Bored at work? Why don’t you play a game? Half your co-workers do according to a recent study by Saatchi and Saatchi.

But why is that? Why are we more motivated to farm make-believe apples on Facebook rather than finishing the report due tomorrow or making one more sales call?

What do these game designers know about us that our own bosses don’t? What if our managers could carry that same brainwashing power over our productivity in the office?

Or even better, what if we could apply these designers’ secrets towards our own motivation?

The Game Designer’s Influence Map

Game designers influence a kingdom of followers.

If you added up all the time gamers have spent playing World of Warcraft alone, it would exceed 5.93 million years. “To put this in perspective, 5.93 million years ago was when our earliest primate human ancestors stood up and started walking on two legs.”

Arguably the most successful phone app, Angry Birds, makes a million dollars a month just from Android’s ad supported version.

There is no doubt, game developers have our attention and it’s growing faster than any other entertainment source.

So what magic source have they tapped into in order to become the world’s heavy weight motivation champion? To have convinced so many of us to spend millions of dollars and hours on their products?

M.A.P. vs Gaming Dynamics

One answer may come from Dan Pink’s studies on performance and motivation.

Dan studied these topics extensively in the business world and discovered certain patterns that were present in motivated work environments vs disengaged environments.

He came up with the acronym M.A.P. that stood for the 3 fundamentals of motivation. Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose.

1. Mastery: The Urge to Get Better and Better at Something That Matters.

Professionals seek after mastery in order to differentiate themselves, move up in their careers, and have a general sense of progress.

And Game designers get that. Why do you think games show the percent you have completed or your progress with meeting certain goals?
Do you find mastery in your work? Are you filling up the progress bars of professional development?
If you manage people, can you see why this is important?

2. Autonomy: The Desire to Direct our Lives.

Everyday management naturally struggles with this, but Mr. Pink found that if you wanted engagement, self direction was better.
Think about it in your own lives. Do you enjoy the work you do on your own more than the work someone is pushing you to do?
That’s why games rarely force you on a single path. Games like World of Warcraft let you design a character from scratch, then go off on adventures to your liking.
Want to be a dwarf warrior? Go ahead. Rather become a powerful mage? Go for it. Slay a dragon or hunt bunnies, you decide.
Managers may want to lay off the hand holding, and take the position of a trusted advisor. Be like a game, give your team some goals, but allow the freedom to complete them according to their abilities.
I know it takes faith, but it might surprise you.

3. Purpose: The Yearning to Do What We Do in the Service of Something Larger Than Ourselves

Dan Pink found that companies that have a purpose motive tied to their profit motive attract better talent and have happier employees.
Games thrive because they often fill that void.
Mario is an excellent example. Here you are a chubby little plumber tossed into a world of turtles and mushrooms. From first glance you wouldn’t find anything special about your circumstances, but then all of a sudden a princess is kidnapped by a dinosaur/monster/reptile and instantly you are given a purpose.
Every goomba squished or brick smashed is getting you closer to fulfilling your purpose.
Is your work having you save any “princesses”, or are you smashing your head against bricks for nothing? That’s how important purpose is.

Motivators vs Game Mechanics

We conduct motivator assessments as a company so I wanted to see if and how game developers addressed these.

1. Theoretical: The Drive to Accumulate Knowledge, Facts, and Research.

Game designers often incorporate knowledge and facts into a game through releasing tips or strategies periodically as the game progresses.

The makers of Elder Scrolls IV actually wrote and incorporated hundreds of books into their game. The books served as a way of including additional lore, hints, and secrets.

All things that theoretically driven people would be motivated by.

2. Utilitarian: Utilizing Resources to Gain Maximum Return on All Investments.

Again, game designers provide several gaming elements that add utilitarian motivations to the mix.

Utilitarians will be driven by upgrades, better weapons, and items. Any tools that will help them do the job more efficiently, are highly sought after by these types.

Plants Vs Zombies does this by allowing you to unlock improved versions of previous plants.

