Gamification 101


Over the past year, our firm has received more calls on Gamification than any other new business topic.  Two client questions stand out: What is Gamification? And, what problems does it solve? When answering, I begin with a tale of two employees, Mary and Greg.

Mary is one of thousands of disengaged employees working in a typical call centre.  Her year-old job is lonely and repetitive with little autonomy or creativity. Mary’s daily tasks have become so routine and measured that she vacillates between boredom and fear. Although she is supposed to receive quarterly performance reviews, her boss spends most of his time recruiting and fighting fires. Senior management regularly mandates her department to implement process redesign and change initiatives, many of which are divorced from what really goes on in her job. Most likely, Mary is monitoring online job postings, a prudent strategy given that the COO regularly muses openly about outsourcing her function.  The chances of Mary staying another 12 months are only 50%.

Ten months ago, Greg was fortunate to get a call centre job call in a firm employing gamification principles and technologies. Greg can’t wait to start his day by logging into his firm’s “gamified” workflow management system.  The first thing he sees is an Avatar — a virtual and personalized representation of himself.  His Avatar acts on his behalf, taking customer calls, going to meetings with other Avatars and updating his skills. Information about his team’s progress is fed to Greg in real time, including critical customer issues and company social outings.  Instead of the usual call centre metrics, Greg competes with his colleagues for badges and ranks.  Moreover, he accumulates a virtual currency (that can be exchanged for special perks) when he distributes best practices and assists co-workers with problem solving.  A combination of game-enabled fun, friendly competition and subtle peer pressure has helped Greg become a fully engaged employee.  Not surprisingly, he has developed new leadership, communication and collaboration skills that put him on track for a promotion.

The first story is illustrative of many companies.  The second tale is fictitious but will soon be commonplace. Firms as diverse as Adobe, Whole Foods, Nike, Microsoft and Duane Reade are using games to transform routine and mundane tasks into more useful, fun and financially rewarding activities. The business outcomes are compelling: improved consumer loyalty, increased employee engagement and higher levels of collaboration & information flows.

Gamification is hot.  According to a 2011 Gartner Report, more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application by 2014. Even if you square root these numbers, Gamification is destined to be the next big thing.

Gamification defined
The most common definition is the use of on and offline game principles, techniques and technologies in an organizational context to improve business results. At their core, Gamification programs use stories, missions, incentives, and real-time feedback to change a person’s behavior over the long term. Stories can be anything that captivates and catalyzes a person’s interest over an extended period. Incentives can range from simple leaderboards, ranks and badges to the creation of virtual currencies that can be traded.

Problems solved
Gamification has been used in a variety of applications, including:

  • Improving operational productivity – Microsoft uses team-based competition and leaderboards to more quickly and thoroughly find software bugs.
  • Driving consumer awareness and engagement – Duane Reade uses location-based, competitive gaming to build awareness of their stores and merchandise selection.
  • Deepening product usage – Adobe has gamified their Photoshop tutorial to improve a trial user’s knowledge of core functionality.
  • Facilitating employee learning and participation – Deloitte uses Gamification to better address employee concerns and manage performance in areas like training, document creation and community engagement.
  • Increasing employee engagement – One of our pharma clients used a game to better align around corporate goals, teach workflows and promote cross department collaboration.
  • Triggering lifestyle changes – The Nike+ game promotes exercise by allowing people to track their results and compete against their friends and others.

Four pillars
Winning Gamification strategies artfully combine four elements:

  1. Business strategy – Powerful Gamification programs are tightly coupled to core business strategies and metrics
  2. Motivational science – Successful games leverage key precepts of behavioral and social psychology such as the importance of continuous feedback, competition and public recognition.
  3. Video game learnings – Popular video games have been shown to increase brain endorphins, which lead to higher levels of blissful happiness.
  4. Collaborative technology – A variety of companies like Bunchball and Salesforce.com have deployed enterprise-level Gamification platforms that can run different games

Both consumers and employees just want to have fun. Indulging them is becoming a sure path to business results (when the Gamification program is properly designed).  Ensuring this happens will be the subject of the next Gamification column.

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

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