Gamification: Game With the Concept?

6 minute read
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Next year will be the year gamification fails. It’s a concept built on hype, and 80 percent of all programs will die by 2014, according to Gartner

Rajat Paharia disagrees — 100 percent. The founder of Bunchball, a provider of online gamification solutions, he thinks it is only logical, in a data-driven world, that organizations implement gamification strategies to motivate employees and customers, and recognize, reward and encourage a deeper learning of concepts for better business outcomes.

Which side of the gamification hemisphere are you on? Is it a fad or here to stay? We caught up this week with a few industry insiders to find out what they had to say.

What is it Anyway?

Paharia told us the first misconception in the business world is the definition of gamification. His suggestion: Forget the "game"  part and focus on the concept itself, which uses real data and game mechanics to encourage participation through rewards.

Rob Howard, chief technology officer of Zimbra, a messaging and collaboration solution provider, tells us “gamification is simply a mechanism to encourage more participation, much like a points-based rewards system for travelers offered by an airline."

However, Howard added, “organizations should consider implementing gamification tactics only when they have a clear understanding of the purpose of their community. For example, using gamification in a support community provides recognition to contributors and increases the motivation to contribute.”

Steve Sims, VP of solutions & design at Badgeville, a gamification platform provider, said gamification takes the principles that motivate behavior that are found in gaming and applies them to non-game experiences in organizations.

He cited his company's efforts with American Express, which uses its behavior platform to increase travel compliance across its customer base's employees. EMC uses gamification to increase engagement across their customer community. Organizations like Deloitte and Accenture are focused on increasing the efficiency of training programs across their global workforce.

Wrong Choice?

Jed Cawthorne, who works at a major North American financial institution as a senior manager of intranet initiatives, wrote earlier this year that he simply does not get the concept of gamification

It’s heading into “overblown” and “trendy fad” territory, he said, echoing the Gartner perspective.

“I guess my problem,” Cawthorne wrote, “is that while I can understand the theoretical benefits of gamification to salespeople by adding features to their CRM or other specific scenarios, I just don't see benefits in the wholesale adoption of gamification to the Intranet, collaboration and Information Management spaces.”

Catching up with Cawthorne this week, we asked him if there is one compelling reason, he sees, to not implement gaming into organizations?

“Yes,” he told us, “potentially many -- mostly based on the organization’s culture. Is there a cultural fit? If not, what is the change management cost required in order to gain the benefits?”

To date, Cawthorne added, he has not seen a compelling "one size fits all" reason that makes it a “killer app” for all organizations — or even all parts of one single organization. He warns that a poorly crafted gamification is one not geared toward its particular audience, suffering from being too generic.

“Consequences include poor adoption or outright rebellion,” he said.

For many organizations, the concept could simply fail as a cultural fit. There could exist, Cawthorne said, a “lack of integrated thinking” and an “inability to embed in a fully end to end set of HR and business processes."

"If this is the case," he said, "gamification would not be a meaningful experience."

Right Choice?

More participation, the merrier. That’s part of the belief behind using gamification, according to its supporters.

“A successful use of rewards and recognition through game theory leads to an increase in participation,” Howard said. “The more active a community is, the more unique content is created and the more valued the community becomes.”

And, to boot, organizations get invaluable insight into its customer base through such measures, and therefore can identify experts, he added.

Learning Opportunities

Businesses should not decide whether or not to implement gamification within their organization but rather analyze a particular use case for gamification, Sims added.

“The compelling reason is to drive better business and organizational outcomes through increased engagement and productivity in your workforce through a win-win scenario where users benefit as well,” Sims said;

Basically, any business hoping to drive productivity, engagement, or other positive behaviors by their customers and employees can benefit from gamification. The trick is applying it in a way that leads to long-term behavior change, not just a short-term lift in these behaviors.”

Organizations successful at gamification can increase productivity, operational efficiency and generate revenue and insight as to how the business and its employees are working.

“Gamification, at its core, is about understanding the behaviors you want to increase, and then creating dynamic programs to motivate that behavior using game mechanics such as progress missions, points, badges, leveling systems, leaderboards, and more,” Sims said.

Where Could Things Go Wrong?

Poorly-crafted gaming systems do not engage community members in a way that matches desired business objectives, Howard said.

Gamification, he said, is about more than badging or displaying names on a leaderboard.

“While the use of badges and leaderboards are vital tactics used in gamification,” Howard said, “an organization needs concrete business goals to support the tactics. If organizations are blindly using gamification tactics, employees and customers may not see the benefit of engaging.”

Inappropriate or no intrinsic motivation. Worthless extrinsic, or tangible, rewards. Misaligned features/mechanic; these are features that don't trigger the desired motivations and in some cases can have negative effects, Sims said.

“One can see this in implementations where the developer puts a few badges into their experience and calls it gamified,” Sims said. “Of course that's not going to work. That's like creating a frequent flyer program and only rewarding people for buying one flight, expecting them to stay loyal for years to come.”

'Novelty and Hype'

Gartner, in its report on gamification, said the concept is driven by “novelty and hype,” and by 2014, 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily because of poor design.

“The challenge facing project managers and sponsors responsible for gamification initiatives is the lack of game design talent to apply to gamification projects,” Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, said in the report. “Poor game design is one of the key failings of many gamified applications today.”

Some organizations simply count points, slap meaningless badges on activities and create gamified applications that are "simply not engaging for the target audience," Burke added. "Some organizations are already beginning to cast off poorly designed gamified applications.”

Which side are you on? Trend or positive impact on business outcomes for the long haul? 

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