Understanding and Implementing Gamification: Part 2

Epic Meaning and Calling People to Action



Colin McMahon


Whether you are an office equipment dealer, production level printer, or some other type of print service provider, gamification has the power to impact your business on multiple levels every day. Gamification, or the use of game design mechanics outside the gaming space, is seeing increasing evidence that it is one of the more powerful business development strategies in the 21st century. As part of our commitment to provide useful service and tips to our clients, Keypoint Intelligence presents this ongoing series on gamification, diving into some of its numerous aspects in the hopes of turning this abstract concept into actionable strategy.


(Click here for Part 1)


Gamification is a lot more than points, badges, or leaderboards. In fact, true gamification goes much deeper than any surface level element. At its core, it’s behavioral psychology. Those seeking to implement effective gamification strategies need to think about their employees and customers on an emotional level and understand what makes them motivated in different situations.


Game design is also a complex topic. There’s no one thing that makes games fun. Instead, it is a union of different factors working together to create a positive, cohesive experience. As a result, most gamification experts try to break down the game experience into pieces—analyzing each to make them actionable.


One such breakout is the Octalysis Framework (mentioned in my last article). This system, created by Yu-kai Chou, divides gamification implementation into eight core drives. For the purposes of this series, we’re just going to focus on the first today: Epic Meaning and Calling.


Source: YukaiChou.com


Understanding Epic Meaning

Meaning (or, more accurately, epic meaning) refers to the player role in a game. Whenever you play a game, you’re usually not just another person running around. You’re the main character summoned to do great things. Sometimes this call is very direct, with a lot of “chosen one” prophecy and other such language. Sometimes it’s more subtle, with your avatar just being the main character of the story.


Regardless, most everything you do in a game has meaning: save the princess, save the kingdom, stop the aliens. The player is directly called to each adventure. This lets them know what to do and sets up a perspective for every action/skill. Learning swordplay on its own may be fun, but learning swordplay to slay the evil warlock…now that’s a directly applied skill.



Properly applied, epic meaning can turn mundane tasks into exciting missions to make a positive difference. People want to know the actions they make have consequences. Whenever an employee describes “just being a cog in the machine” or “rat in a maze,” they are really saying that they don’t feel like they are making a difference. They just come in, do the job, and move on. Often, it’s the same job and they usually don’t really know why they’re doing it—other than the boss told them to.


Likewise, if you’ve ever told a child to clean up sticks from a backyard, the first response you typically get is “Why?,” which many parents just follow up with “Because I said so.” Now imagine you told that child that they needed to pick up the yard because those sticks/weeds were destroying the house and only they could save the family. Their motivation is likely to go up.


Epic Meaning Applied Externally

Many marketers have been applying epic meaning for years in advertising. Everyone has seen at least one commercial where a normal “Joe Schmo” type tries out a product and transforms into a cooler or more heroic version of themselves. Products are increasingly sold as experiences that are fun and compelling in and of themselves. However, some of the biggest examples of epic meaning in external communications involve charities.


Buy this product or make this donation and your money will go here—making the world a better place. This can motivate consumers at the point of purchase since they feel they will be making more of a difference than if they just bought something. It will work even better if another core drive (accomplishment) is used to immediately show the buyer the difference they just made (even if it’s in some abstract representational form).


For print service providers, many in the B2C segment already use epic meaning and calling to help sell their products. However, some B2B organizations could use more work. While showing a product with tons of data does help the buyer make an informed decision, it sadly misses out on the epic meaning that could be present in the product description.


For instance, printers looking to have a sustainability image might buy more from an OEM that showcases the positive differences their items make in terms of eco-friendliness. Purchasing this line of printers means so-much money to the Amazon (or something like that). Or maybe the site features a green bar that fills up once the purchase is made.


Interactive graphics can show people how they are making a difference
Source: American Sweepstakes


Epic Meaning Applied Internally

While marketers have made use of epic meaning externally for decades—internally, the process is less abundant (particularly in larger companies). If an organization is siloed, it is almost impossible to implement epic meaning properly. Why? If the employee does not fully understand how their job contributes to the company, they are less likely to feel that meaning. Even if an immediate supervisor can provide some information, an incomplete picture can sap motivation.


A transparent workflow—one where employees can easily see where they fit in and why they matter—will help provide a stronger enforcement of epic meaning. Epic meaning also relies on employees being treated like individuals and not just job performers. Each person has different motivations and will respondent differently to stimulation.


For instance, let’s say Julie really cares about the environment but I only tell her how her work will make a difference in terms of salary bonus. Sure, she will likely still work for the financial reward, but she will still not be as engaged as she could be—especially if she knew the work she was doing was indirectly and possibly even directly funneling money to rainforest relief.


While some gamification strategies can be blanketed on, epic meaning will be that much more effective with insight into the employee psyche. Everyone wants to be a hero, if only in a small way. By instilling that sense of epic meaning, businesses can drive further productivity while making workers happier than they were before.


In our next blog entry surrounding gamification, we will examine points, badges, leaderboards…and why none of these things by themselves is an example of gamification done right.