The director of digital learning at Scandinavia’s largest SaaS company for the Industrial DataOps platform admits that she uses gaming tricks in her job. She has been active in gamification communities for around ten years, and she is convinced that games are a serious matter and so much more than applying frameworks such as points and badges. She is fully engrossed in applying game aesthetics to achieve high-level business goals.

Snježana Šlabek has had a colorful career path. She has spent much of her career dealing with the management of knowledge, learning, and innovation in various forms – from running large corporate systems, entrepreneurship, developing her own brand for innovation culture, and consulting, to working with the start-up scene. She received several international awards and recognitions, with her favorite one being the “Movers and Shakers” title, which she received two years in a row, and which she believes describes her best.

She has been living and working in Oslo for the last two years, but she often participates in international conferences and workshops where she shares her knowledge on gamification, which, she claims, has helped her a number of times in her work, like a kind of magic potion.

Judging by her answers, Snježana is passionate about and dedicated to her work, and she truly sees it as a game.

What prompted you to start studying gamification, a topic no one was yet talking about in Croatia at the time?

About ten years ago, I was, for the first time, faced with a situation at work where a technologically advanced project was about to fail due to people’s lack of motivation to get involved. When it comes to sharing knowledge in an organization or to innovation, having the required processes and technology is simply not enough. If people don’t get engaged, things fall apart quickly. And yet, you can’t force people to be innovative or share knowledge, it’s not something that can be done on command. At the time, it seemed to me like a search for the Holy Grail. Where to find it, how to achieve it? And that is how I came to know about gamification.

Where did you start and what were your first steps?

Coursera was launched around that time, and one of the first available courses regarded the topic of game design, serious games, and gamification. I was so impressed by the course that I did it several times. I decided to immediately start applying what I had learned and gamify a failing project that I was working on at the time. I wanted to see if it would work. It was a knowledge management project, and I was trying to prove that knowledge is multiplied by sharing. I started by introducing a few gaming frameworks, developing a simple dynamic, and creating my first “serious” game.  Not only did the gamified project finally come to life, but it also resonated quite a bit both in and beyond the organization. In the end, it even won the national award for best HR practices of the year. I’ve been unstoppable ever since. I’ve seen with my own eyes that it works.

What kind of projects have you used gamification for?

Well, I’ve used it mostly in human resources development, e-learning, and knowledge management, but I’ve also used it in innovation culture development. Developing gamified business models when I was working with start-ups was very exciting and rewarding experience to me.

Do people like to play games more than before?

Today’s digital culture is particularly playful, which can be seen at every turn; from Netflix, Spotify, Uber, fitness apps, to foreign language learning apps, and many others. This is known as the ludification of culture. Games are generally deeply interwoven into the foundations of human nature, learning, and culture.

How would you describe games and gamification in a simple way?

Games can be defined in many ways. I like to look at games as systems that encourage us to take action through clear and motivating feedback.
And if we use the same principles in business with the aim of solving a specific business challenge rather than for fun only, then we are talking about gamification.

Doesn’t the combination of serious work and games sound strange?

Both in business and in video games we have tasks, goals, and obstacles, we cooperate, learn, and compete. There is an aspect of games that is very important when implementing their design into a real business situation, and that is the fact that games are by definition fair. Meritocracy is real in the game world. You make progress based on your abilities and results, and everyone has an equal chance. If this is not the case at work, it will be difficult to maintain the spirit of games, no matter how much we gamify things.

Does gamification work every single time?

Experience has taught me that gamification is really not about adding points, badges, and leaderboards, as it is often interpreted in a simplified way. Sometimes, it can cause quite the opposite effect. I’ve seen a lot of bad and ineffective examples of gamification. No framework will save a poorly designed system. If people don’t feel the “call” towards a game, if it doesn’t spark their interest and they don’t recognize their development path from a rookie to a master, gamification won’t help. Creating a “game spirit” that will fit the culture and goals of the organization is vital, and oftentimes a big challenge in this business.

What’s the catch for making it work?

Recognizing the behaviours we want to encourage and reward through games is much more important than just having a framework. Rewards can also be very tricky, and after a while, they no longer work. It is much more important to devise ways that will stimulate the intrinsic motivation of the player and keep them in the flow.

How important is knowledge of motivation in gamification?

I would say that at least 80% of good gamification is knowing the motivation of our target group, and 20% the way we implement it on a digital platform.

When do people leave the game?

Quite simply, the moment they stop having fun. However, the concept of fun is very complex, and it is not always easy to figure it out – what is fun for you may not be fun for me. In general, we can say that there are several types of fun: simple fun, hard fun, people fun, and serious fun. Good design skilfully balances all of these.

Which principles are important to follow in the process of gamification?

I think the number one principle is preserving the autonomy of players. Players are constantly making choices and ultimately deciding for themselves whether they want to enter the game or not: that can by no means be required. Having autonomy means we choose to do something because it is interesting to us, not because we will be rewarded or punished. The second principle is our need for competence, which is important to take into account when designing a gamified system.  By playing the game and being exposed to challenges, we spontaneously acquire skills. Finally, the third principle is something we learned from multiplayer online games: it is important to make connections through games. Gamers have a high degree of loyalty. They solve challenges together, which creates strong connections between them. In business, it is no different. If we want to increase collaboration and joint innovation, gamification is the tool to use.

What was the last thing that impressed you when it comes to gamification?

I was impressed when I recently saw a campaign launched in Norway encouraging people to write down their gaming experience in their CV. For example, reaching certain levels in the game of World of Warcraft is considered to require leadership and strategic skills. In fact, the Manpower campaign “Game to Work” invited gamers in more than a dozen countries around the world to find out what skills they had developed by playing certain video games using a specifically designed calculator, and to include them in their CV.

You are currently in Oslo and working for a highly multicultural company. Is it also “all about games”?

Absolutely, Cognite is the first Norwegian unicorn, a company of exceptional creative energy that is revolutionizing the future of the industry and currently employing people from 63 different countries.

Are you still active in the gamification community?

Always. I like to share my knowledge, as well as learn from others. I was also delighted by your invitation, thank you for that.  There is always something going on here. Scandinavia is very open and progressive in this respect. I’ve met interesting people from the gamification field and got involved in some cool projects, just for fun. But we can talk about that another time.