Gamification mechanic 2: obstacles

A new Rolex, a new car, a new partner… What do you think makes you more happy? Depending on your player profile you crave acquiring stuff, being popular, beating other players or sharing (or gaining knowledge) makes you happy…

Or is it purpose, as I described in my previous blog about objectives? Well in fact, what makes us really happy is a combination of many mechanics. For starters, the combination of setting a goal (that gives us purpose), facing obstacles (challenges) you need to overcome to achieve the set goal (achievements) and the gratification you feel from achieving your goal, that is what makes us really happy. Rewards and gifts only leave a short feeling of happiness. This is why so many celebreties and football players (or their partners) find it hard to stay happy. It’s not the stuff you buy and own, because that will only feed the fear of losing those possessions. It is the impact you can make as an individual on the world around you. Wether it be inspiring others (which I hope to be doing), sharing stuff or experiences for a higher goal (investing) or helping others with your actions.

So the obstacles in life actually make us happy, as long as we feel we have an  influence  and eventually overcome them …. Obstacles that are too big intimidate us and can actually lead to anxiety and depression. Imagine you have to slay a 100 foot dragon on your own, holding a kitchen knife that is blunt… Or imagine slaying that same dragon after you have practiced for years on a frog, a lizard, an iguana with a team of experts with specific skills granting you both skills and tools to master each challenge given to you… And eventually teaming up with an army of dragon slayers that assist and help you (giving confidence) to slay that 100 foot dragon. That is actually what you can experience in the game ‘Skyrim’ (a fantastic role playing game that I played for many hours).

So if the elephant (or dragon) is too big, cut it in pieces. And I do not mean that literally. I think you should never kill any elephant or animals in general – unless you eat them (sorry vegan readers) and don’t kill people either. But my point is: If you want to solve the world food shortage problem on your own from your bedroom, it might be an obstacle too big to tackle in one effort… And here we fall back to flow…

In most games, the designers try to manage your flow in the game. They provide you with the right balance between obstacle and capabilities (skills) for the player in order to achieve the set goals or challenges. This will bring the player in a state of flow, again balancing between boredom (too easy) and frustration. Now in real life, things are not always balanced out that well… As are things in your work. Good managers know exactly how to balance the flow for their employees. They know that Peter loves to do a lot of work under pressure and Tina loves to dive into the deep and sort things out while Ahmet loves to gather people behind the set goals and present updates and results. Great managers (if they still exist in your company), know how to create teams of people with great willpower, knowledge (information and communication skills), ability, capabilities and skills (can) and the guts to execute the plan!

The thing that frustrated me most about organizational transformation is that most organizations (and their management) are afraid (which influences 70% of our decisions) to execute change. There are four (internal) obstacles that prevent organization to increase their agility and impact on the professional playground. They are:

  1. Structure
  2. Systems
  3. Set of rules and procedures
  4. Support


Most organizations are still build up like pyramids and there is nothing more solid and static than a pyramid. Great if you like to live in a tombe but literally killing for your organizational’ agility. During the writing proces of my second Dutch book (2015-2017), more than 20 large retail chains went bankrupt because they were build on this structure. Amongst them (but later) Hudson Bay.


But of course it is not just the structure of an organization that prevents improvement and change. It is the vacuum that departments create and the KPI (scoring) structure that does not motivate people to look beyond their own kingdom, empire or department. I have spoken to people at a large electronics firm where R&D had a KPI of coming up with the most inventive things. Not if there was a market for it, just innovation for the sake of novelty. For me, that doesn’t make sense.


The third reason why organizations find it hard to change is the ruling culture of rules and procedures. The more ‘control’ an organization wants to have, the less creative, inventive and motivated employees are. Of course you need to have boundaries for people to act, so a set of rules or principles are great, but I think you will achieve much more by creating a set of values that you work with and behavior that fits those values. For instance, at BrandNewGame we have three ground values:

Ground values

  1. Curiosity (explore the world and discover innovational and playful solutions)
  2. Order & Structure: following clear steps towards our goal, for instance using agile tools, the gamification canvas, or the GameStorm method to get to the essence of a problem (or challenge)
  3. Creativity: a tool to invent concepts that support solving the problem at hand

Connecting values

  1. Fun / Playfulness: using game mechanics to achieve the goals we pursue
  2. Achievement / Progress: as the serious objective that clients and organizations give us

Core value

  1. Unbound: always being able to deliver an honest and professional independent opinion. Ethical and positive use of game mechanics will always prevail above commercial use. We should pursuit an optimal balance between fun (giving energy and joy / happiness) and functionality (achieving objectives that were set by or for the players)

Now these values you can build like a pyramid. And after deciding upon these values, you can bring them to life with a game like BrandNewGame did for NN Group from 2015-2017 with the value challenge game. You can watch the presentation our client held on YOUTUBE. A playable demo of this game can be found through THIS LINK.


The final obstacle that prevents organizations from continuously leveling up their impact on the business playground is (the lack of) support.

And we can definitely help you with that! Check out the GameStorm method and learn how you can have teams create their gameplay for change in a fun way in half a day! We even help you to calculate the potential impact of the change they see before them! And impression of a GameStorm session with 120 managers of a large food company can be found HERE.

Hope this was insightful. Now start transforming your challenges into change! Share feedback @BartHufen #gamification