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Who Really Wants Gameification at Work?

2011 June 30

The results of a poll by Saatchi & Saatchi have recently been floating around the blogosphere indicating that the majority of people want gameification at work. As with any time an online “expert” makes such a reveal, I wanted to check to make sure that methodologically, the conclusions it is drawing (i.e. people want gameification!) are valid given the data and approach it took.

To begin, here are some general details.  The study was conducted via an online survey between May 11 and May 17 with 2004 US respondents, half of which were women.  Ages ranged from 18-44.  The recruiting strategy is not very clear in the materials provided by Saatchi & Saatchi.  They only say that subjects were “recruited via email from Ipsos MediaCT’s Sample Community.” Ipsos is a huge international survey company, but I am not familiar with “MediaCT” or their “sample communities.”

A little research on the Ipsos MediaCT’s Sample Community turns up this document from Ipsos MediaCT.  As far as I can tell, Ipsos MediaCT passively collects data from consumers as they traverse Ipsos’ client websites.  This is a selling point according to the Ipsos document; with their samples, you aren’t tapping people who have completed surveys before, which is a methodological weakness (if all surveys come from the same core group of people, you are less sure that new surveys will generalize outside of that group).  It’s not clear how e-mail addresses are harvested, but spyware is really the only answer I can come up with.  That’s not necessarily bad from a methodological point of view (although it’s a little fishy that this information is not easily accessible), although it might be unethical.

There are also a number of odd features in the way that data is reported.  For example, the report says, “50% of the US online population between the ages of 18 and 44 play social games on a daily basis.”  In terms of realistically deploying gameification in an organization, we’re concerned with the entire US population – not just those already online, nor just those involved in this survey.  Given that no information about sampling is really provided (see above), we don’t have any frame of reference for what “US online population” means.

As to why that might matter, consider this information buried in the Appendix: only 6% of those sampled have less than a high school education and 21% with high school but no college.  Most jobs where gameification would be most easily applicable (and probably well-received) are not high complexity jobs (lawyer, doctor); they are entry-level jobs like basic retail and service industries, where high school educations are less common.  Would gameification work for this group?  Even if we were to ignore the peculiarities with the reporting here, the answer is simply not provided; “interesting” tidbits have been cherry-picked from the data and a comprehensive background is not presented.

Then there’s this gem, which spurred the popularity of this poll in general: “Among respondents who are employed, 55% would be interested in working for a company that offers games as a way to increase productivity.” The realities of gameification (i.e., game-based incentive systems) versus the vision of gameification that most employees might have when they see a question on a survey (i.e., let’s add FUN!) may be very different. And of course, note the very peculiar limiting to only those who are employed. If the unemployed don’t want to work for a company that offers games, wouldn’t that be a pretty bad sign?

So who really wants gameification at work? At this point, we don’t really know. And should we trust this data otherwise?  I’ll give my standard advice: Trust it as much as you trust anything on the Internet.

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