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Interview with Kerstin Oberprieler | CEO of PentaQuest, Gamification Expert, TEDx Speaker & Ph.D. Candidate

Home / Blog / Interview with Kerstin Oberprieler | CEO of PentaQuest, Gamification Expert, TEDx Speaker & Ph.D. Candidate

Our guest for today is no less of a rockstar in the world of Gamification. Kerstin Oberprieler is the co-founder, CEO, and Lead Gamification Designer for gamification firm PentaQuest and is doing her Ph.D. in gamification. She is also a member of the Industry Advisory Board and a former member of the International Advisory Committee.

As a leading gamification and design thinking academic and practitioner, Kerstin is pushing the boundaries of what is possible with gamification, building gamified solutions that are intuitive, highly effective, and engaging.

She has spoken at key events, including speaking at TEDx Canberra, in Germany, Hong Kong, USA, and Singapore.

Kerstin’s TEDtalk on the psychology of gamification for bringing about organizational and societal change. You can check it here – http://bit.ly/GamificationTEDtalk 

We started our interview by asking her about her experience.

What intrigued you about gamification and what your personal experience has been so far?

I studied Psychology and Commerce, majoring in management and marketing. While I was studying, people often commented that psychology and commerce was an odd combination, but it always made sense to me. I was also an athlete who competed internationally in sport (Taekwondo), so I was always looking for ways to hack my life to increase my performance.

When I graduated, I got a job with a design thinking firm, which really opened my eyes to user-centered design and solving problems in creative ways. Through that company, I came across gamification about six years ago, and it was like a light bulb went off. I felt like I finally found something that connected the individual psychology with the ecosystem that is the organization in a way that aligns performance through positive encouragement. 

I became so intrigued that I decided to do my Ph.D. in workplace gamification and, along the way, go so much interested from others about applying gamification to their teams, that I started PentaQuest.

1- Tell us about your experience at PentaQuest. Can you share with us any upcoming details of your project?

PentaQuest is an Australian behavioral gamification company helping organizations globally build productive, engaging, and thriving workplaces.PentaQuest works with organizations to implement behavioral change and shift culture, capability, and strategy. We work with a broad range of clients in Australia and overseas, including government departments, large multinational companies, not-for-profits, and educational institutions. 

Our bread and butter service offering is increasing employee engagement. With COVID-19, we are working with leading virologists to focus on health and wellbeing activities for employees as well.

We’re also currently building a version of our platform specifically designed to support aged care workers care for the elderly, those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in our community. We’re doing a randomized control trial study with the University of Queensland and another company called Asymmetric Innovation to study the difference gamification can make to this context during COVID-19.

2- What is your definition of the term “Gamification”?

“Gamification is the use of game mechanics and experience design to engage users and solve real-world problems.”

3- Tell us about your academic research that focuses on Gamification in the workplace using the Cultural Historical Activity Theory.

My Ph.D. research focussed on how to create meaningful employee engagement through gamification by taking a systems view of organizations. 

Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (or CHAT for short) provides a theoretical framework for addressing organizational challenges in both research and practice. 

My research used a design-based research method to implement a gamification experience for staff of three diverse workplaces. Three organizations participated in this study: a school seeking to increase innovative teaching practices in its teachers, a restaurant wanting to improve team interaction and restaurant management, and a government department wanting to increase professional development activities.

The findings from this study demonstrate the positive effects gamification can have in the workplace, including increased staff engagement and motivation, improved team interactions and communication, increased productivity and better clarity on team goals, and increased workplace satisfaction. Significantly, the gamification design process helped alleviate systemic tensions in the workplace and demonstrated that gamification could contribute to a more productive and higher performing organization.

My Ph.D. makes several unique contributions, including providing additional empirical evidence of the effectiveness of gamification and being one of the first studies to extend CHAT theory and practice to the gamification design process. And it provides a gamification design process and evaluation framework for designers to use when implementing gamification in the workplace.

4- How does your work at PentaQuest help companies drive positive behavioral change at scale?

There is a clear and growing need for a solution to the problem of how to build a culture that encourages and rewards ongoing learning, innovation, provides staff with the information and agency to attain and deliver on a strategic focus, and one that creates an environment that is enjoyable to work in. 

Gamification offers leaders a powerful way to engage their employees and shift the culture towards one of high performance based on innovation, strategic focus and agency, and enjoyment. 

Our Software as a Service platform is highly customizable, thereby giving leaders a scalable, repeatable, and cost-effective way to engage and connect staff and build a culture around the strategic objectives of the organization.

5- What social mechanics should be used in a modern gamification program to drive behavior and engagement?

There are over 300 game mechanics to choose from when designing a gamified experience. The key is about finding the right mechanics for the proper context and users. This means that there is no “one size fits all” design, but rather a deliberate design process that needs to be undertaken in order to determine which mechanics, social and otherwise,  are best to drive behavior and engagement.

Some high-level design decisions to be made around this are:

  • What type of gameplay is most relevant to our users? Are they driven by competition or collaboration? Are they driven by achievement or exploration? Should this experience be single or multiplayer?
  • How playful should the experience be – quite professional and subtle, or directly gameful through strong use of narrative and avatars?
  • What platform is best for this experience – digital or analog? Or a hybrid?
  • How long does the gamification experience go for? One day, one month, one year, several years? This will also influence the type of mechanics chosen.

6- “Gamification appears to share elements in common with proven health behavior change approaches.” – Do you agree with this statement?

Yes, gamification at its core is about breaking down a goal (whether it be fitness, professional development, habit change) into achievable tasks and smaller behaviors (go for a run, read a book, take out the trash) and reward the person for making progress, not just rewarding them at the end.

7- What gamification trends do you see now, and what do you predict for the future?

You’re going to be seeing gamification a lot more in the future. It’s already being used in many products and companies, but you may not have realized that it is called gamification. It’s going to be increasingly used in education, health, personal habit management, marketing, connecting community groups around a cause like sustainability.

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

I was first introduced to gamification by Marigo Raftoplous in 2013, so she is an important influencer. I also love the work of Jane McGonigal and Monica Cornetti in the US, and Roman Rackwitz from Germany. There are many great gamification practitioners and experts out there – too many to mention!

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

Definitely try it out, learn from the vast resources and gamification academics and practitioners out there. I hate to see when people try gamification without a proper process or guidance because if it doesn’t go to plan, they can sometimes say that gamification doesn’t work when really it was their design that didn’t work. 

Gamification is great because of the results it can deliver but also the process of thinking about your users in a very human-centered way. Not only are you designing and experience for them, but you are also designing an experience to create joy. This is a beautiful thing!

You can also check myCred’s WordPress Gamification add-ons that are built to increase website user engagement.

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