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Interview with An Coppens – Creating Gamification Designs for Employee and Learner Engagement

Today, we will be interviewing a long-awaited, special guest who is one of the biggest celebrities in the world of Gamification. We are talking about none other than An Coppens.
An Coppens is the Chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation Ltd, a London-based company that provides gamification design services, game design, and an online gamification support community to clients worldwide.

With over 15 years of experience in creating behavior change through creative and innovative solutions, An has achieved the status of a global leader and an icon. She has accomplished nearly everything you could think of – she is an award-winning speaker, learning & development professional, business and executive coach, published author, article writer, blogger, social media commenter, speaker, web-show creator, and instructional designer and the list goes on.
In her career today, she has worked with global brands in media, finance, education and FMCG markets, she has advised 100’s of business owners and inspired 1000’s of individuals to level up their game. An’s most recent awards include winning HR technology visionary at the World HRD conference in Mumbai, India (2016), and the Best Gamification agency 2017 (Gamification Nation LTD) at the Gamification Europe Conference.Her books Leading the boss in the mirror” and “Tapping into the crowd – building competitive advantage from the inside out” is now available from Amazon. Also, check out her other publications here.
Before we start the interview, we need to tell our audience how and when you started in this (Gamification) industry. Can you please write a little on what intrigued you about Gamification and what your personal experience has been so far?
I started my journey in the gamification industry back in 2012. I had already been following the work of the greats in the industry, such as Gabe Zicherman, Mario Herger, Yu-kai Chou, Andrzej Marczewski, etc. In my career up to that point, I used games and gamification in training, learning, HR, and change management, unaware of the term Gamification.
When I started reading up on it, I realized that it encapsulated what I had been doing in most of my career, and it rekindled my childhood dream of wanting to be a game designer when I was 8 years old. It was the book ‘Reality is Broken’ by Jane McGonigal that pushed me over the edge of going for Gamification full-time.

1- What does the term “Gamification” mean to you? 

For us, Gamification is the use of game psychology, game dynamics, and game mechanics in non-game situations such as a business goal or objective. I believe Gamification is 80% psychology and understanding user behavior along with 20% mechanics, which in turn creates a dynamic that hopefully results in the desired action.

2- Tell us about Gamification Nation and the concept/idea behind its inception? (We would love to hear about your experience as the Founder and Chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation.)

For years, I had been using games and challenges in my work as a trainer, learning and development manager, and change management consultant. I knew empirically that it worked for the people I met in the corporate sector and me. So the transition was a logical one for me to bring both my corporate experience and the love of games together.
At that point, not many women were in the industry, and a lot of the designs were superficial or competitive in focus, which I felt was not reaching far enough. So in 2012, I started Gamification Nation to bring a feminine and more mature voice to the industry. I also wanted to see more inclusive and collaborative designs and not just the hyper-competitive stuff that had become standard at that point.

How does it feel to be a female in the business?

As a female in the business, I feel you have to continuously prove yourself, where a lot of guys with half the knowledge or experience just float to the top. I don’t appreciate it when people blatantly rob your ideas, book titles, and other great things or assume you don’t see through the request of collaboration for self-gain of the male party at times, which unfortunately I have found rife in gamification. I align myself more with the game industry and their supporting bodies because I feel more respected and included, and not everyone is out to have a one-up on you.

What lessons did you learn in this industry?

Saying that I also have great relationships in the gamification world even if I got burned a few times early on. You learn and become more careful over time. Lions dressed up as muttons are around in most industries, it is naive not to expect it and something you learn over time.
Gamification Nation is not my first business; I had an award-winning business coaching business before and several other ventures.
I find that each time you start a business, you learn and grow both as a business owner and as a person. Some lessons cost a lot of money, while others are more emotional in nature. In any case, I am happy to say I have an incredible team, and we work towards what we can be proud of and make sure it is still fun to work on projects.

3- In your opinion, how can Gamification help companies improve engagement with both employees and customers?

First of all, before even starting any Gamification, the term ‘improving engagement’ needs to be addressed. Engagement, in our experience of working with clients, has several meanings, and for many, it is a catch-all term for ‘something is wrong’ often we don’t know exactly what. For some clients, it means addressing bad morals, and for others, problems with onboarding, conversion, completion, staying involved, perseverance, etc. Each company has its nuance of the word engagement.
In some of the definitions, we would even say other interventions are more critical than Gamification to address a lack of engagement. We had a case of a client who wanted more learner engagement in their e-learning environment, and the biggest reported problem was that people couldn’t find what they were looking for. There was a fundamental mismatch of how course material was laid out and what employees wanted. In that project, gamification came well after the data search and data infrastructure.
I think it is important to point out Gamification as part of more substantial improvement and change effort is ideal and to be aware that there are required functionalities that enable gamification like a data infrastructure, for example.
How can gamification help? Well, in the first instance, it should be focused on results for the end-user primarily and encourage the behavior you want to see more of. Most of our work is employee-focused, so most of the things we do will focus on encouraging the behavior you want and discouraging the behavior you don’t want (and that doesn’t mean penalizing in each case). At the bare basics, it is all about behavior change. Yet, unless an individual wants to change their behavior, you will not achieve a thing, so understanding their motivations is critical for positive results.
We have seen amazing results with several clients, where they achieved increased confidence, better turnover figures, higher retention of staff, more recall of relevant information when it mattered as a result of games or gamification. It can help in many ways and have a valuable impact as long as it fits with your culture, and you are willing to put in the effort of supporting the roll-out from a leadership and management perspective. When those elements align, we are confident in making a positive difference.

