How To Take The Role of Games In Business Seriously

Games have always been seen as an activity for entertainment and leisure, but not for work. Here we explore the place of games in the business world.

By Andrew Lau

Everyone has played games. It’s something we experience as part of growing up. Games help us to learn, to avoid repeating mistakes, to choose the right friends, to win graciously, and to lose well. These very things that happen during childhood are what we can also apply to our working lives.

Gamifying business goals makes achieving them so much more desirable

Gamifying business goals makes achieving them so much more desirable

Lately, gamification has come into business in a big way. More and more companies are making time to play, whether to increase employee engagement through team-building activities, or to facilitate learning in a business environment.

As someone who helps organizations develop their employees’ potential, I often find myself telling bosses that “people learn by doing”. When you need to coordinate with others to learn new concepts, change mindsets, or produce results, then reading slides and memorizing manuals are not effective.

This is why I’ve spent most of my career building business simulations that help colleagues experience and resolve real-life challenges in a safe environment.

Business simulations are powerful. They can be built to isolate and target specific issues. Most importantly, you can make mistakes and learn without impacting the real business world.

Engagement Vs Efficiency: Why does Gamification work?

For most people they often see the outward representation of games such as cards, tokens, badges, avatars, and leaderboards. However, the real secret lies behind the design of the gamification system.

Behavorial design - Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Behavorial design - Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

There are typically 2 types of system design in the world:

i. Function-centered design creates systems with the end goal of efficiency. However, even though this system is efficient, it does not mean people are motivated or engaged to use it. Most systems in a business are designed this way.

ii. Human-centered design on the other hand. focuses on user engagement and motivation instead. It makes people want to use a system and derive personal meaning from their interaction. The question that should be asked during design is “What do we want to make the user feel?” (Engagement) as opposed to “How can we make things faster?” (Efficiency)

You’re Happier When You Play

E-Learning is a classic case of function-centered design. Internal e-learning platforms are an efficient way to distribute content among employees. However, it’s usually not designed to actually motivate or engage your people to WANT to learn.

Here’s how most people approach e-Learning.

First we go for the quiz, and if we pass (hurray!), we are deemed to have learned the subject. If we fail, then we go through the drudgery of re-watching the videos, only most times, we don’t.

How engaging is e-learning really?

How engaging is e-learning really?

We turn on the video, make a cup of coffee and chat with our colleagues or attend to our emails. We wait for the time when we can take the quiz again. If we fail, repeat coffee and emails till we get it correct.

This is what learning through a function-centered designed system could look like.

Learning through a human-centered design system is hugely different. The most obvious difference is that there is usually a big dose of gamification. Imagine if learning in organizations was geared through completing business missions and quests. The only way to complete missions would then be by applying theories and tools.

Users also rapidly ideate and prototype their ideas in a safe environment. They use iteration to keep getting better at a competency. By the end of a learning session, their repeated actions would have formed the building blocks of new behaviours, ultimately bring results to organizations.

Think Codex CEO Andrew Lau prototyping human-centered design concepts

Think Codex CEO Andrew Lau prototyping human-centered design concepts

Most importantly, users have a lot of fun while gaining insights.

Gamification truly taps into the core of human-centered design. It's about designing a system that gets your customers, employees, and even yourself, to be both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated toward desired actions.

End Game

So where does this leave us?

Everybody loves games and are drawn to it because it connects us to who we are as humans.

We are driven by:

  1. A positive sense of meaning, empowerment, social influence, accomplishment and ownership.
  2. A negative sense of unpredictability, scarcity and avoidance.

All these drive human engagement and motivation.

So, to drive results, the choice is simple. All you need to do is press Play.


Andrew Lau is the CEO of Think Codex, a Learning Gamification Organization that believes the best way to get results is through human-centered systems. You can write him at