For example, early on you start with a Peashooter which can shoot a single pea at oncoming zombies. But, if you progress far enough, eventually you will be able to unlock a Threepeater which can shoot three peas for about twice the price of a single pea shooter.

3. Aesthetic: Self-Actualization Through Experiencing Variety, Beauty, Harmony and Balance.

Some people find enjoyment in beautifying their surroundings and decorating their world. They appreciate the beauty around them.

Game designers provide this option in many of their games.

One that does this particularly well is The Sims franchise. You can literally hand pick the look of every element of the game. From your characters’ outfits to your wallpaper or flooring, it’s all free for you to change.

4. Individualistic: Gaining Power, Advancing Position and Leading Others.

Many managers, sales people, and entrepreneurs have some individualistic motivation in them.

In the gaming world, this need is met by functions such as leaderboards, trophy rooms, and badges.

Game designers understand our competitive nature and therefore utilize it by making it easy to compare our accomplishments, high scores, and skills.

Take this trophy room for example. One of the ways the game rewards its players is by displaying their accomplishments in one place where friends can go to compare and see all the achievements of their buddies.

5. Social: Helping People and Eliminating Conflict.

Social in this sense doesn’t mean playing with others, although that is a motivation for some. In this instance we are talking about the desire to help others or a cause.

Many of the social games, the free ones on Facebook or Google+, have many of these dynamics.

In Zombie Lane you are encouraged to help your friends fight off their zombies, pick up trash or rubble, fix fences, or revive their withered crops.

You could play the game without ever working on your own plot of land and or zombies.

6. Traditional: Following a System That Provides the Basis for Decisions.

Traditionals often come from military, religious, or strong family backgrounds. They feel comfortable following patterns or structures they’ve gripped onto in their lives.

Gaming is full of traditional elements. Often patterns are built into games through dynamics like leveling up, quests, and reward systems.

Another element of traditional motivation is in class systems.

The picture above comes from Battlefield 3, an online first person shooter. They display four “traditional” classes gamers tend to play as on FPS’s; support, engineer, assault, and sniper.

Even the copy “PLAY IT YOUR WAY” is dead on for traditionals. When they come into a situation they are going to look for the familiar traditions and systems they are used to playing as.

Applying Gamification to the Workforce

Now why is this even important? How is it even possible to apply this to the work place?‘s Chief Scientist presented on this very topic saying, “As a new generation of knowledge workers land in jobs at organizations big and small, they’re bringing with them different expectations and are motivated differently than workers once were.”

What is going to happen when the next generation of workers grew up on Halo instead of Pong? Can they stay motivated by traditional methods, or will workplaces need to adapt in order to attract and retain the top talent?

If you need more convincing watch this video, where gaming dynamics such as leveling, achievements, and more are already seeing results in the office.

What Do You Think?

There might be more to gaming than just fun and games.

Is this truly the future of workplaces, or is it an idea that should stay carefully in it’s entertainment arena? I’d enjoy your thoughts.

FREE  4-Part Video eCourse: "How to Find the Perfect Career Fit For Your Personality"
This amazing course will teach you, step by step, how to find your work personality and the jobs that match them.

24 thoughts on “Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

  1. Hey Bryce,

    That was pretty interesting. I will admit I’ve never enjoyed playing those types of games. I do know from experience when I was in the work force that we lose interests in our jobs because we find them boring and unchallenging. When it’s the same thing over and over each and every day we would much rather be doing something else. That’s why you find so many people surfing the internet during working hours.

    This world would be a much better place if we all just loved what we did in order to make a living. That sure would be hard for some businesses to survive though because let’s face it, some of those jobs people just do because they can’t find another job and they need to eat.

    None the less, very interesting post and I enjoyed the videos. Pretty cool.


  2. Bryce Christiansen

    Thanks Adrienne,

    That certainly is the key. Enjoying what you do is the ultimate motivator. At the same time, companies still lose these people.