4- Walk us through the process of developing a Gamification strategy at the Gamification Nation. What are the essential steps you take when assisting your clients in formulating a plan?

For that, you would need to become a client. At a high level, the following steps are part of what we do: 

  1. Understanding your objectives
  2. Understanding the target audience
  3. Developing a gamification strategy and design
  4. Iterating it a few times
  5. Launch and implement it
  6. Analyze and tweak as live results come in

5- Can you talk about your company’s upcoming projects or plans? (Can you talk about some current projects you’re working on?)

The main project is to stay in business with Covid-19 lockdowns and the incoming recession. We had 8 + projects going, which all went on hold. We are hopefully re-starting some of them soon, but for the time being, we are keeping a tight grip on everything expenses to weather the storm. We are open for business and have the capacity to take on new projects.

6- How do you think Gamification Nation can help companies create behavioral changes through creative and innovative solutions amidst the Covid-19 crisis?

We are working on some health and well-being games, as well as some diversity games, which are also topical given #blacklivesmatter. We hope to release some of them with the help of government funding (if it ever materializes). Otherwise, they will be developed with sponsorship and as and when we have funding to support the development.

7- Name a few misconceptions/myths about Gamification, and how would you like to change/challenge them?

Myth: Gamification is dead.

I really despise that statement, especially when it comes from the industry itself. It is usually used as clickbait for selling a book, research, or some other service. I feel strongly that we, as an industry, should not add to the reservations that already live in the world against our work. Clients have them, don’t add to it. Instead, share the positive stories and the lessons. Doom spreading is only going to make it harder for people to sell what can have a positive impact.

Myth: Gamification fixes all engagement issues.

It may or may not. Engagement is such a catch-all phrase that it needs to be defined for each customer. Each person will have a different interpretation, and once you understand that, you can start deciding if gamification is the solution or not.

Myth: All gamification has to be competitive or includes competition.

I fundamentally disagree with this, especially when you are focusing on employees and learners. In most of these cases where winning and losing form part of the equation, you may end up with side effects that are worse than before you included gamification. I would always question that approach before and survey the target audience before going ahead. On rare occasions, it helps, more often than not, a collaborative and co-creative approach is better for workplace morale and collegial spirit.

8- What changes (apart from the ones you’re already working on) do you want to see made in the next 5 years? Any predictions about the future of this industry?

I want our industry to be more inclusive and diverse. I want to personally see more females coming through as well, especially those coming from game design into gamification. I think it should be a base requirement for everyone thinking about designing for gamification to have as a base game design grounding and as a second grounding business training and experience so that they can understand the process.
As for predictions, I can refer to my trends blog posts on Gamification Nation.
Gamification Trends For 2020
And podcast episode 33 on A question of gamification

9- Name a few mentors, influencers, or friends that you think have helped you understand or increase your knowledge about gamification.

When I first started in Gamification, I learned from Kevin Werbach, Gabe Zicherman, and Mario Herger.
I have consumed every book Karl Kapp has ever written and have had the privilege of meeting him online. Thanks to the guys of the Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I have also had the chance to speak about this topic and meet as well as introduce most of the names of the current and past experts. The book that made the transition full-time into gamification is “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal, who I have yet to meet and whose work I follow. I also studied game design and currently extensively read about game design and development, and I am teaching myself Unity to be able to code some more of our work when times are lean.
I love my female friends Monica Cornetti and Marigo Raftopoulos, for being partners on several occasions. My list of gamification friends is long, and I am likely to leave some out, but here are the ones that influence me regularly: Belinda Jacobs,Andrzej Marczewski,Bernardo Letayf, Rob Alvarez, Horst Streck, Zsolt Olah and many more.

10- If you could give one piece of advice to anyone entering gamification, what would it be?

Study game design, learn from everyone, and every project. Know that your first projects will be things you will later cringe about or laugh about. Keep improving, and if you don’t understand or know what to do, ask for help. There are helpful people in the community.

11- Tell us something fun about yourself

As her LinkedIn Profile read, I like great gluten-free food, reading books, watching movies, games, and game design. I’m a fanatic about the Olympic games, basketball, sailing, and marathon running.

12- Could you share a picture of your workspace with our readers?

My office assistant is Saga, who keeps a time check on breaks. We all used to work remotely, even before the lockdown, so when travel was allowed, my office was mainly on the road. I’m used to staying in different hotels, performing at speaking events, etc. After the lockdown, my work has shifted very much at home and online.


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