Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

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When to Use White Hat Gamification Design

White Hat Gamification

When to use White Hat Gamification Design

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

Because of their natures, there are dominant strategies to determine when and how to use either White Hat or Black Hat gamification. Since employee motivation and workplace gamification are about long-term engagement, companies should use White Hat designs to make sure employees feel good, grow with the enterprise, and are there for the long haul.

Workplace gamification is often about the top three Core Drives in Octalysis: creating meaning, providing a path to mastery, and ensuring meaningful autonomy. You may identify these as components of Self Determination Theory and the concepts within Drive, which we will cover in more detail in the next chapter.

Most large corporations make the mistake in believing that, because they pay their employees, their employees *have* to do their work regardless of exploitive policies, unappreciative bosses, and bad workplace culture. As a result, employees only work hard enough to get a paycheck (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession) and not lose their jobs (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance).

Google’s White Hat Gamified Culture

One company that challenged this trend is Google. Very early on, Google started with the assumption that every one of their employees was either an entrepreneur, or wanted to be an entrepreneur. As a result, if these employees did not feel “happy” being at Google, they would simply leave and start their own businesses instead, maybe even becoming a Google competitor.

Remember I talked about how Gamification is Human-Focused Design and that games were the first to master it because no one *has* to play a game? When you design an experience with the underlying belief that, the moment your experience is no longer engaging, people will leave your system – you will likely create much better Human-Focused Designs.

In the case of Google, they implemented many White Hat designs into their company culture.

The first thing Google did was implement Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling. Google is widely known for having the mission statement, “Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” as well as the catchy slogan, “Don’t be evil.”

Because of that, many talented engineers felt that, “I could earn a paycheck anywhere, but at Google, I’m creating an impact in the world. Not only that, I’m part of the good guys, and that’s really valuable for me!”

In regards to Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, besides the usual raises and promotions, Google realizes that not every engineer can become a manager, but every engineer needs to feel a sense of progress and development. As a result, they introduced eight levels of engineers so that engineers who either shouldn’t or don’t want to become managers can continue to “level up.” In 2013, Google even introduced a ninth level titled “Senior Google Fellow,” allegedly because they needed a way to give legendary engineer Jeff Dean a promotion.

In terms of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, we discussed in Chapter 7 how Google introduced 20% time, which allowed employees to spend 20% of their time to work on anything they wanted, as long as the intellectual property belonged to Google.

They also use some Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession by allowing employees to take full ownership of their projects (and of course taking home nice paychecks too). They utilize Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness by creating a university-like campus and a workplace culture that makes laziness and stagnation highly undesirable and disparaged within their healthy social dynamics.

All these examples are White Hat influences that help their employees to be engaged in the long run. Unfortunately, there seems to be a weakening of Google’s playful culture as Google becomes much larger and restructures their policies to be more like those of other large corporations that are more efficiently focused on profits.

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3 responses to “When to Use White Hat Gamification Design”

  1. Hi Yu-kai Chou

    first of all, thank you very much for this inspiring Website.

    In relation to this article, my question is the following: Would you relate Drivers#4 & 5 to white hat core drivers (as used by google) or can they be, depending on the implementation, either white or black?

    Thank you.

    Best regards,

  2. Hey Yu-kai, do you know more about the decision of Google to “streamline” its culture of employee engagement? How would you rate the long term effects of this move?

    • I think it’s a short-term response. It allows them to focus more on “profits” like any major corp, but makes the company less interesting and more difficult to retain top top talent in the longer term.

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