Motivation Traps in Reward-Based Gamification Campaigns

Gamification Extrinsic Reward

Motivation Traps in Reward-Based Gamification Campaigns

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Most gamification campaigns typically employ loyalty programs, badges, progress bars, and prize rewards, which focus on Left Brain Core Drives. This is because it is much easier to add an extrinsic reward to a desired activity than to actually make the activity intrinsically fun or enjoyable.

However, there are many motivational traps which result from using too many Extrinsic Motivation techniques at the expense of Intrinsic Motivation.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I love to draw and drew very often without any compensation. Research has shown that one of the best ways for you to make me stop drawing is to first *pay* me to do it and then stop paying me after a certain time period[^foot13-6].

In fact, from my own experience, I believe that a more effective way is for you to pay me successively less until you reached a very insulting amount – say $0.02 per drawing. At that point, I would feel insulted and no longer have any desire to continue drawing, even though I happily drew for free prior to meeting you. This is because the Intrinsic Motivation of drawing for joy through Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, has now been shifted to an Extrinsic Motivation of drawing for money through Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession.

As the pay decreased, drawing simply became less worthy of my time. Technically this is referred to as an “Overjustification Effect” – I become primarily engaged with the reward which subsequently eradicates and replaces the intrinsic motivation I originally had in the first place.

What’s worse, if you still paid an acceptable amount for my drawings, say $20, more often than not, I would become incentivized to render the quickest, unrefined drawings possible in order to maximize the amount of money I would make. In essence, as long as I still get paid, I would have less focus on the *quality* of the work compared to the *completion* of the work. In fact, many studies have shown that Extrinsic Motivation, such as paying people money to perform a task, actually lowers the creative capability to perform the task.

Dan Ariely, author of *Predictably Irrational*, demonstrated in his experiments that people who were paid the most (5 months pay) for performing some relatively quick tasks performed far worse than people who were paid much less (only one day or two weeks pay for doing the same tasks).

When people are thinking about the money, it distracts their focus from performance. Even the London School of Economics, after many experiments, concluded that, “’We find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace social norms such as fairness. As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

This is because when we are doing something for Extrinsic Motivators, our eyes are set on the goal, and we try to use the quickest and most effortless path possible to reach it. As a consequence, we often give up our abilities to be creative, think expansively, and refine our work.

Daniel Pink states that, “Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster. But ‘if-then’ motivators are terrible for challenges like the [creative] candle problem.”

Of course, in routine and mundane tasks that don’t require any creativity and hold little Intrinsic Motivation to begin with, Extrinsic Motivation does often increase performance and results because of the goal-driven focus it generates. Dan Ariely points out in his New York Times article, “What’s the Value of a Big Bonus,” “As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance,” but if the task required any “rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance” within his experiments.

4 thoughts on “Motivation Traps in Reward-Based Gamification Campaigns”

  1. That is impressive indeed, I guess there must be also a way to reverse the process and a way to shift the progress from Extrinsic to Intrinsic.
    I wonder how you would do that.

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