Gamification is a frequently-used term, yet its actual use and application has, until recently, been seemingly ambiguous. In the last few years, game designers and researchers alike have started to identify the potential of video games for real-life application. As such, gamification has emerged as the application of game elements, mechanics, dynamics and other techniques in non-game contexts (be it for personal improvement, education, medicine, business, marketing, human resources, and so on). It is no longer seen as a fad, but as a significant trend in the business landscape, albeit one that still has a long way to go to be fully embraced by businesses.
Despite the terminology, gamifying a businesses’ processes is not about just playing a game. Rather, the aim of gamification is to find a fun, amusing, challenging and self-satisfactory ways of doing things. Behind the fun must be true value. It can be extrinsic where you receive material reward, or intrinsic, which is the ultimate gamification goal. Achieving intrinsic motivation is crucial - when things are fun, motivating and inspiring on their own, they do not require external rewards as a motivator. The interaction of children with games is a clear demonstration of this – children play games just for ‘fun’ and the enjoyment is in the process of playing, not in the material reward. So what does this mean for businesses?
Let’s take a look at some examples of how businesses use gamification:
1. Internal gamification
Internally, gamification can be used in numerous ways: to boost production, to increase efficiency, to improve internal processes, to better connect a global workforce, to engage local teams and many more. Gamification puts fun into traditional work design and job flow to ultimately invoke intrinsic motivation.
One great example of gamification in enterprise is from professional services firm, Deloitte, whose goal was to encourage consultants who are spread globally to share valuable knowledge into their social intranet built across a proprietary mobile application. Combining its internal geo-location service, Who What Where, with the mobile solution developed by technology company, Badgeville, Deloitte created a reward system which acknowledged every consultants’ ‘check-in’, providing information on who they met, what they discussed and where the meeting took place. For each valid ‘check in’ consultants earn rewards and gain status along a particular expertise path. As a result, a gamified system became a showcase for status, reputation and expertise, becoming the ultimate tool for knowledge management, communication and sharing.
The key business results included:
• Increased collaboration and knowledge sharing
• Improved expertise location between their consultants globally
• Better alignment between the company and its employees, reducing turnover
However, when attempting to gamify internally, one key principle to be adhered to is that employees must consent to the ‘game’ – it must not be imposed on them. This is called the paradox of mandatory fun - if it is mandatory, there’s a big chance it won’t be fun. Without employees’ consent, positive effects of gamification are likely to not kick in.
2. External gamification
External gamification uses the same core principles as internal gamification but is oriented towards outside the enterprise. Typical application is in marketing: branding, sales, customer engagement, loyalty programs etc. By using gamification, companies aim at increasing brand awareness through converting brand customers into brand advocates by increasing their engagement with the brand. In this case, gamification goes for behavior change to spark engagement, creating motivation for customers to interact with the whole brand, and creating a wider experience than just the product (or service) consumption.
Gamified ad campaigns can use social media and even real games to create a system where customers can have fun and earn rewards. However, a Points-Badges-Leaderboards system (PBL) must offer true value – virtual or tangible rewards, otherwise this is not true gamification. Other gamified systems use a point system where customers can earn points and exchange them for real rewards – this is where customer motivation is extrinsic. But, an ultimate gamification approach is to drive customer engagement through invoking intrinsic motivation. This is often done using the social aspect of gamified systems – networks of users who can collaborate, compete and share experiences. One true example of external gamification using customer networks is Fitocracy – a fitness social network which was tagged as one of Time Inc’s 10 NYC Startups to watch (May 2013).
Fitocracy users enter their workout routines into the company's website via gamified app and earn points and new levels based on specific achievements which are constructed in such way to provide equal motivation to all users no matter their current fitness status. This was done by using one of the most potent tools of gamification – social communities. In Fitocracy’s community, users can exchange their experience, share workout routines and then set challenges and quests in which fulfillment leads to rewards – better fitness, on one side, and social acknowledgement and status, on the other. But, rather than trying to build a community around a product, Fitocracy’s creators built a community around the workout experience itself, allowing its users to take active roles rather than being just simple Fitocracy app buyers. Fitocracy is built around the user, making them competent and empowered, providing a sense of autonomy and relatedness, which are some of the key gamification principles. As a result, Fitocracy has built a base of over one million users globally.
Gamification is on the rise, and large multinational companies (IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce, Deloitte, Samsung, Nike, and Carlsberg amongst others) are successfully utilizing it both internally and externally. In their doing so, we’re potentially witnessing a paradigm shift in enterprise design – doing business activities can be both fun and productive. By impacting crucial behavior changes, the fun element can enhance productivity and efficiency in both internal processes and external relationships with the customer. Despite its rise the gamification concept is still relatively new and is yet to show its full potential. So all we can say for now is - let the games begin!
Mandatory Fun: Gamification and the Impact of Games at Work (by Ethan Mollick and Nancy Rothbard, Management Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)
For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter