Flappy Birds – An informative lesson in engagement for people managers



Flappy Birds is a mobile game famous for its meteoric rise to the top of the app store and its frustrating level of difficulty. It was developed by Dong Nguyen, a Hanoi based developer.

The objective of the game is to direct a flying bird between oncoming pipes (similar in design to Mario) without colliding with any of them. The bird, which moves to the right, flies upward each time the user taps the screen. The more pipes the bird flies through, the higher the score.

The gameplay is simple yet very challenging, reminiscent of something you might play on an Atari 2600.

Simple gameplay mechanics (not to be confused with gamification) make games engaging not because of the infinite layers of trophies, badges and other external rewards but because they tap into intrinsic motivators.

Intrinsic motivators come from within and include overcoming challenges, autonomy, curiosity, mastery and social validation to name but a few.

Game developers know this of course and that is why good games are arguably the most engaging type of entertainment on the planet.

Is the lack of challenge, clarity of goals, feedback, social validation, fun, autonomy and opportunity for mastery in our workplaces the reason why so many have had enough of reality and disengaged?

Jane McGonigal thinks so and outlined in her book ‘Reality is Broken’ some facts about gaming:

  • 69% of all heads of household play computer and video games
  • 97% of youth play computer and video games
  • Collectively 3 billion hours are spent on gaming every week.

“We are starving and our games are feeding us”

A generation of gamers are now entering the workplace. This generation has grown up with user centric technology, informational feedback and instantly available recognition. The trend of an increasingly disengaged workforce looks set to continue.

Instead of tinkering with buzzwords and badges why don’t we use what we know about game design to fix motivation and engagement problems in the workplace.


Some simple Lessons in Engagement from Flappy Birds:

  1. One of the most engaging and also frustrating features of Flappy Birds is how challenging it is to play.For people Managers: How can you positively challenge and reward employees regularly?
  2. It is also engaging because the goals are immediately apparent and how the user achieves those goals is clear.For people Managers: Ask employees if they feel company / job goals are achievable? Is the path to achieving the goals clear to them?
  3. Feedback tells players how close they are to achieving the goal and highlight progress. In Flappy Birds like many games, progress is always visible to the player through simple feedback systems.For people Managers: What do the feedback loops in your organization look like? Is recognition of progress immediate and frequent?
  4. Sharing scores with others on Flappy Birds opens the door for peer recognition and social validation.For people Managers: Is social validation and peer recognition embedded in the culture of your organisation? If not there are many simple tools available to replace outdated performance appraisals.


All of the above tap into our intrinsic motivators in a simple yet meaningful way. We are not advocating that the workplace becomes a gamed environment but that the defining traits of all games
are adopted to drive sustainable engagement.

David O Neill

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