Gamification Lessons from Candy Crush Saga

Fale - Barcellona - 194 Fale – Barcelona – 194 by Fabio Alessandro Locati is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi recently interviewed King’s Tommy Palm, the designer of mega-hit Candy Crush Saga. In describing the success of this game, Palm quickly explains how Candy Crush Saga has implemented key game mechanics that lead to success both for mobile gaming and for long term gamification efforts:

“Palm addressed some reasons why the game, which has 485 levels, has been so addictive. Among them, Candy Crush makes you wait. We are suckers for sweet talk. You can play with one hand. There’s always more to play. You don’t have to pay, but if you want to, it’s easy. It taps into your inner child. It’s social. It’s an escape. It grows on you.”

You may understand how these traits are terrific for gaming, but how can you take these lessons back to your office to make your employees more effective?

How do you translate these traits from a fun game to the work of gamification and transforming work tasks into game mechanics? Let’s take these one at a time.

1) Candy Crush makes you wait: It is easy to assume that instant gratification provides the best results, but the most engaging games force players to wait and deliberate to some extent. Your gamification effort should not simply reward employees for clicking a button more often or complete calls more quickly. Rather, it should incentivize more strategic behavior such as getting the right training, using the lessons learned in a working environment, and spreading best practices throughout your organization through social engagement. Make your employees think about the tough problems they have faced or difficult sales closes or challenging service calls, rather than simply rewarding the documentation of a call.  Employees should have to think about problems that are challenging and enact a path for improvement if they are to learn.

2) We are suckers for sweet talk: Language matters. When people are doing the right thing, let them know in the language that matters to them. In a nurturing environment, that message might be “Thank you! Your actions show your leadership in this organization.” For a Glengarry Glen Ross environment, the message might be closer to “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of these guys is going to get fired, but it’s not you. At least not today.”

But it is important to make sure that your gamification effort communicates the right message. This means both having automated responses and human responses as well. If you, as a manager, don’t also provide actual verbal feedback associated with a gamification effort, it means the gamification doesn’t matter. Provide relevant and human responses to provide positive or negative reinforcement.

3) You can play with one hand: Avoiding some of the possible NSFW ramifications of this statement, let’s focus on the concept of usability. If employees have to spend a lot of time and effort simply learning how to “gamify,” the effort is dead in the water. Gamification needs to focus on existing business tasks. The era of enterprise applications is coming to an end, not because employees are lazy, but because these extra steps get in the way of the productivity that employees are expected to maintain.  The user experience for gamification should be simple and integrated into tasks that employees are already doing, rather than additional overhead activities that serve as a “gamification tax” for everyone.

4) There’s always more to play: Although gamification should be limited in scope to start with, there is always room to add additional details and additional skills. If your employees have mastered their gamification effort, they will stop using it. Keep ahead of your employees and continue to give them challenges when they are doing well.

5) You don’t have to pay, but if you want to, it’s easy: Always give your players (your employees) the ability to get more involved with the gamification process. Let them know how the game structure works and let them make the rules when they have better ideas.

6) It taps into your inner child: The game mechanics and reward structure have to be fun. Don’t take it too seriously. As an example, look at Fantasy Sales Team, which transforms sales metrics into a fantasy sports format. By bringing the traditional world of sales metrics into the world of fantasy sports rosters and scores, this company aligns the necessity of sales accountability with the fun of a game that millions of people play.

7) It’s social: Don’t just turn your gamification effort into a man vs. machine effort where individual employees are playing against a system. Instead, have employees work together to improve their standing. Provide game mechanics that allow employees to work together to achieve goals. By combining individual and team results, gamification becomes more effective.

8) It’s an escape: Although gamification is not intended to completely remove all aspects of work from the workplace, it should make the workplace more interesting and fun. Psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith has said, “The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression,” which is a vital lesson to remember. Work and play are not opposites and the workplace can be made easier to navigate. This doesn’t mean that work is a constant stream of candy and circuses, but work can be a place where activities and challenges are interesting and meaningful, just as we find the effort that we put into our favorite games and hobbies to be interesting and meaningful.

9) It grows on you: If game mechanics are too simple, employees will quickly become bored with the gamification effort. We’re not just trained monkeys that will be satisfied by flicking a switch over and over again. The beauty of a complex game such as chess is that the basic rules are easy enough to learn quickly, but the combination of pieces and moves adds an interesting level of complexity. Simple rules and complex outcomes that evolve over time will make gamification more interesting.

Think about what that second level of engagement would be. In a sales setting, the first level of engagement might be getting more visibility to aligning your own sales activity with success. A second level might be seeing how the entire sales team is doing. A third level might be seeing how new marketing campaigns affect sales over time. Sales people who show interest in the second and third levels might be sales manager candidates.

The biggest challenge of gamification is that too many people focus on basic points and badges and too few focus on the mechanics and strategies that make gamification successful. By taking the right lessons from Candy Crush Saga, you can build a successful gamification effort. If you are looking at a gamification effort within your organization and would like some help, chat with DataHive first with a free half-hour consultation call. Email us at and let’s start talking about gamification.

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