Gaming versus gamification in employee engagement: What is the difference?

Here’s something we here all the time:

What’s the difference between gaming and gamification?

It’s an important distinction, and one that is often confused by marketers and the C-Suite all the time. A while back, we created a custom white-label app for a franchised regional retailer and pitched a gamification component to the suite of engagement tools inside the app that would enroll employees to embrace the app as a way to learn more about what they were selling and for customers to become better acquainted with the latest products and services exclusively sold by this retailer.

The CEO had a very interesting reaction to our proposal. While he liked the idea of customers playing “games all day” inside the app, he didn’t like his employees wasting time on their phones all day “gaming”. To quote him directly, it went like this: “There’s no way in hell I’m going to allow my people to be playing silly games on their phones all day when they should be attending to customers and the store while working their shift!” You should have seen the face of the CMO and his marketing team that brought us in, at that very moment.

Yikes. We realized the challenge ahead of us. We first had to educate our client about the difference between traditional gaming and corporate gamification. This guy was thinking purely of gaming—basically Nintendo on smartphones. No learning or messaging woven into the fabric. So, to be clear, we’re certainly not advocating that employees spend their entire day playing Angry Birds or chasing Pokemon's on their phone. But we are advocating the use of mobile technology to make product and service learning insightful and educational, while fun and entertaining for employees. Instead of using traditional computer based learning (LMS systems) or hard copy training manuals for employees to learn about products and services so they can accurately and effectively sell them, we are creating a fun and engaging way for them to learn more at their own pace. After all gamification is defined as “the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems”.

I like to think of gamification as a creative way to take the simple concept of gaming as an effective, proven external engagement tactic, and turning it inside of an organization to motivate, inspire and educate the stakeholders (employees) of an organization. You have to weave in the right content into the game mechanics in order for it to be effective. Learning then becomes natural and organic for both customers and employees alike, increasing engagement and brand advocacy all around. In fact, most millennials prefer to absorb information in bite-size pieces. They would rather receive information in meaningful, targeted, on-the-go situations, versus longer, traditionally time consuming environments. See this previous post about Employee Training: Traditional Learning v/s Unstructured Continuous Learning in Enterprise).

Gamification is just one tactic in many that may be used to increase mobile and web app engagement. Learn how you can leverage gamification for employee engagement at


Download the white paper, Your Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Employee Engagement App, to view the app platform planning process in four easy-to-understand sections.


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