Game mechanics that haven’t made the leap to the Enterprise – Part I

Croquet is a vicious game. Photo Credit: jronaldlee via Flickr

There are a set of game mechanics that haven’t really made the leap to the world of work, and it’s not hard to see why. They are the sticks to the usual carrots. The negative feedback loops instead of positive. Yet they are often an intrinsic and vital part of many games.

In Part I, I am going to list them, in part II we’ll look at areas at work where they might be used.

Here they are:

Forfeits Рforfeits are typically used in Parlour games (or Drinking games) where on failing in some task or other the player agrees to undergo a forfeit. In my rugby playing days this tended to involve drinking more beer or in the kindergarten playground it meant having to kiss a girl!

Loss Aversion – this is where a player does some action in order to avoid losing something they have already built up within the game. A great example of this is in Zynga’s Farmville where if you don’t harvest your virtual crops within a certain window of time, they ‘rot in the field’ and that means you don’t get to redeem them for coins.

Game Over – this is where you are out of the game, this round ends and you have to start again from the beginning.

Lose a life – in many games you get ‘more than one life’ – the standard used to be 3 – lose 3 lives and it’s game over. An interesting side effect is the ability to ‘gain a life’ as part of a bonus reward during the game.

Then there are game mechanics where your game status can be substantially adversely affected by other players:

Killing – in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft you can kill another player’s character – in many first person shooters, Halo etc, this is integral to the game.

Putting out of play – in Lawn Croquet it is absolutely fair play, to knock an opponent’s ball off the court and into touch. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being ready to nail your next hoop and then having your ball unceremoniously shunted by your nearest and dearest. One of the reasons Croquet is known for its viciousness, despite being associated with the genteel upper classes.

Backstabbing – in the board game Diplomacy, the lack of chance in the core game mechanic (you need two armies to defeat one) means that players often resort to back stabbing as a means of winning. You promise one player you will assist him in an attack while at the same time agreeing with another to assist him in attack. You can only assist one and no-one knows which side you actually chose until the turn plays out.

Lying – in the card game Cheat players do well by lying – I place my cards face down and say this is 3 Queens when in fact it contains a smorgasboard of lower numbers. Similarly in the parlour game Mafia, concealing ones true identity (that of insidious Mafia-man) is the core skill required to win at the game.

Theft – in some games you are incentivised to steal from other players. There’s a Christmas game (hooray seasonal post!) called Dirty Santa where each person brings a single gift and they are distributed by stealing rather than at random. The second person opening a gift is able to steal the first person’s gift if they prefer it. (Rules here). What’s interesting is that this theft mechanic is used to create a better overall outcome for all players than would have happened by chance – overall more players are likely to have a gift they wanted.


So plenty here to think about. I haven’t written Part II yet, can you suggest ways to use any of these mechanics (or more that I haven’t listed above) in a workplace setting? Suggestions in the comments please!

Toby Beresford

Toby is founder and CEO of Rise the success tracking network to track, publish and share success. He was the 2013 chair of - the International Gamification Confederation and organises the UK Gamifiers meetup. As a gamification leader, he speaks at conferences and hosts workshops. Follow him on twitter @tobyberesford and Subscribe to this blog at Gamification Of Work blog feed

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  • I really like the list, mostly because these are the mechanics that no one talks about. I would argue that some are more on the dynamics side (like lying) and some are perhaps more game strategies but indeed these are items to look at.

    Of course all of these are part of real life in enterprises. If you were to write the article “games employees play”, you would have included all of these elements in there. (as you will do in part II).

    As an organization, I would perhaps develop a game that would call out these behaviors in such a way that would reduce them. Dealing with these sensitive behaviors at a workplace, might be dome better through a gamified system.

    • Thanks David, I think that’s a good idea looking at how we disincentivise negative and unwanted behaviors in an enterprise setting.