Games have become serious business. Take a fast food chain that encourages users to post a box of “virtual fries” on their Facebook page and have their friends pick fries from the box. Users and friends are rewarded with a sweepstakes entry for every fry they pick, plus coupons for emptying fry boxes – then larger boxes to empty. The game boosts online engagement and store sales while giving the company access to customers’ private friend networks.
Or a cloud-based call center company that uses an online social hub to motivate work-at-home agents. Agents earn points for completing training modules, increasing call conversion and demonstrating specific skills. The platform inspires competition by tracking points on leaderboards and recognizing top-performing agents with badges. Agents who opted into the game are outperforming peers by 23% on average.
An athletic gear company launched a smartphone app that enables users to compete against each other in daily physical activity. When you reach a certain level, the app unlocks special trophies and awards – especially if you shared your app results on social media. The game motivates customers and boosts awareness for the company among a vast community of users.
Gamification and Talent Assessment
These are real-life examples of “gamification” being applied to business purposes. Gamification is the concept of applying the dynamics, mechanics and psychology of video games in other contexts. A gamified process or application will see familiar video game elements such as point scoring, competition with others, progressive levels, and recognition.
And the approach works because it capitalizes on the human craving for community, feedback, achievement, and reward. Gamification has already helped boost sales, employee performance, and customer loyalty, so it’s only natural the concept would be explored for assessing which job candidates were the best fit for a open position.
It would seem to be a logical next step in the evolution of technology-enabled assessment. In the late 1990s, unsupervised internet testing reduced recruitment costs and time to fill. In recent years, mobile assessment technologies enabled recruiters to reach larger and more diverse candidate pools.
Proponents say gamification could do even more. Games, they say, make the recruitment process more engaging, that it creates a positive vibe, and provides “stealth psychometric assessments.” Critics urge caution, because there isn’t yet enough evidence yet to support those claims – or to be sure the benefits outweigh the potential costs and pitfalls.
Three New Categories of Assessment
Every HR professional (or almost anyone who has ever applied for a job) is familiar with traditional assessments – online or paper-pencil assessments of abilities or self-reported measures of attributes or behaviors. Examples include cognitive ability tests, personality assessments, biodata, and situational judgment tests. Today’s cutting-edge assessment algorithms also use machine learning and semantic analyses to predict employee fit and retention for a specific role.
Gamified assessments: These are traditional assessments enhanced with one or more game elements such as storylines, progress indicators, feedback mechanisms, interactive items, leaderboards, badges, levels, and multimedia. The intent is to create a more vibrant experience that encourages candidates to continue through the assessment process.
Serious games: These are intended to provide new ways of measuring an individual’s behaviors and characteristics in a game environment. For example, serious games can involve quests, challenges, or interaction with the game environment to progress through various levels. The theory is that you can collect valuable information about people by seeing how they play a game.
Multimedia simulations: These create a virtual environment to test real life job situations. By simulating work behaviors and contexts, simulations can also provide a realistic preview of the job.
Before Diving into Gamification, Ask these Questions
Gamification and multimedia simulation have a lot of wow factor. They might even be the answer to talent management challenges, but early adopters risk implementing tools that have not yet proven to be useful. All recruiters should ask five questions.
Is it valid? Research on gamification for talent selection is new and many questions remain. It’s not clear what is actually measured in a game, and whether it yields information that leads to desired business outcomes.
Is it reliable? Game elements, particularly competitive or time-constrained ones, can cause anxiety and affect a candidate’s performance on the assessment. The more game elements used, the higher the risk of measurement contamination. And candidates can still game the game, guessing what kind of behaviors will be most highly rewarded and tuning their approach accordingly.
Are there potential adverse impacts? For example, will members of protected groups – such as minorities, females and those over age 40 – systematically score lower on the assessment than majority group members? This raises legal concerns.
What will candidates think? While gamification is thought to create a positive company image, assessments that bear little or no resemblance to the job may actually trigger negative reactions, including perceived unfairness and the inability to demonstrate job-related skills.
Do the benefits outweigh the cost? Reinventing traditional assessments into visually intensive, 3-D animations can be costly, especially for serious games and multimedia job simulations. And, without legal precedent, it is unclear how gamified hiring techniques will fare in cases of alleged discrimination.
An innovative gamification assessment may look seductive and offer lots of promise, but unless it delivers research-based answers to these questions, it could actually undermine the company’s ability to make effective and legally defensible hiring decisions.