September 27, 2022

What Makes a Good Game?

Dani Cahn

Gamification may be a trend– and, as Amazon and others have shown, can be exploited as a means to extract, not incentivize, labor– but games are powerful.

Kevin Werbach, professor of Legal Studies at Wharton Business School and author of For the Win: The Power of Gamification and Game Thinking, was quick to make this distinction during his 2021 appearance on our podcast, Bring It In. 

Businesses, Werbach advised, must be cognizant of the risks– not of gamification itself, but of the ways in which it can be misused and, sometimes, abused. 

From his perspective, this happens predominantly when games are designed in “shallow and problematic ways,” which is typically what happens when organizations see it primarily as a way to increase productivity. 

In the end, that results in a gamified setting that’s “all about competition.” 

You get games that feel manipulative, or are constructed in ways that withhold “appropriate information” from their players; Games that, ultimately, not only discourage play and player development but can impede productivity, too.

“The winner’s going to love it,” Werbach explained, “but what do you think the losers are going to think? They’re going to say screw this, I don’t want to be part of this!” 

This overemphasis on winning and losing is also a betrayal of gamification’s true potential.

People, Werbach said, want to feel part of something. “They want to feel excited and motivated about what they’re doing.” And the “effect on people’s engagement level,” when you encourage cooperation, “is actually much stronger than the competitive effect.” 

Designing games where the goal is cooperative, not competitive, where you strengthen people’s bonds instead of pitting them against each other – That’s when you tap into gameplay’s capacity to motivate, and gamification can become “really powerful.” 

It’s no coincidence that many of the qualities employed by good games are also key components of effective classrooms and workplaces.

A good game has to have…

  1. Goals to give accomplishments meaning
  2. Rules to insure fair play
  3. Challenges that make it satisfying
  4. And interactive features that engage players in a collaborative effort

Lastly, a game’s ability to leverage cognitive engagement is rooted in the safe space it creates to try, and try again, and so, play, by its very nature, requires that participants be empowered and their autonomy respected. 

Which means that the final essential element to any good game is that it must be voluntary.

Participants have to want to do it. 

And that’s where the fun comes in.

Now, this may seem counterintuitive to the business leader focussed on their bottom line, but fun is a big part of what makes that possible. “Fun,” Werbach stressed, “does not mean frivolous.” 

“You look at what people are doing,” he said, “people who are engrossed in playing games, they are totally focused. They’re in that kind flow zone.”

Games, designed with all these elements in mind, create environments that encourage immersive engagement – the coveted “Flow State” that Gallup refers to as the key to greater productivity without greater cost.

Which is why games that feel rigged are ultimately so ineffective, and why badges, points and leaderboards by themselves are incapable of producing the results that make play powerful.

Those game mechanics alone can’t produce or foster agency, or meaning; They can’t speak to participants’ emotions or create flow; generate immediate feedback or a sense of competence.They’re accessories.

Here, we know that play is powerful, fun is not frivolous, and that games, when correctly designed, can be used to teach and empower all who play them. 

And that’s why, at 1Huddle, we don’t “gamify learning”– We’re a game you play to learn. 

Period.



About 1Huddle

1Huddle is a coaching and development platform that uses quick-burst mobile games to more quickly and effectively educate, elevate, and energize your workforce — from frontline to full-time.

With a mobile-first approach to preparing the modern worker, a mobile library of 3,000+ quick-burst employee skill games, an on-demand game marketplace that covers 16 unique workforce skill areas, and the option for personalized content, 1Huddle is changing the way organizations think about their training – from a one-time boring onboarding experience to a continuous motivational tool. 

Key clients include Loews Hotels, Novartis, Madison Square Garden, PIMCO, TAO Group, and the United States Air Force. To learn more about 1Huddle and its platform, please visit 1huddle.co.


Dani Cahn Communications and Creative Development