Almost overnight, millions of people worldwide (including some of your employees) became hooked (read engaged) in an augmented reality battle for rewards, badges, and points with the launch of Pokemon Go in 2016. As of October 2016, the game had generated an estimated revenue of US$1.56 million daily.

One of the superlative adoption statistics that Pokemon Go achieved is that people got fired for playing it on the job. Six businesses fired their employees for spending too much company time on the game.

What caused the fired employees to keep playing Pokemon Go, to the point of dismissal? It was so fun, so they played past the point of caring about the consequences of dismissal.

In this post, we explore how organizations can profit from the gamification lessons in Pokemon Go’s runaway success. For now, let’s leave Fun aside, and go back to an organization’s priorities. Gamification looks like all fun and games. But, the improvements through gamification is serious and business-like.

Recognizing Sidelined Objectives

You may already be familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix that helps focus on tasks by urgency and importance. Many of us already know that urgent and important tasks should get tackled first. The challenge is in quadrant 2 — the Important/Not Urgent tasks.

Personal goals could be exercising or being with family members. To organizations, it could be planning and attending training, or tackling long-term strategy. These are the to-do lists traditionally made as new year resolutions. At SelfDrvn, we have a name for these Important/Non-Urgent tasks — the graveyard of good intentions.

Resurrecting Good Intentions Through Fun

Why do these good intentions die? It is because they are always displaced by urgent tasks. We know we must do them, but it won’t hurt us if we don’t do them immediately. Few people (and organizations) have the self-discipline to tackle all their important/not urgent items.

Many select just one or two items too important to ignore and junk the others. For some people, important tasks neglected may include exercising, self-renewal and family time. For organizations, it could be long-term innovation, leadership renewal, and employee engagement.

What Pokemon Go Teaches Us

In the case of the fired employees, they placed `Unimportant/Not Urgent tasks (playing Pokemon Go) in quadrant 1. It became personally important and urgent to the dismissed employees. Why did that happen? Because of the fun that employees derived from the game. Pokemon Go uses mechanics considered fun by many. These include competing, exploring, teamwork, collecting, customizing, receiving rewards and leveling up.

Using similar mechanics, organizations can engineer urgency and spontaneous behaviors towards targeted good intentions. Tackling Important/Not Urgent items more often and more willingly, through fun.

To do that, organizations need to understand that different employees consider different activities fun. You also need to know what activities employees consider fun. For instance, the management team might be more engaged by organizing and problem-solving. Employees in the IT department may enjoy exploring and creating.

Organizations can gain this understanding by asking employees what they consider fun and engaging. Surveys and short interviews asking users to choose their favorite games can help get this information. This will help create a system which balances a range of fun activities that different users would enjoy.

Motivating Employees to Exercise — An Example

Let’s take employee exercising for instance. Nobody questions the health benefits of exercising. The challenge is always how to get stressed-out, desk-bound employees to exercise more.

Let’s entertain a company scenario: sick leave applications have been trending up. Employees are complaining of burning out. And a poll shows that 90% of employees rarely, if ever, exercise. To curtail this and contain rising medical bills, the company’s CEO decides to spur employee health as a necessity.

This is an old challenge and companies have tried many measures. From free gym memberships and prizes for completing marathons to healthier cafeteria food and monthly company treks. These measures are effective to a certain extent. But because these incentives are not ‘fun’ per se, they don’t have the effect of making employees want to exercise more. No matter the incentives offered, employees would only exercise if they want to.

Getting employees to exercise more becomes an Important/Not Urgent item that the company wants to move to quadrant 2. Using a poll that inquired what employees find fun, the company found two main personas. In its ultra-competitive sales force, fun was competing, winning and overcoming. Among its support staff, socializing and collaborating/teamwork was the dominant fun archetype. We’re stereotyping of course, but we’re simplifying this for the sake of discussion.

Leaderboards, Weekly Bests and Push-Up contests could be the way to go for those who enjoy competition. For support types who like to be around people, design incentives could be ‘Exercising with a Friend’ or ‘Team Quests’.

We visualize this example scenario below:

We can continue this exercise until we address the company’s major “Important/Not Urgent” goals. By asking employees what they find fun, we can create mechanics that have enough adoption to make the operation worthwhile.


How Pokemon Go Does It

With that example in mind, Pokemon Go provides a ready example of motivating people to exercise more. In their case, they have gamified walking.

In Pokemon Go, walking a certain distance hatches eggs. The distance counter in the players’ phones keep track of the distances covered. After covering the required distance, the egg hatches to become a Pokemon. Different eggs hatch at 2 km, 5 km, and 10 km. Of course, eggs that hatch at 10 km tend to be the rarer or more powerful Pokemon.

The more players walk, the more eggs they hatch. There is anecdotal evidence that this gamification tactic had led to behavior changes. We have heard of joggers who leave the Pokemon Go game on while jogging. Or colleagues caught in rush hour jams, leaving their Pokemon Go on, so their eggs can hatch faster. And there are media articles suggesting players have lost weight playing the game.

Of course, Pokemon Go went with a ‘collection-hatching’ mechanic that appeals to most people. They cannot afford to fine-tune the game mechanics to appeal to a narrow range of personas. We have no such constraints in an organization. We should fine-tune games to appeal to various personality types within an organization.

Every day, good intentions in the form of Not Urgent/Important tasks go unattended because of pressing urgent items. We can encourage good intentions to become good actions by making them fun. Pokemon Go’s tactics and mechanics are a good reference point. Providing many good examples of how your corporate goals can be successfully gamified.

A SelfDrvn opinion paper by Munch Lam, H.K. Bian and Chukwudi Barrah