked on increasing customers’ loyalty. The U.S. Army used gamification as a recruiting and training tool.
  • China’s ‘Sesame Credit’ application monitors citizens’ social media presence to score their behaviour according to party policy.