    That’s often because although the employee may love what they do (sales, marketing, customer service) their needs might not be met for the level of expertise they are at.

    Games transition difficulty and gaming elements as the players grow from beginners, to experts, to masters. Just like in games there is a need for setting the pace in our careers.

    Novices need: Onboarding, welcome, goals, progress.
    Experts need: Fresh content, activities, interaction.
    Master’s need: Unlocks/Promotions, exclusives, access.

    So companies might ask why they lost a star employee who onboarded well and hit goals off the bat.

    I bet they can take a lesson from the game designers and ask themselves, did they adjust to the employees growing needs as they transitioned from novice to expert? Did they give them enough fresh content, activities, or interaction?

    I’m glad you shared your thoughts. That love for our work is so crucial and is the foundation for any performance driven employee.

  3. Excellent points, Bryce. The one that stands out to me is an aspect of point #4 – that of quantification. It is difficult to know where you stand on things in real life – especially at work. But games give you clearly defined status boards so you know where you are improving (or not) against yourself and against others. If only employee evaluations were so transparent!

  4. Bryce Christiansen

    No joke. A leaderboard at work would definitely add some pressure to those who weren’t performing as well as some confidence to those who were doing well.

    Like you said, games are good about making it clear what the objective is and where you are in completing it.

    Right now I have a dozen different projects all in different stages. I wish I could pull up a dashboard that was as intuitive as games are to help me see where the next steps are to moving the project along.

    Thanks for the comment, Allan. Hope to see you often.

  5. Bryce , I’ve only one thing to say to you now. I got this printed and Im taking it to my manager to tell her what she can do to motivate my team. Thanks so much. I am so excited to see this process to motivate employees.

  6. Bryce Christiansen

    Haha, it’s funny but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

    I’m curious how workers 20 years from now will be managed as the younger gaming familiar generation sits in management positions.

    I assume there must be some influence carried over.

    I already have ideas for how I’m going to get my kids to do their chores now. I’ll coordinate chores with experience points, so they can level up and earn cool rewards like their very first bike ;)

    I don’t know. That’s a book practically waiting to be written.

    You’ll have to let me know what your manager thinks…if you were being serious.

  7. I’ve got an approval from my manager to run a small project within my team to see how things go. Thanks so much. I hope that I can make a difference at my workplace.

  8. Bryce Christiansen

    That’s awesome! Good for you to take initiative to improve your workplace.

    Let me know if there’s anything you need.

  9. Bryce……Excellent article. I enjoy reading and listening to Dan Pink. His “out of the box” thinking should be an inspiration to all managers that are looking for a different way to spin their management style.

    The new emerging leadership styles won’t work for everyone or every business, but we better pay attention to the metamorphosis of our work forces if we want to be at the front of the pack.

  10. Bryce Christiansen

    Good to see you here Ed,

    There really isn’t a one way fix for managing people. We are all very different as well as our values and motivations.

    However, like you said, it is important to stay on top of changes in the work force. There are many motivation systems workplaces use, this is just one possibility.

    If it works for your team, that’s great! At the same time, as not everyone enjoys every game, not every game dynamic will motivate every worker.

  11. Wow Bryce,

    I was intrigued by the title but slightly dubious as to the connection, but you did it man. With some amazing points!

    I love Daniel Pink’s Drive. There really is a surprising truth to what motivates us. It sounds crazy to think that fiscal incentive can actually diminish creativity, but time and time again that is what we find.

    And so this continued research along with a technological standpoint we have never been before I really do believe that our motivation will shift. It will stay centered around MAP, but I think the outlets and outcomes will take vastly different shapes.

    Love your Mario connection to purpose by the way!

  12. Bryce Christiansen

    Thanks Chris,

    You are right Chris, the headline sounds like you are going to find a bunch of sensationalistic made up facts.

    But, after talking about using some game mechanics in some upcoming products we’re launching it got me thinking, why are games so darn addictive and growing so quickly?

