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Tenets of Successful Gamification #1

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Welcome back to my blog and welcome back to the topic of gamification. Although big data and analytics continue to be very important to me, a little gamification adds variety in my writing and gives you a more complete picture of all the stuff I work on. So rather than staying on a single topic for an extended period, I like to play a little musical chair and switch between topics as I blog. You can let me know if that’s more interesting.


gamification hype cycle.pngGamification has been a subject of interest in the industry because it has followed the Gartner Hype Cycle pretty closely over the past few years. If you’ve been following the Hype Cycle reports, you will see that Gamification is entering the trough of disillusionment as I type! This is both good and bad. It’s bad because there are many naysayers challenging the over-hyped promise of gamification. But it’s also good, because after that comes the slope of enlightenment, and eventually the plateau of productivity.


As a scientist who has researched on behavior design, I thought perhaps I could help accelerate the trajectory of gamification through the Hype Cycle by offering this community some of the insights I have learned over the years. Last year I wrote a whitepaper with the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) on the Do’s and Don’ts of Gamification with applications to the incentive industry. I will expand on that over the next series of short posts and make these practical tips more applicable to a wider audience. And I hope these advices could help gamification practitioners move faster into the slope of enlightenment and not learn these lessons the hard way—through other failed initiatives.


So where do you start?


Have a Granular Understanding of Your Desired Behavior

One of the most important success criteria of gamification is a clear, granular understanding of the behaviors you are trying to drive. The granularity is critical here, because people generally know what they want to drive at the high level, but not in specific detail. If you ask a client “what behaviors do you want to drive with your gamification program?” you will typically get the following types of answers:

  • Engagement in my customer base
  • Vibrancy in my online community
  • Productivity in my teams
  • Collaboration among my employees, etc.


The problem is that customer engagement is not a single human behavior, neither is community vibrancy, employee collaboration, or team productivity/performance. In fact, each of these high-level results consists of a long list of granular behaviors. For example, customer engagement may consist of (but not limited to) the following behaviors:

  • Reading your newsletters
  • Downloading your whitepapers
  • Watching your promo videos
  • Visiting your stores
  • Sharing your coupons with friends
  • Participating in your photo contest, etc.


Likewise, community vibrancy is not a single behavior either. It is a series of behaviors, which may include (but again, not limited to) the following granular behaviors:

  • Asking a question
  • Answering another’s question
  • Liking content you’ve read in the community
  • Sharing these contents
  • Voting for an idea
  • Following your favorite authors, etc. etc.


granular behavior.pngSimilarly, team productivity actually consists of many behaviors, possibly hundreds. Think of all the different activities that people employ to gain productivity (education, adopting new tools, etc.). Employee collaboration is also a result of many (possibly hundreds) behaviors. Think of all the different ways that people can collaborate. You must know all these constituent behaviors well enough to list them all in complete detail. Because it is these detailed behaviors that gamification is able to drive effectively, not the high level results, which you will get only as a consequence.


If you cannot list the detailed constituent behaviors, then you don’t actually understand what it takes to drive the high-level results you want. Consequently, you won’t be able to design the proper gamification to drive them. You will need to take the time at the beginning of the design process to understand the desired results and all the granular behaviors in order to design your gamification strategy effectively.


For the rest of this year, each time I revisit the topic of gamification, I’ll share one more tenet of success gamification with you.


Ready? Then game on!



Michael Wu, Ph.D.mwu_whiteKangolHat_blog.jpg is 927iC9C1FD6224627807Lithium's Chief Scientist. His research includes: deriving insights from big data, understanding the behavioral economics of gamification, engaging + finding true social media influencers, developing predictive + actionable social analytics algorithms, social CRM, and using cyber anthropology + social network analysis to unravel the collective dynamics of communities + social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics + its application to Social CRM. He's a blogger on Lithosphere, and you can follow him @mich8elwu or Google+.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.
Occasional Commentator
Occasional Commentator

Hi MikeW


Thank you for highlighting the importance of REALLY knowing what behavior to drive BEFORE starting to design a system to trigger it.


I would love to have a look at the whitepaper "on the Do’s and Don’ts of Gamification" you mention, but unfortunately the link is broken. Could you please check / update the link information? Thanks.


Best regards



150914 lithium missing link.jpg

Honored Contributor Honored Contributor
Honored Contributor

Thanks for sharing @MikeW another great nugget of info 🙂

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @mynym,


Thank you for the comment and for reporting the broken link.

I've fixed the link, and it should download the white paper for your when you click it now.


I will expand on the white paper and add a few more tenets that are required for successfully implementing gamification. They will be published here in my blog soon.


Let me know what you think. I'm always happy to discuss.

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @Fellsteruk,


Thx again for the nice words and being such a loyal supporter of my work.

I look forward to seeing you again soon in UK.


As I mentioned in my reply to @mynym, more tenets of successful gamification will be coming soon.


Occasional Commentator
Occasional Commentator

Thanks al lot @MikeW for fixing the link 🙂


I particularly like the "Don'ts" you mention your paper. Especially #3, "DON'T build a game on top of existing processes" is something I encounter over and over again - typically without resulting in any long term effects. Nevertheless, it seems to be a natural reflex of people on their first encounter with gamification. Well, the name counts as extenuating circumstances...


As the internet is full of "Dos" and ingredients successful gamification, I appreciate you covering the 'dark side', too.


Looking forward to the forthcoming tenets...




Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @mynym,


You are very welcome. 


There are many Do's and Don'ts that I wasn't able to cover in the whitepaper, and I will explore them deeper in this mini-series on tenets of successful gamification. Hope to see you again in future posts.