5 Books That Make the Business Case for Gamification


There’s a lot of talk about gamification and what it means for employee engagement. But for gamification to make sense in an enterprise, the fog of the buzzwords needs to be penetrated and the definition of gamification needs clarification.

So, what is gamification really?

• A video game that is overlaid on “work"?

• A do-or-die competition between employees?

• A new form of corporate performance management? 

• A Fitbit for work?

I personally like this definition: “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals,” by Gartner’s Brian Burke, author of Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things (Bibliomotion, 2014).

Here are five books that shed light on what gamification is and how it can be applied in the workplace:

1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead Books, 2011) by Daniel H. Pink

Many people mistakenly believe that gamification is about driving people using competition or monetary awards. That isn’t what gamification is about, and the reason is simple: Competition and money aren’t what really drive us. In Drive, Pink explains how people are driven by the “third drive,” an intrinsic motivation, a sense of mastery or autonomy. He also shares lots of cool experiments and scientific data to back his claim that extrinsic rewards and motivation can actually harm employees’ performance. It’s a fascinating read.

2. For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business (Wharton Digital Press, 2012) by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter

This is a great book for anyone who has ever wondered why gamification is such a powerful tool and how it is implemented. The authors argue that addressing problems the way a game designer would can transform a business through engagement and motivation. They also share stories about how different companies are using game thinking in their respective industries. Finally, they include a hands-on guide and framework about how to implement gamification and when it makes the most sense to use gamification as a business tool.

3. Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things (Bibliomotion, 2014) by Brian Burke

Burke, Gartner’s gamification expert, explains that gamification isn’t about having fun at work or making employees more productive. It is about motivating players to achieve their goals. To put it in his words:

“If the player’s goals are aligned with the organization’s goals, then the organizational goals will be realized as a consequence of the player achieving her goals.”

Burke emphasizes that gamification engages people by creating meaning and motivation. He also touches on how gamification can be tied to corporate culture.

4. The Small Big: Small Changes that Spark Big Influence (Grand Central Publishing, 2014) by Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein, and Robert Cialdini

As the name implies, this is a book about how small insights can have a big effect. While it isn’t just about gamification, one of the inspiring stories in the book is that of an experiment conducted by professor Adam Grant from the Wharton School of Business. At the university office responsible for fundraising from alumni, Grant examined how reminding employees of the higher goal, or outcome, of their actions (helping college students get scholarships) would affect their performance. He compared this group's performance with the performance of employees who were being reminded about their personal benefits (salaries, bonuses, etc.). The people with the “higher goal” were much more productive. This means that communicating the essence of the company makes employees perform better. Gamification can be the perfect tool to do this.

5. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin Books, Reprint edition, 2011) by Jane McGonigal

McGonigal explains the science behind what makes games so good for us--how they make us happier, more creative, more resilient and better at dealing with change. But before you decide to gamify every aspect of your life, McGonigal also explains that some games are better for us than others, and that too much gaming can be bad. What I love about this book is how it offers the idea that gaming can be “hard work” and an actual need that we have to fulfill. Gamification that taps into these deep emotions is bound to succeed.



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