Gamification, despite its edgy if slightly unfamiliar name, is hardly a new concept. If you went to a school that awarded you diplomas, collected scout badges or frequent flyer miles, checked reward points on your credit card or became the mayor of a local restaurant on FourSquare, then you have already participated in a range of gamification forms.
There is a saying that there is a little child in all of us; it might be in fact much more than just a tiny, hidden part of us – with another generation brought up on computer games and easy access to the internet it has become more acceptable to acknowledge our (arguably) innate inclination for fun, rewards and instant gratification. And, luckily for employees, business bosses across the world have begun to see this as an opportunity to increase productivity, user engagement, participation and customer loyalty, rather than a distraction from work at hand.
It is estimated that by 2015, more than 50 per cent of organisations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes and gamification itself is predicted to become a major business trend in the next five years, growing to $2.8B by 2016.
Gamification, put simply, is the use of game mechanics in a non-game context in order to solve problems and engage users. It can be applied to any industry and almost anything to create engaging and fun experiences, converting users into players.
Short history of gamification
Even though the concept isn’t new, the name has only been around for just over a decade. It was coined by Nick Pelling in 2002, but it didn’t gain widespread popularity until 2010. The idea captured the attention of venture capitalists who saw it as a very promising area in gaming.
The ‘blueprint’ for gamification: badges, points and leaderboards, was born with the introduction of Foursquare, a location-sharing social networking website, in 2009. Users are encouraged to check-in places they visit and interact with their environment via smartphones by being awarded prizes and unlocking achievements.
Throughout 2010 gamification was steadily gaining popularity. In September 2010, Badgeville offered services for social mechanics, gamification and reputation management. It raised US$15M in venture funding in its first year of operation. Its customers included eBay, Oracle, Samsung, NBC, Deloitte, Rogers Communications, and Bell Media.
2011 was the year of gamification. The term became a buzzword in both the industry and academic worlds, and was added to Gartner’s hype cycle. The year began with the annual Gamification Summit, led by Gabe Zichermann, where the Gamification Research Network was established after a workshop at the CHI 2011 conference.
Like with all buzzwords, users have eventually become tired and wary of gamification, helped by many a company jumping on the bandwagon too hastily and offering poorly-designed applications. But although badges, points and leaderboards are becoming old hat, gamification itself still has plenty of life left in it. It’s maturing, with more of a focus on the importance of design and the experience being created around it and another CHI workshop will be run this year, focusing on exactly this. With gamification techniques leveraging people’s natural desires for achievement, competition, status, altruism and closure, it seems wise to ponder what benefits adopting it might bring to your company.
Let’s talk business… rewards, competition and motivation
In a rapidly globalising world of business, where technology eliminates such obstacles as distance, competition is as high as ever. How do you ensure it is your company that stands above the rest, that you win new clients and retain high quality employees?
Gamification is about driving participation and engagement and creating an environment that is not only efficient, competitive and professional, but also fun and motivational. Contrary to some predictions that it is a receding fad, I believe the techniques of implementing game elements into work situations will keep on evolving, until it acquires a more sophisticated and reliable form. After all, who wouldn’t like to enjoy themselves while getting paid to do their job?
So what is the way forward, given that badges, leaderboards and points are increasingly landing on the scrap heap? The key element the developers will focus on will be social. Recognising and rewarding people for their efforts improves creativity, participation and learning and this effect is greatly amplified by being made more public – by sharing that recognition with colleagues, industry influencers and potential clients. One way to achieve this internally is to implement a private social network such as Socialcast, which enables a system of badges to be awarded to employees for special achievements. Public social media (especially LinkedIn and Twitter) also work very well for spreading the word about people’s achievements.
Another tried and tested method of improving productivity at work is through immediate feedback which can work very well alongside technology-based gamification. Let your employees know that what they’ve done/achieved is appreciated right after it happens (don’t wait until the six month review) – this triggers a surge of dopamine in the brain, similar to the one experienced when playing games (‘epic win’). This technique can tie in well with using milestones – rewarding employees at predefined intervals (e.g. every 12 months, every 20 resolved cases etc.).
Overall, if done right, gamification has the potential to be a win-win situation: the employers benefit from increased productivity, loyalty and engagement, and the employees from a more humane and fun work environment. If you think app-based gamification is for you, one company to check out would definitely be Gigya, a platform that “offers a variety of plug-and-play and fully customizable plugins that make it easy to reward and notify users, drive wanted behaviours and promote friendly competition within your site community.”
But I’d suggest you think your objectives through very carefully and work out a budget before plunging into investing in gamification apps that might not work for your business. The most crucial thing is your attitude – do you genuinely want to make your workplace a better place? If the answer is yes, you will be able to achieve good results without having to spend great sums of money. Sometimes the best technique to improve someone’s lot is to listen to those involved… Ask your employees what makes them motivated and happy to work and you will know what kind of gamification is right for you and your company.