Companies hear a lot about wellness gamification these days, and we’re told it’s a good thing. Theoretically, a gamified experience should increase employee participation and retention in wellness programs. “Gamification” has also become a buzzword, but there are meaningful differences between a “gamified” experience and a game; the two are not synonymous.

Not everything is better with gamification. Calling something a game doesn't automatically mean it will be engaging.
Not everything is better with gamification. Calling something a game doesn’t automatically mean it will be engaging.

“Gamification” refers to the addition of game-like features to a non-game experience. Examples might include scoring, badges and leaderboards. What gamified experiences lack, however, are the underlying mechanics that make games among the most effective behavioral engagement tools out there.

When designed correctly, a game can increase engagement. Games are the most sophisticated form of entertainment we have. Games can be more addictive than alcohol, and that energy can be applied to making a healthier, more productive workplace.

Be wary, though. There are a startling number of companies that are using the term “gamification” as though gamified experiences are synonymous with games, but these “gamified” experiences often lack the design features that enable real behavioral engagement.

This part 1 of a series that clearly describes what makes games so effective at driving engagement and retention, and what to look out for in any wellness provider that advertises a gamified product offering.

Before we get into the things you should look for that indicate that a product will be effective at driving engagement, let’s start out with things to watch out for that should make you pause and dig deeper: Badges, Points and Leaderboards.

Sure all games have these, but if these are the only thing your solution talks about, then it’s not a game and it probably won’t increase engagement in the same way that an actual game would. Beware! In each entry of this 6-part series we’ll talk about one of the 6 core elements of good game design (and how each of them influences behavior) so that you can make the most informed decisions on the types of products your company uses. Without further ado…

Element One: The Flywheel (a.k.a. what you do)

The flywheel is the core of your game. It is the thing you do over and over again. It’s repeatable, variable (ideally), and sustainable. The flywheel is the primary behavior pattern for your game. It is the act or action that drives the game state forward.

In Monopoly, the flywheel is rolling the dice, moving and reacting to your new board space. In Hide and Seek, it’s hiding, or seeking. In Football, it’s moving the ball downfield in one of four downs. In Tetris, it’s rotating a random shape to fit into the other shapes you’ve previously placed. The flywheel is the core engine of your game experience and you’ll do it over and over again. It drives everything.

Usually, the simpler your flywheel, the easier it is for people to learn the game and the broader the number of people who can access it. The more complicated the flywheel, the less accessible the game usually is. Also be wary of a diffuse or vague flywheel – these are often games where there are too many core choices; too many options for play.

In the next entry in the series we’ll talk about escalation, and why it’s crucial to any game-based experience.

Homework: Find and define the flywheel in your favorite game to play or watch. Share it with us to get 10% off a future challenge.

FIX Health: Newsletter Tip

Think games are just fun? Recent studies have shown that interactive games increase coordination, improve memory (by up to 12%) and even improve overall cognitive function.


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