Games usually help us pass the time, but if we perceive games as a gateway to innovation, perhaps we should be taking games more seriously. This is Jane McGonigal’s assertion, anyway. And she makes a few good points. Welcome to day two of Gartner: Portals, Content and Collaboration.

Playing the Game

As you may know, Jane McGonigal is the Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future. She is also the author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

First, a few stats:

  • 1 billion gamers worldwide
  • 40% are women
  • 10,000 hours playing games by the time you’re 21
  • 92% of 2-year-olds in US play games
  • Angry Birds: 500 million downloads, 1 billion players

What does this have to do with the enterprise, however? It’s all about participation and reach. What would you do if you could reach 1 billion players through one platform in a short amount of time? What could happen if we could harness even just a percentage of this type of gamification engagement?

Developing the Game

More stats:

  • 2011: US$ 100 million spent in gamification development
  • 2015: US$ 1.6 billion spent
  • 2016: US$ 2.8 billion spent
  • By 2016, nearly 70% of global 2000 orgs will have at least 1 gamified app

Positive emotions are associated with gaming. If we’re more likely to feel joy, relief, creativity and curiosity when gaming, imagine how innovative your company would be if work could elicit the same feelings? That might be too idealistic, but considering that 71% of US workers are actively disengaged, it might be worth a try.

Determination and outlook always play a big role. Most gamers don’t sit down and underestimate their skills or become dismayed by failure. (McGonigal says that gamer spend 80% of their time failing and yet return to play). That might be nice to have in the workplace, right?

Replicating the Game

So you’re in the C-suite -- what role should games play in your company, if any at all?

Gamers, because they willingly choose their battles, feel more in control and feel more optimistic about the challenges. Voluntary stress is actually positive, according to McGongical. In contrast, how would you describe involuntary stress? Most call that work.

So is replicating this type of urgent optimism in the workplace possible or even worth doing? There’s no template for doing so and there’s no case study that proves a definitive ROI. However, if the empowered employee is able to change the way we work, imagine what super empowered hopeful individuals (a term the Institute for the Future calls gamers) can do.

The average company may not be ready for the empowered employee, never mind the super empowered, but think about isolating positive behaviors associated with gaming and trying to bring them into the workplace -- not by forcing employees to play games, but by giving them the opportunity to apply the gamification perspective to their work. Maybe it’s having a game room or allowing gaming personas into collaborative workspace? It’s clear that McGonigal doesn’t want to gamify every business, but she does think that games can help us unlock big innovations. We think differently when we play games – differently than when we think we’re working.