As expected, this year at #e2conf there was some discussion about Gamification -- and the associated ongoing confusion and a fair amount of hostility regarding the term, techniques, drivers and tools.

What's In a Name? A Lot

First off... folks, we don't have any perfectly "unpolluted" term in the industry that would be a significantly better term of art for gamification, and that is unfortunate. As someone who has done taxonomy work for a long time, I know that terminology and labels matter, but honestly, the "right" label for what gamification stands for, is really not time and effort well spent.

For people who instantly discount the "seriousness" of gamification because it has "gaming" implied in it... just relax. Let's focus on the steak, and not the sizzle, and keep in mind, we are all still figuring this out as psychology and sociology come to play in the enterprise.

Here's the Bottom Line on Gamification, From My Perspective

I stumbled onto gamification (as we now call it) and using what we can learn from game mechanics and the tools/techniques of gaming, roughly 15 years ago, when I would demonstrate the pre-cursors to Second Life, as a way to highlight "virtual world collaboration" -- and fire up games like Quake to show what was possible on desktop hardware and networks.

Frankly, I dropped the ball at the time, as most people thought I was crazy to point out that enterprises and virtual games could learn anything from each other, and I caved in to the peer pressure to just drop it -- there simply weren't enough "crazy ones" to warrant putting the effort into expanding awareness of what we were on the verge of discovering and applying in the enterprise.

It's a whole new world today, however -- with a world that, more than ever, is embracing customer and employee experiences, and sustained engagement that doesn't require threatening people to use systems, dropping a massive "IT effort" on unsuspecting suckers, sorry, employees, or spending obscene amounts of time, money and effort in marketing/selling those efforts internally.

For the first time outside of usability and user experience circles (which often remain woefully under-funded and under-staffed), PEOPLE ACTUALLY CARE about whether other people (employees, customers, patients, partners, suppliers, executives, grunts, etc.) are using their apps/systems/sites/etc..

This is no small change -- and we are not done yet -- not by a long-shot.

Roughly 12 years ago (Y2K, or thereabouts), I began steering client conversations away from the raw technology itself (content management systems, knowledge management systems, portals, etc.) and into why anyone would care to subject themselves to the (let's face it), horrific user experiences of the time.

I know it seems commonplace and quaint now, but blogs, wikis, RSS and other "mainstream" Enterprise 2.0 concepts, were extremely new in the early-2000s timeframe.

From an "enterprise" point of view, these systems were an antidote to the overgrown mousetraps of "big enterprise" content and knowledge systems. While it's still very easy to bash ERP systems as overly complex "weapons of employee dissatisfaction," the more content-oriented systems have made great strides.

Fast-forward to the last few years -- Gamification is about behavior. Those tricky, squirmy "human" things we all have, and often ignore in a corporate setting.

Gamification is about surfacing behaviors, understanding what makes behaviors happen at all, let alone predictably and repeatedly, and making those behaviors and outcomes visible.

And while it has been a long time coming -- with the tendency of technologists and business people alike to gloss over the real needs and wants of people, we are FINALLY getting to a common understanding that tapping into what "users" (internal or otherwise) will find truly useful and wanted from an INDIVIDUAL standpoint, as well as the tie to the needs/wants of organizations.

It's About Much More Than "Games"

If you don't like the way that gamification is often implemented -- with "over-badgification" and truly horrendous "games" put forth in the name of "creating an engaging enterprise game" -- I can't say that I blame you.

But to throw out what is finally being broadly discovered in recent years -- which is that behaviors and sustainable habits (i.e., engagement) should be the gold standard that we all aspire to -- is, quite simply, insanity.

For the 2011 Enterprise 2.0 Conference, I had pitched the idea of presenting a workshop on Gamification, and was told it was too early. Seems to me that the time is now right, as most of the conversations I stumbled into, whether in sessions, keynotes, in the hall or on the show floor, were stuck in the early throes of "naysayerdom" -- and there are far too many benefits to be had for that to remain the case.

If you have pursued gamification -- what success or failure have you had, outside of debates on terminology?