Almost from the moment we are born and conscious of our surroundings, we embrace games. From peek-a-boo to sports to hours immersed in a digital world battling elves, humans love games. Unless you happen to be a professional athlete, playing games is probably limited to a few stolen hours each week. However, that may be changing, thanks to gamification.

Let’s Play a Little More

Contrary to the name, at its core gamification is not about games or creating a diversion. Gamification is about taking the things in games that motivate us, such as goals, competition, milestones, achievable challenges and rewards, to encourage us to be productive and engage in one or more desired behaviors.

Although the term gamification just began making its rounds in the enterprise and on the lips of marketers, it is not a new concept. If you have ever turned a vegetable into an airplane or train for your toddler, you’ve engaged in gamification. From a slightly more business-centric perspective, organizations such as hotels, airlines, scouting and retail stores have used gamification concepts like points, status levels and rewards for years to encourage customer loyalty.

Although gamification has long been used, it’s rapidly beginning to expand beyond external marketing efforts in a few vertical industries. Organizations of all types and sizes are starting to use gamification for everything from employee training to encouraging timely submission of expense reports. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2014, more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamefied application because gamification drives engagement by providing:

  • Rapid or even instant feedback  -- Traditional businesses feedback cycles are much longer - monthly, quarterly or even annual, which may result in employees losing focus on their goals.
  • Clear goals and rules -- In all but the simplest environments, there are lots of “grey areas” when determining how to achieve goals or what should be done, which can be frustrating.
  • A compelling narrative -- Participants in a game receive incentives to achieve their goal in addition to their internal motivation.
  • Tasks that are challenging but achievable

Gamification isn’t just buzz. Companies are achieving significant results by incorporating game mechanics.

Winning at Gamification

Like most things, organizations can implement gamification incorrectly. For example, if a company wanted to encourage knowledge sharing, it could reward users when they uploaded content. Depending on the incentive, this would likely result in gigabytes of content being uploaded. However, if nobody reads the content, the organization has not achieved its goal and has encouraged low-quality output, which could make existing content harder to find.

A better approach would be to offer rewards when someone reads the shared content or re-shares the content. Although the second implementation is not without its flaws, it’s clearly more likely to result in the desired behavior than the first approach. 
source: Bunchball

Michael Wu, Principal Scientist at Lithium Technologies, a firm that specializes in customer engagement solutions, identified three rules of thumb for using gamification to improve engagement:

  • Awarding point or other incentives for output alone is usually wrong.
  • Gamification needs a social network first or reciprocity can’t be tracked easily.
  • Game design should clarify what is of highest value and structure rewards accordingly.

Organizations should also understand that gamification is unlikely to solve fundamental business problems. If your company has horrible customer service or a poorly designed product, implementing gamification around it will not fix the core issue.

Getting Into Gamification

Although gamification was initially used to motivate consumers and sales professionals, it can be applied to much more than revenue-generating activities. In fact, gamification can be used to improve participation and engagement in almost any kind of business process from training, help desk ticket resolution, taking quizzes or providing feedback.

If you are considering implementing gamification in your own organization, keep in mind:

  • In almost all cases, gamification requires a community. Most people have a desire for recognition, status and award and someone with whom they can compete and share. If there is no community or way to interact, gamification is unlikely to result in the desired outcome.
  • You must understand your goals and your users. This might seem obvious, but many organizations start projects without really understanding the business value they are attempting to achieve and what actions will yield that value (remember the knowledge-sharing example?). It is just as important to understand your users. You should understand what motivates them and what drivers will influence them to take the actions that drive your desired business value.
  • Consider taking a baseline of user behavior. If you don’t understand what users are doing today, you won’t be able to determine whether you’ve made an improvement. By the same token, set a measurable goal so you  evaluate whether you are progressing toward your target.
  • Make rewards and milestones worth something. Users should feel a sense of achievement when they earn points and levels. This encourages engagement.

Vendors are racing to add game dynamics into everything from content management to expense reporting tools. However, the use of gamification in the enterprise is still evolving. As with all tools and technology trends, organizations should remain focused on their goals, not buzz.