    How come Joe Schmoe will put as much time into his games as he does his work? And why don’t we put that “secret sauce” to work in our own jobs?

    The Daniel Pink studies are amazing, yet for some reason, we never put those points together like he did.

    Obviously games have been taking advantage of those qualities for years, and have benefited in turn.

    Thanks for your comments. I hope you come back often.

  13. Nice work…as a fan of both gamification and Dan Pink, I loved the whole thang :-)

  14. Bryce Christiansen

    Hi Dino,

    Good to see you make it here. I love your advice on growing fanatics and would welcome any input you have to share.

    Maybe I can also get some tips on how to get my Lab to not try to run in front of my bike when I try to take him on bike walks :)


  15. My recommendation is dont do it. Growing fanatics is hard work.

    As for your dog, bike faster :-)

  16. Bryce Christiansen

    Great, I’ll try that. I was going rather slow my first attempt getting situated with it. It didn’t help that I was using my wife’s pink bike at the time either.

  17. Bryce,

    You make some really excellent point here!

    There is something so seductive about the new breed of games. In a world that for some people must seem to be becoming uncontrollable the game designers let you achieve levels of control with those definitive goals.

    Businesses wold do well to take a page from this allowing autonomy while also giving a sense of purpose and recognizing achievement.

  18. Bryce Christiansen

    Hi Steve,

    I’m so glad you made it over here. I really enjoy your site. Your Ebook about Ebook empires had me thinking all weekend about some ideas.

    I appreciate your thoughts here. The principles game designers are using such as autonomy, purpose, and recognizing achievement are very positive. Many see games as a bad thing, but I think there are some practical applications for motivating workers.

    I’ll see you shortly,


  19. This really is a fascinating article and I love both of the videos!

    It really is true how many would rather play a game than work. Game creators have, for a long time, really, done a great job at finding various ways to motivate people to play further and further into the game. I had to walk away from one of those very popular Facebook games at the beginning of the year because I realized I was spending huge chunks of time on it and not getting any of the real work done that I wanted (or even needed) to accomplish.

    People respond well to different kinds of motivation. Some thrive on being “the best” at something. Others thrive on reaching targets where anyone who makes the target can win.

    I think it was interesting in the video when he started talking about people working on projects for free, my first thought was open source — and several popular open source projects were mentioned just a moment later!

    Too many companies are focusing on one type of reward and loosing their employees because they are not meeting their needs in other areas. In order to have continued success, they need to find ways to engage their staff in ways that fulfill them.

    Thanks for sharing!

  20. Bryce Christiansen

    Exactly Grady! We think about what motivates us and assume that works for everyone.

    That was also what was so interesting about the game designers. They don’t use one technique to drive people to play their games, they utilize several.

    Very good points you brought up.

    I’m so glad you stopped by. Hope to see you again.


  21. That was super interesting.I can’t believe that quote about World of Warcraft and millions of years. That is absolute insanity.

    Then again, I used to play it, I had probably over three months total of your lifetime in that game alone. It was SO addicting.

    I think I most enjoy the basis for this article, the initial idea. Why is it that game developers can motivate us to do things that our own bosses can’t?

    I think the answer lies mostly (at least for me) in purpose and autonomy. Especially autonomy. Maybe I’m just particularly self-directed – or maybe I hate authority – but my main beef with most jobs is that I have to take orders from someone typically just because they’ve been there longer. Not because they’re talented or “get it” any more than I do.

  22. Bryce Christiansen

    You got it Fred. You are not alone, autonomy is a desire ingrained in most people. Yet some managers try to squish any sense of that out of their employees.

    You can tell how that works. Most employees move on to other companies or work for themselves.

    Game designers are experts on motivation in my opinion. The whole design of gaming is to make it appealing enough to spend the amount of time that is worth the value of the game.

    Not a bad way for managers to look at motivating employees. How can I make the job appealing enough to meet the value of the pay per hour or salary?


  23. Pingback: websites
  24. Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Thank you

Comments are closed.