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In a lot of posts, I talk about rewards. My last post discussed the potential dangers of extrinsic rewards when used to try to motivate intrinsic behaviour. So I imagine that most of you think that rewarding failure is a bit of a no brainer. No way. Why would anyone reward anyone for failure?
Banks Do It
A good example this kind of reward can be seen in bonus culture. Think of all of the bankers who were blamed for the recent collapses. Many were quoted as being shocked at the idea that they may not get their bonuses. Bonuses in the banking business are expected. They are used to ensure that people stay in their role. The fact that they failed horribly is irrelevant. They were still rewarded for failure. If that is the case, how do you motivate success?
Kids Do It
I was at the birthday party of one of my daughters friends (five years old). We were doing musical statues with them. Now. At some point in the eighties, the UK ruling party decided that competition in children is bad. It promoted elitism and made children feel left out and demotivated of they lost. To this day we are still feeling this effect. In our game of musical statues, every player got a bag of sweets if they lost. They were rewarded for losing at the game. The idea is that by giving them this small consolation prize, they would not feel down and would be willing to play later. The interesting thing was, quite a few didn’t want the main prize, they just wanted the sweets. So, they joined the game and immediately tried to lose just so try could have the sweets! Rewarding failure actually motivated them to fail! Why go through the effort of trying to win if they only wanted sweets and not the winner’s prize?
Games Do It
The question is, can rewarding failure ever help to motivate success?
When you look at games this is often used to encourage the player to keep going. For instance, you may go bankrupt in a management sim for the first time. The game offers to give you a loan to get you back on your feet. This then give you a little boost that keeps you playing. You are motivated and able to continue.
Can You Do It?
This only works if the end prize is substantially better than the reward given after failure. The reason the examples I have use above fail, especially with the children’s game, is because the prize for succeeding is not all that much more interesting than the prize for winning. Mixed with the amount of effort it takes to play and win, losing is actually the easiest way to get something you want. The other thing to consider is that when using gifts and rewards for failure, you can’t just keep giving them. In our imaginary management sim, if the player is constantly saved by the game, they will quickly tire as there is no longer any challenge. You have to use it sparingly to make the user feel that winning is still important.
As with all things Gamification related, it comes down to execution.