Research Extracts

The following extracts are from Pauline Freegard’s MBA research project covering gamification of business systems, user adoption and lawyer psychology in the context of systems and design. This work is the copyright of Pauline Freegard MBA and may not be reproduced without permission.


There has been strong commercial and academic interest in this relatively new concept since approximately 2010. Many of the articles and academic papers regarding the ‘gamification’ of systems have been written in the last few years.

Gamification is the application of game-like design elements to IT applications to drive and encourage user behaviours.

The aim of gamification is to support and motivate the users to perform tasks determined by the software (Deterding et al., 2011 and Huotari & Hamari, 2012). By tapping into intrinsic theories of motivation the game elements seek to engage the user more fully with the tasks to make them more interesting and fun. Hamari (2015) notes that “this notion regarding the positive association between intrinsic motivation and improvement in performance is a core reason why gamification is expected to be efficient”. See Introduction, section 1.5 for examples of gamification projects and results.

Hedonic vs. Utilitarian software applications

Traditionally there is a natural division between applications and software for leisure and those systems used in a business setting. These fun applications such as games or social media applications, for example, are known as hedonic as the motivation to use them is primarily based on fun and enjoyment. The other type of software product is used in a business setting, that includes legal case management. These utilitarian applications are designed to increase productivity and the concept of being’ fun to use’ has not been a factor in software design until very recently. Gamification seeks to bridge the gap between ‘fun’ applications and business systems, thus it can be argued that they represent an evolution of Utilitarian systems or a new class of application (Hamari, 2015).

Gamification design elements

There are a variety of game-like mechanisms that have been applied to systems. They range from simple points systems, rewards, leader boards, social elements to pure gameplay. (Mlinar and Weppel, 2015). Different game mechanics have been found to appeal to different employee roles (Axonify, 2015 as cited by Mlinar and Weppel, 2015). Mlinar and Weppel go on to discuss the importance of utilising core elements of gaming design as Story, Score and Strategy in learning systems specifically.

Robson et al (2015a) postulate based upon that there are four categories of ‘player’ found in case studies. Their work is based on the original work of Bartle (1996) examining the first online game environments called multi-user domains/dimensions (MUD’s). Robson et al (2015a) identify these as Scholars, Slayers, Socialites and Strivers. The defining characteristics of each are described in figure 1.

typology of players

Figure 1. Typology of players in a gamified experience 9Robson et al, 2015a)

Deterding et al. (2011) as cited in Bedard (2015) also concur that the best gamification projects tap into intrinsic motivations that combine:

  1. Meaning – also defined as Purpose (Pink, 2009) and Story (Mlinar & Weppel, 2015)
  2. A path to Mastery – by tracking Scores (Mlinar and Weppel, 2015) game elements may offer a path to mastering a task or a set of tasks.
  3. Autonomy – self-directed Strategy (Mlinar and Weppel, 2015) in how to execute the task

The fourth element of best practice suggested by Mlinar and Weppel is Support. It is logical that IT systems become less engaging and frustrating if the user is not supported in their experience. It is backed up by another research field into the user acceptance of technology. Ease of use is vital to user acceptance and adoption of technology (Hamari, 2015).

Game mechanics preference by job role

Mlinar and Weppel (2015) cite results from 250,000 learners in a study by Axonify in 2015 that found employees with different job roles do prefer different elements of an e-learning gamified process, see figure 2:

gamification players by job role

Figure 2. Popularity by role game mechanics, Axonify (2015) cited in Mlinar & Weppel (2015)

The most striking difference in the results is in the knowledge worker category with game play as a very high preference (71%) and a low preference for Rewards (15%) when compared to the other role types. Whilst not a direct comparison with Administrator / Lawyer roles in a legal team it does illustrate that different job roles can have a preference for different game mechanics.

Who’s playing? – Gaming demographics

Game user demographics are surprisingly diverse and it is not always the teenage boy playing electronic games at all (electronic games defined as mobile, computer based or video games on a dedicated console). For the purposes of this study no distinction was made between game platform types. However, it is acknowledged that mobile-based games are more easily played with others and often accessed through social media.

Women in their 30’s and 40’s are found to be the largest group playing the most popular mobile games. A  survey conducted in 2015 found that the most frequent female players were on average 43 years old, males were 35 years old on average (Entertainment Software Association, 2015).

The same report says that Women also make up the largest single group playing video or computer based games (33%) as opposed to teenage boys under 18 years old (15%).

Research by Information Solutions Group (2011) found that 41% of UK and US players played a social on-line game in the last 3 months before the survey and play at least 15 mins a week. Their updated research survey in 2013, focused on the US only, reveals that 47% of US consumers have played a mobile game in the month before the survey.

