Ep 033 Roman Rackwitz talks about the importance of intrinsic motivation and rewards in gamification

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Roman Rackwitz is the founder of Engaginglab GmbH, Europe’s first Gamification Agency in 2009. Winner of the first international Gamification Challenge, done by Mashable and SETI in 2011. He teaches Gamification for HR and Marketing at Universities in Germany and Switzerland.

In 2017 he also founded a Social Media Agency that uses the knowledge and experience from Engaginglab to help its customers targeting long-term relationships, mainly in B2B. He’s also program director for the Gamification track at the Gamescom Congress and co-host of the GamificationDay.

Roman is regularly featured on German television and print as a guest when Gamification is a topic. He is the co-host of the German Gamification Podcast ‘Spiel aber Ernst.’ and a member of the Board of Directors at Schultheiss Software AG.

Days of Roman start with his son who he takes to the kindergarten. His workday starts after, around 9 am and it depends on what is on the schedule. Often the first thing is talking about the content to deliver, then they go for the customer projects, also the research part which also includes behavioral psychology, these are the things to typically do before lunchtime. After lunch, they tend to go towards the production side, some project management, customer meetings, working on concepts, collaborating with companies that work as providers, perhaps 30-40% of his time is dedicated still to evangelizing about gamification, growing the industry. He is very dedicated especially to the German-speaking countries for many reasons, among them that he is able to be number one, or at least to create a great gamification brand, which is something very beneficial.

His favorite failure ended up becoming one of his top successes as well. He was helping a company who wanted to help restaurants on many aspects of their people. It was the first time that his gamification solution was not something to add on top of something already created, they started the software from scratch so it meant gamification was at its core. It was working pretty well after their tests, it was focused on intrinsic motivation and rewards (no points, badges or leaderboards for example!). It seemed very motivating for the employees they were engaging very well. After some time the client called back and looking at the data, for some reason people were stopping to use it! It was a crushing moment. They went back to the restaurants and realized that it was only created for the employees and not thinking in management! They needed the information of the behavior for them to make decisions. This was a huge realization for him, they went back and created a “cockpit” with the client that also connected to the software that the restaurants were already using! It is not just about making it more fun, management has to be able to see the value, they are the ones who decide to continue with the initiative or to pause or end it! Now even McDonalds is starting to use this software in Germany, perhaps in the future, we will see a rollout in other places.

The process of creating a gamification design for Roman starts with three questions. They go and ask the client if it is learnable, in the sense of being able to progress, to overcome the challenge. If it is about really repetitive tasks, there is only one really efficient way to do it, he doesn’t feel it is really gamifiable, making it more entertaining might even deviate from the efficiency required in that kind of tasks. The next question is whether or not it is measurable, games are measure engines! It is also fundamental to be able to provide individual feedback to the users, that would be the third question. If any of them is no, they either look for a way to turn it into a yes or do not get started on the project. This is almost like a screening before getting started with gamification on a project. Then they use the periodic table of gamification that they created, it includes everything that they have learned: the structure, the methodology, the mechanics, everything in one place. It is a roadmap for the first questions, the first conditions they work on for the creation of the right environment, how to create the system itself and a compass to guide them. It includes seven main rules to see if they are on track, if they are within their own ethics structure, it helps to focus always on the long run. We can find this on their website for a broader picture at engaginglab.com.

A best practice would be not to focus on results but rather on activities. If you focus on the goal only, you create a game in the mind of the user where they focus only on the result, in the easiest way, this is natural. This leads to forgetting the focus on the activity and it will probably remain as boring! If you do not communicate rewards directly, using chance for example, and not let the users know how to get the rewards, it will help the user to focus on the activities that you have designed and have in front of them. Another good practice would be to use the comparison, not for competition but to compare yourself to yourself! That way you can see progress and you get the benefits of competition without the downside.

His favorite board game would be “The Settlers of Catan” and his favorite video game would be the classic Command & Conquer which he grew up with. Roman would like to listen to Sir Ken Robinson, who talks about how humans learn because Roman feels that games are all about learning. He would recommend reading “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster. Roman’s superpower in gamification is his focus on the intrinsic rewards! Extrinsic rewards have been around for over 150 years by now and they have been perfected, now they are not working as well so it is important to turn to intrinsic.

Roman’s final advice would be to focus on behavioral psychology and neuroscience first, to understand why we like learning. The book he recommended would be a great place to get started in gamification. He also encourages people to sit down when playing a game and decide to change the rules and see what happens, you can learn a lot about motivation and behavior in such an experiment.

We can reach Roman in several ways, just put Roman Rackwitz gamification on your search bar! In particular, he is on his website romanrackwitz.de, engaginglab.de, email him on roman [at] engaginglab [dot] com. He’s also on YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook!

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