Competition or collaboration for employee engagement: what should you choose?

Competition or collaboration are often seen as the polar opposites of gamification design. Making a choice between them may often be what determines the design. But how to make that choice is not always that clearcut.

competition or collaboration I receive enquiries I will always ask the question of what culture prevails in the company. Often followed at some point with the question of whether the client has a more competitive or more collaborative design in mind. Some companies are very clear on how they want their gamification project to pan out and others when questioned are not so sure. I have also had the situation where people come for a competitive design and after I raise some questions, completely change their mind.

Know your people

If you are not sure about which way to choose your design style, then the first port of call is user research. You can simply ask whether they prefer collaboration or competition. From a research perspective that may give you a clear answer, but in a work environment we can nearly predict that it will be collaboration. I tend to dress up the ‘what do you prefer question’ by asking what kind of games they already play as well as what gives them a feeling of winning and achievement. You can have a ranking in order of priority of statements.

If you receive answers where people play mainly team sports or board games, then you may want to consider team competition. If the main reason for team sports is the social aspect and not necessarily winning, then collaboration is a good option. If you have many competitive players, you will receive answers of needing to win and often more individual competitive sports. The types of games named will give you a good insight into the gameplay they tend towards.

What is your own bias?

We often see the project team coming with some preconceived notions on how people behave in the company. It may be based on what they would like to see instead or on one team or aimed at one team. We always recommend co-creating with some of your target audience and we also recommend extending your input through surveys and focus groups.

Knowing your own bias, however, is important to acknowledge. I typically ask people on project teams we work with to take the player profile questionnaire designed by Andrzej Marczewski. We then discuss how this may impact their design decisions. We then compare this with our research findings to see if we match or oppose what the majority of our target group is like.

Play existing games

Another creative way is inviting your target groups to play games. Observing their behaviour in collaborative games and observing their behaviour in competitive games is useful. It will tell you a lot about the spirit you will create when you introduce company-wide programs. You may have noticed some of the side effects of competition and some of the challenges with collaboration.


The things to really watch out for is who opts in and who opts out. You will find that in both types of games some people will simply switch off. If those are the target audience for your game, find out what they enjoy and don’t enjoy about the game. The responses will be very varied and give you fabulous insights.

The kind of impact you want to create should be the ultimate decision point. If you want people to collaborate more, then it is an easy choice. If you want people to compete more again it is an easy choice. But I hazard a guess that it isn’t that clearcut as a choice.

Either way don’t assume that you know your people and their preferences. They may very well surprise you.

Keeping a gamification design fair for your intended audience

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