Demographics of the legal profession

Particular relevance for the legal sector is in the demographic data, and the prevalence of game use by women in the data. The Law Society statistics show that 49% of Solicitors with an up to date practicing certificate in 2015 are women. The trend for women entering the legal profession is increasing with some 60.8% of trainee solicitors with a training contract were women in 2014 and 60% of Solicitors admitted to the role in 2014 were women. (Law Society, 2015). Women are more highly represented in some legal practice areas than others such as probate and conveyancing – 83% are female conveyancers according to Payscale data (Payscale, 2016).

There are also a high proportion of Millennial generation employees working within legal services – particularly high volume, consumer-facing legal services such as wills and probate and conveyancing. According to the Council of licensed conveyancers (CLC) 33% of their membership is aged 25-34 years old, 22% are 35-44 and 4% are aged 65 years+. In addition, 89% of members in support (admin) role in the CLC membership are women. (CLC, 2013). In non-specific practice area figures, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) shows a 74% female membership in their 2015 statistics. Becoming a legal executive is an alternative training route to a traditional solicitor training route and represents many women employed as paralegals in the profession (CILEx, 2016).

These three main reasons that lend credence to the hypothesis that gamification concepts may be useful in a work context for the legal profession are:

  1. The diversity of gaming appeal for all demographics
  2.  The particular attraction of workplace fun for Millennials
  3. Mobile gaming popularity for women

Key conclusions

The objective of my MBA research project was to provide some insight into how the modern concept of gamification could be used in legal services. A number of concepts were pulled together that positively influenced employee engagement, demonstrating the importance of the experience of flow state at work, intrinsic motivation levels and how satisfaction with the software system also impacts engagement. It was a key result for this study that all these were positively correlated and provides real evidence for legal services that investment in systems is key not only to efficiency but also in employee engagement which itself will impact productivity. After all an efficient IT system is not going to be effective if no one wants to use it. A common problem with many IT projects.

Many business systems have been built with the utility of IT mind, focused on linking data sources or the technical detail of the development itself (Kumar & Herger, 2015).

With the proliferation of enjoyable and easy to use mobile ‘apps’ is it surprising that employees may start demanding or expecting the same level of design standard at work?

With Generation Z about to join the workforce it should be a forward planning consideration for any organisation which relies on software systems for productivity. This study showed a positive link between the software experience and engagement, this should help legal services justify investment in technology refresh or looking at how gamification could be applied.

Impact on HRM practices in general for legal services

This may not be purely in software terms, but it is now known from this research study that legal employees do not enjoy competing with each other, but are achievement orientated. More team based activities or personal development opportunities should be offered. It is also relevant to HRM practices that intrinsic motivators were the top most popular choices. Research has shown that for millennials this is something of a particular challenge when looking at organisational citizenship behaviour (Lee & Allen, 2002).

Clearly defining what a good job looks like is a good starting point. Csikszentmihalyi (1996) reported that the two factors important in flow were immediate feedback and clear goals. Both of which training and software systems can do very well if aligned. An effective strategy is to link productivity with stories and the number of clients assisted, personal development opportunities and simple management praise feedback for a good job well done.

Impact on IT System strategy

IT systems have a large part to play in employee engagement, and the correlation of software satisfaction to enjoyment and frustration (in the flow scale) is interesting. This study shows that the software user experience has a direct effect on the experience of positive state at work (flow) and engagement. A further investigation may well reveal that frustration is linked to infrastructure impacting software performance. This is usually a matter of investment priorities in the first place, or to fix existing problems.

This research supports providing the best software environment possible for end-users as it has a wider impact than just efficiency. The influence of intrinsic motivators in software use is further supported by research that indicates that ‘playful and exploratory experiences and systems that are designed to provide more user control, focus the user’s attention, and incite their cognitive enjoyment may result in more positive attitudes, more system use, and more positive work outcomes’ (Webster, Trevino, and Ryan, 1993).

The gamification preferences expressed were enlightening and point to projects to avoid in legal services that rely heavily on cross-communication alone. Simply purchasing a CRM system or social media collaboration application such as Yammer for this environment is very unlikely to be effective.

These achievement-orientated employees can be encouraged to share information if it is structured within a personal goal environment. If actions are explained in the context of the benefit for the client this taps into the second major motivator of helping the client.

E-learning systems that are well constructed with imagination and customer stories of how services help them are likely to do particularly well in legal services with that intrinsic motivation being high and the explorer/scholar type being most prevalent. This result mirrors research by Deci & Ryan (2000) and Pink (2009) which points to intrinsic motivators of Mastery, Autonomy and Meaning.

The intrinsic motivator of meaning (purpose) is particularly strong for this sector and should be leveraged more for employees.

If gamification of systems or any HRM strategy for that matter is to be considered, the study results highly recommend avoiding a competitive angle with other colleagues.

Research sources:

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