Self-Managed Recognition and Rewards Energize the Game

Steve Pruneau

Why do people spend $60 or more on a video game for the privilege of banging away at the controller for hours in front of a big screen?

For the emotional rush.  For the adventure of the game story and characters, for that feeling of satisfaction from developing skill and achieving a high score, for recognition of your performance by others and for rewards: higher rank, more features, prestige in the community. Blizzard Entertainment’s multiplayer video game Overwatch energizes the game experience by making recognition and rewards an entertaining art form.


  • “play of the game”, the equivalent of a sports instant re-play
  • team vote at the end of each match to recognize “epic” game play
  • leader board statistics showing each player’s performance


  • public display of each player’s rank, which is an indicator that blends data accumulated from skill and time spent in the game
  • more capabilities
  • more customization or personalization of your gaming experience

Video games have become very good at creating an intense emotional connection between individual players and their game experience, as well as the shared experience among players. That leads to highly motivated, intense game play AND satisfaction at the end of the match when the most skillful moment of the game is replayed for all to see and final rewards are handed out.

Implicit in multi-player video games is true meritocracy:

Transparency – a system that everyone can understand

Opportunity for all – anyone can be recognized for superior game play, anyone can be rewarded with higher rank

Blizzard Overwatch D.Va selfie

There is a video summary of this post on YouTube.

Imagine a video game experience where recognition and rewards are determined by a person or a manager. Human limitations prevent any one person from being able to catch everything of value that happened in the game and their own biases would filter attention. There would be frequent instances where players would not agree with the choices for recognition and rewards, and players would abandon the game, after posting flaming rants and videos.

In Overwatch, the system objectively determines “play of the game”.  Even though there can be some disagreement when there were two or more really good plays during the game, think most players would agree “play of the game” declared by the system most of the time, is the play which deserved recognition.

Overwatch epic playersOverwatch level up

After the match is finished, players can recognize each other for valuable game play.  If a player gets at least 5 votes, his gameplay is declared “Epic!”.  There are a total of 6 players on each side.  Developers allowed for the assumption that players may not vote for a player on the opposite team, and therefore it’s possible for both teams to declare their own epic player

Video Games connect players on an emotional level in ways that are similar to sports fans watching professional sports, borrowing “instant replay”, “most valuable player” and others.  In video games, ANYONE can play, and EVERYONE has an opportunity to be a star player, a hero.

What if we could get that same thrill of achievement, same opportunity to be a hero and earn recognition in our jobs?


Business Agility Conference 2017 Hall-Loving tweet collage


Not many jobs deliver anything close the emotional rush we can feel playing video games.  That’s an opportunity to re-design how your company handles recognition and rewards.  At the Business Agility Conference earlier this year, Jason Hall and Chip Loving showed us a better design (both are at


Their topic, Sustaining Happiness, explained how to create what I would call self-managed recognition and rewards, that work without management intervention.  I like to think of it as crowd-sourced recognition, even though a team is smaller than “a crowd”.

If you want people in your business to be as motivated and connected as gamers are to video games, follow Jason and Chip’s process.  They will gladly help you through set-up.

Key points which they explain:

1) Recognition (or any feedback for that matter) is better given when it’s relevant and in the moment.

2) Placing rewards in the hands of employees is key to sustaining autonomy and a happier culture.

They go on to explain the actual processes which make it possible for anyone to recognize another for doing something good, at the time it happened. I especially liked their suggestion for the business to maintain a “Positive Ledger” to record occurrences of recognition, as they happen.  This ensures the good stuff isn’t forgotten.

This peer / group decision system is meant to not only provide a process for peers to recognize each other, but also to distribute profit sharing or a bonus pool.  The Positive Ledger can be used for determining how profit sharing will be distributed, or the Positive Ledger could be one component of some other group-based process for distribution.

The Positive Ledger can also be useful in healthy organizations to help someone through a significant failure. It helps the individual and his /her team members pull-through by reviewing together all the good things that person has accomplished.  The Positive Ledge helps put failures in context.

Steve Pruneau

Steve Pruneau

Steve Pruneau leads executives and business owners to solve the gap between variable revenue and a fixed workforce. He is the first consultant at Free Agent Source. As a founder, Steve engages the broader community of corporate clients, entrepreneurs, startups and consultants. He manages company operations and lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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