What do games teach for the work of the future?

Written by Prof. Dr. Thomas Voit

Figure 1: Phases of the transformation of work through automation

How game elements prepare us for the future of work Game thinking is key to tomorrow's working world. After conquering manual factory labour in the 19th century, automation set out to define 20th century-office activities. The 21st century's foray into digitalisation centres on automating creative tasks and design thanks to progressive machine learning and AI.

Tomorrow's fully digitalised businesses will have employees perform two types of activities: monotonous, digitally monitored tasks for low-skilled workers – and demanding, creative design and problem-solving for highly-skilled employees. For each and every one of them, labour will become much more challenging from a motivational point of view.

Gamification to increase employee motivation

HR and organisational developers are already trying to cushion motivational collateral damage that is the result of fully digitalised working environments, in order to change the underlying motivational structures. 
One approach that goes back as far as 2010 creates motivating working environments to help deal with monotonous or demanding creative tasks: gamification. This refers to the use of game-like elements in non-game contexts (Deterding et. al 2011). Some elements have already shaped the understanding of gamification: scores, badges, best-of lists, performance charts, narrative and avatars (Fleisch 2018, p. 32-35). Gamified apps, web pages and service offers are the result of this because game-typical elements are easy to integrate into existing digital platforms. 

Gamification requires bespoke solutions 

The question is: Why do gamification elements used in non-game contexts fail to – reliably – produce a motivating effect? Effective gamification is not available off the peg. Instead, it is much more like a tailored suit – a bespoke item created just for the respective target group and context (Voit 2015, p. 913). Additionally, there is a lack of understanding regarding the type, diversity, and effectiveness of gamification elements (Werbach & Hunter 2012, p. 71). Many gamification advocates are either management consultants or work at marketing agencies, but are not experienced game developers (Bogost 2015, p. 65). 

Fusing offline and online game elements 

Poor game design within gamification is often due to the fact that digital games are the sole standards that are referred to (Burke 2015). It may very well prove beneficial to incorporate traditional board and parlour games. Both digital and analogue games have in common that they do not incorporate new game design elements again and again, but instead are created by re-combining and re-purposing already existing elements. Gamification becomes more effective when in a first step a deeper understanding of the type and possible combinations of game elements is created.

Research objective: Decoding the motivational DNA of games

This challenge is the starting point for the EMPAMOS research project which the Technical Hochschule Nuremberg has been conducting together with the German Games Archive since 2016 (EMPAMOS 2019). The German Games Archive, founded by Dr Bernward Thole in Marburg, has been at home in Nuremberg since 2010 and currently archives over 30,000 board games and parlour games, making it the world's largest collection of its kind. The goal of this project is to establish which elements of motivational games can be combined in what manner.

Project phase 1: Analysing game elements

During the first phase of the project, the games were researched in terms of content quality. Since the end of 2016, a total of 16 students from Nuremburg Tech have played a number of different games and documented the recurring game elements as patterns. The questions they asked were: Is the game's concept maintained when removing the element from the game? Is the game still fun?

Project phase 2: Analysing playing instructions

The quantitative research approach pursues the goal of using automated text recognition and machine learning to decode the individual blueprint for all 30,000 games held by the German Games Archive. Based on matching text fragments, game elements are automatically identified and new patterns and correlations are sought. 

Project phase 3: Analysing popular combinations of game elements

The research project's third phase which is set to begin in 2020 will see the research project compare the blueprints of the many different archived games to find out which elements the game designers already combined in the past, which combinations were used particularly often, and which ones still hold potential. 

The final question that remains is how knowledge extracted from the project will support the development of motivational games and gamification concepts. A possible approach might include having to learn to look at demotivating activities like a game designer would in order to create good working conditions for the future: as a broken game. Many different creative approaches could then be applied to employment situations. That is what game thinking can teach us for the future of work.

About the author:

Prof. Dr. Thomas Voit teaches and researches at the The Nuremberg Institute of Technology on the subject of gamification. In cooperation with the German Game Archive Nuremberg, he has been leading the research project EMPAMOS since 2016, which analyzes the text rules of more than 30,000 board games with the help of machine learning methods. He worked for Robert Bosch GmbH in the IT and process management before changing to the university.

Games, Books, Learning and Experimenting

At the Spielwarenmesse you will find a wide range of games full of motivating play concepts. Learn more about the market and the manufacturers.

To the product group Games, Books, Learning and Experimenting


Bogost, I. (2015). Why Gamification is bullshit, in: Walz, S.P.; Deterding, S. (2015). The Gameful World. Approaches, Issues, Applications, Cambridge: MIT Press, S. 65-79.

Burke, B (2014). Gamify. How Gamification Motivates People To Do Extraordinary Things, Brookline: Bibliomotion.

Deterding, S., Khaled, R., Nacke, L. E., Dixon, D. (2011). Gamification: Toward a Definition, hci.usask.ca/uploads/219-02-Deterding,-Khaled,-Nacke,-Dixon.pdf (Zugriff am 20.08.2019).

EMPAMOS (2019). Empirische Analyse motivierender Spielelemente, empamos.in.th-nuernberg.de.

Fleisch, H. (2018). Gamification4Good. Gemeinwohl spielerisch stärken, Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag.

Voit, T. (2015). Gamification als Change-Management-Methode im Prozessmanagement, in: HMD Praxis der Wirtschaftsinformatik, 52(6), S. 903-914.

Werbach, K., & Hunter, D. (2012). For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press.