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Guest Post: Are you Creating Winners – or Losers?

Guest Post: Are you Creating Winners – or Losers?

Joel MacCharles

03/25/2014

By Joel MacCharles, Vice President of Innovation at AIC
@JambalayaJoel; & @WellPreserved 

Survivor changed everything (at least in my mind).

When people think of Survivor, many credit (or blame) it for the birth of the popularization of reality television.  American Idol, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Amazing Race, The Voice, Big Brother, Expedition Robinson (the inspiration for Survivor) were largely created or popularized after its premiere, and success, on May 31, 2000.

Reality television brought big prizes, fierce competition, high drama, low production costs and curated intense audience engagement including public viewing parties and office gambling pools.  The shows vent viral before we had a term for such a thing.

But Survivor unlocked a secret that had long been buried: people like to watch other people lose.  Early game shows (like What’s My Line, The Price is Right, Let’s Make a Deal and even The Dating Game) featured several rounds of multiple contestants.  Viewers would spend 30-60 minutes passively enjoying watching people win prizes and celebrate.  Survivor flipped this concept and offered the alternative: 16 hours of viewing in which observers could watch 15 people lose and, eventually, see one person win.  Watching people lose makes for great television and/ or ratings. 

Winning a war of attrition is a brutal experience.  I say this as a ‘Survivor’ of a 10-day contest for a local radio station that was based on the reality show on the Island.  A group of us were stranded at a petting zoo.  We slept in a communal room in a horse stable and voted 2-people per day ‘out of the pen.’  We even had a special place for castaways; each night saw one of us sleeping in an unheated stable in the middle of winter.  I played a smart game with one critical mistake and ended up in third place.

I was surprised at the intensity of the game even though our prize was significantly smaller than a million dollars (in “Sleep with a Pig to Win a Hog” our winner was to be awarded a $14,000 Motorcycle).  The entire experience was an exercise in psychology and, despite it being a game, it became a brutal contest where participants strove to win at all costs.  Every waking moment focused on not being eliminated.  We weren’t trying to be our best; in fact the focus on not losing often brought out our worst.

Any time you create a contest that has a winner you create losers.  And this holds true in business.

I’ve seen many businesses, especially call centers, demotivate their teams through poorly designed contests.  Contests that often create a big winner and leave many losers in their wake.  Contests that can accidentally demotivate teams and team members and make them feel left out, treated unfairly, unrecognized or worse.

It’s not unusual for call centers to proclaim the value of ‘teams’ while also motivating individuals with the promise of a big screen television or exclusive vacation.  But how can we be a team if we’re all competing for a single big prize that’s based on individual performance?  That sounds more like a pit fight than a team sport!

Before integrating gamification at Allied, I had the opportunity to sit with more than 100 call center agents 1-on-1 and ask them about their jobs.  They reinforced the notions above and frequently shared that the best thing about their job was the people they worked with and they didn’t always enjoy competing against the people they liked.  More specifically I was told by several winners of ‘big prizes’ that they actually felt demotivated when they won a large prize because they won it by ‘beating’ their friends.

One of the compelling reasons that drew us to Gamification was to create a winning feeling amongst individuals by creating more winners more often and to be able to reward teams for working together and achieving something bigger than any individual can do on their own.

When designing any contest (including a gamified experience), it’s essential that you spend as much time, or more, on the experience of non-winners as you do for figuring out how to reward winners.  If you skip this step you might accidentally create an entire team of ‘losers.’ 

And who wants to play any game that calls out losers?

Tune in this Thursday at 11:00am PDT as Joel pulls back the curtain and give us an insider's perspective on how his company, Allied International Credit Corp. (AIC),  improved employee performance by addressing the challenges of education, motivation and retention.  Register for this free webinar today!

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