Total Engagement, B Reeves & J. Read

This book’s premise is that work could be made better through game mechanics.

Each chapter opens with a story demonstrating the benefits and themes of the more academic (though we’re not talking particularly scientific or deep, more in stylistic terms) discussion. The first describes a current call centre scenario: stressful, confusing (with lots of metrics the workers don’t understand), isolated and with low rewards, the route to which is not obvious. The next contrasts a gamified one: happy workers playing from home (no commute as they’re in a virtual, WOW like environment), seeing their and their peers’ progress clearly (and sending helpful notes to pick up laggards), with obvious and immediate feedback on good behaviour (UUUUUUUPSELL!!!) leading predictably to clear rewards.

The book delivers good analysis of the benefits of games which will be most rewarding to non-gamers, and old news to everyone else. The analysis of mechanics is of no use to anyone implementing them, and are probably intended as a check list for product managers.

Most of all, the central premise that most work places could be meaningfully gamified is flawed. A huge number of jobs are not measurable. How does a manager receive instant feedback? Still less creative workers: what triggers the BONUS POINTS for an illustrator, or an advertising, marketing or creative IT worker? Any part of their job easily gamified would be the trivial part, and focussing on incentivising that part in a way that affected remuneration would be effectively incentivising poor performance.

Such jobs cannot satisfy the need for frequent, repeatable feedback that games require. The ‘meta-games’ that careers currently provide are about it - people see praise and financial bonuses as unfairly and randomly handed out. I believe the real value created by the majority of jobs today in economically developed countries is not measurable, and it would be counter productive to attempt it.

While jobs with transactional or mechanical natures (sales, manufacturing, customer support) would be improved by gamification, the vast majority of jobs in developed countries would not.