Gamification: games businesses play


Game playing is moving out of the animated world of video games and into mainstream business. Gamification – the use of games to address business problems or opportunities – is an innovative form of consumer and employee engagement  that translates online game design elements into non-game settings.  A recent phenomena, gamification is being used by innovative organizations to: 1) increase consumer participation with a brand; 2) drive faster adoption of a new application or tool and;  3) foster process alignment. The premise is that games can help change and sustain new behaviours among your target audience, thereby generating real business value.   Games are particularly helpful with tasks people find a hassle, boring or psychologically challenging, such as following routines, shopping, completing surveys or reading websites.

Gamification improves engagement by leveraging a person’s psychological nature to play games, interact with others, and seek extrinsic rewards.  The more entertaining, competitive and rewarding the game is, the more likely people will participate in a desired behaviour and for longer periods of time.  Numerous studies have shown that extrinsic motivators (e.g., leader boards, badges  and virtual currencies) are effective drivers of participation, at least in the short term.  To be fair, it has yet to be proven whether extrinsic motivators (versus intrinsic motivators like personal will and desire) are sufficient to trigger long term behavioural change.

Game playing is common to every demographic and socio-economic group as it addresses fundamental human desires for things like rewards, status, achievement, competition, self expression, and altruism. Not surprisingly, Gamification can produce benefits across the  entire organization.  Marketers look to games to increase consumer participation with their brand or social media presence;  players are more likely to return to a site and engage in desirous online behaviour like completing tasks, visiting different web pages or shopping.  Other functional groups can use games as a means to catalyze employee action in areas like improving project execution, completing corporate education programs and maintaining employee health regimes

Gamification in action

Knowledge@Wharton, a publication of Wharton Business School, has noted some well-known examples of innovative gamification programs:

A Nike program, Nike Plus, allows runners to keep track of their runs using a small accelerometer in their sneakers.  The runner can plug the device into their computer and track results against their friends via leader boards.

The USA cable network uses a rewards system to fuel an ardent fan base for some of their shows like “Psych.”   Viewers on the channel’s special “Club Psych” website are awarded points for their active engagement with the site.

In an effort to cut its high fuel expenses, software firm SAP uses point-based games to incentivize employees to carpool.

Given the newness of gamification strategies and the inevitable customization needed for each company, published best practices and ROI numbers are not always accessible.  However, we have discovered some learnings that would benefit organizations looking to dip their toe into game-playing:

Great games are more than the sum of their parts

Just because something has an interesting game element doesn’t make it a good, complete game. Truly successful games are designed around a business need, are compelling to play and really focus on something fundamental that people genuinely want to do. Because game design is often based on widely held but sometimes faulty assumptions – for example, money motivates people the most –  managers must be careful not to introduce bias.

Start small and test

Like any other tool or methodology, games can be misused and manipulated (i.e. people cheat), producing unintended consequences or results.  The best approach is to do little experiments,  test different variables and measure the right metrics, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Get the right business owners

For optimal strategic focus and game design, games should be “owned” by the business unit or department that has the pressing business issue.  Regardless of the of the game being run, it is well advised in the planning stage to engage a team or outside firm with solid functional expertise, experience in human psychology,  and expert game design skills.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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1 comment so far

  1. Robert Cowen on

    a very good example of the use of Gamification in contact centers is in agent incentive programs. You’ve probably been using games for many years but didn’t know that the rest of the world has finally caught-up and given it a new name. The games used in contact centers, however must be based on luck (not gaming skills). Typical games are spin the wheel, select a sealed envelope, pop a balloon, pull a ticket from the fish bowl. Games provide an additional opportunity to reinforce the activities that you desire but (most importantly) provide random intermittent reinforcement. This is the emotion that drives Las Vegas but we strongly recommend that contact center games always provide a positive result (no lotto tickets). This emotion is a critical and significant force in improving the KPI’s of the middle and lower tier performing agents although your top performers will remain your top earners.

    We typically see an improvement in KPI’s of at least 20% when spending between 1% and 1 ½% of payroll on a well designed and administered, long term incentive program. That’s an excellent ROI.

    There are numerous white papers and case studies showing the results of games in call centers under the “Resources” tab of our web site (www.Snowfly.com). We’ve been doing this for more than 12 years and are happy to answer questions, etc. without obligation.


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