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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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?

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.
Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.

Why Game Designers Are Better Motivators Than Your Boss

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.