What World of Warcraft achievements can teach us about motivation

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Every World of Warcraft player has some, and they’re awarded for things as trivial as logging in on a certain day to things as meaningful as beating certain game encounters at the hardest possible level. At the end of the day, however, they’re nothing more than a few extra pixels and a flag in a database. They have no value at all in the game, cannot be redeemed for any game privileges save maybe a title or two in front of your name, and cannot improve your game experience in any substantive way, such as change game play mechanics.


… yet players lust after them. They chase after them. They spend hours upon hours doing incredibly menial tasks, like shooting rats in a subway tunnel, just to get one of these. Why?

For some players, it’s social status. For some players, it’s an intense competition with one of the few metrics the game provides. For some players, it’s a way to fulfill a nearly obsessive compulsion with “completion” in a game that has no end. Whatever the case may be, they’re incredibly motivating for something that has no intrinsic value at all.

Think carefully about how your company operates. Think carefully about how your organization operates. Think carefully about how you provide rewards to your team, to your customers, to your partners.

If a video game can award nothing of value to people who are paying customers in a virtual world almost completely unconnected from reality and have millions of people chasing after them, imagine what you could do with real rewards in the real world for real results.

The question is, do you? Do you provide enough opportunities for reward, even social-only rewards? Foursquare figured that one out really quickly with their badges. What are you doing to acknowledge both the menial and the epic in your own work?

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