Gaming gets serious
Gamification is about taking the essence of games – fun, play and passion – and applying it to real-world, non-game situations. In a business setting, that means designing solutions using gaming principles in everything from back-office tasks and training to sales management and career counseling. Gamification can help get stakeholders passionately and deliberately involved with your organization. Organizations that embrace gamification have the opportunity to gain loyal customers and find a competitive edge in recruiting, retention, talent development and business performance.
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Alsop Louie Partners
I love snow skiing. And the last time I hit the slopes, I was thrilled to find that through the magic of RFID, I was able to keep track of my accomplishments on my smartphone – everything from how many black diamonds I had skied to the vertical feet I had traversed over the course of the day. Even more exciting, I was able to share this data with family and friends, and see how well they were doing, too. And, not surprisingly, how I stacked up. Ultimately, we were in a friendly competition to rack up awards and win badges based on our accomplishments and scores.
We were modifying our behavior in direct response to a lighthearted, fun little game. We were taking on slopes that we wouldn’t have considered before. Squeezing in a couple more runs before calling it a day. Pushing ourselves to go a little faster and harder. And that’s also why gamification is catching the attention of so many business leaders. The ability to change behavior by encouraging personal growth via game-like engagement could be a management bonanza, for obvious reasons.
The concept itself is not new. In fact, my venture capital firm saw a serious gaming/gamification pitch over a decade ago. But the idea didn’t take off. I think the renewed interest today has a lot to do with the rise of social business. Before social media tools, one of the biggest hurdles was creating and sustaining a network of players. Without that, there’s little hope of a game taking off. By tapping into public social media channels and social computing platforms being adopted in the workplace, serious games can take advantage of existing social networks – inside and outside of the business. This is a natural environment for successful gaming, as the swift rise of social gaming companies has demonstrated. Applying the principles to day-to-day business processes can have great potential.
Having spent much of my career in the gaming industry, there are a few principles of game design that, if followed, could make a big difference. For example, when I first helped license Tetris, I learned the 80/20 rule: 80% of a player’s experience in a game should be positive. The rest of the time, players should be barely missing their goals. Basically, everybody wins – at least for part of the time. And when they lose, they understand why – and feel that overcoming whatever obstacle ahead is within their grasp. This should be coupled with constant positive reinforcement and incremental, attainable rewards. That potent combination can make a game addictive.
And yet in the business world, many games only have a handful of winners, and lots of losers. Gamification should not simply be another spotlight on your top performers. If a “player” is dominating the game, the rest of the population is likely to either try to derail the winner, or sabotage the game. Hyper-competition rarely leads to sustained improvements performance – or positive behavior change.
In some ways, gamification isn’t really a new trend. It’s just one of the latest manifestations of the foundation of business: the desire to compete. The desire to keep score. But don’t forget to start with clearly defined business objectives, and align gaming mechanics with metrics and incentives. And remember the importance of fundamental gaming principles. Gamification done well tells an employee: you are doing better than you did yesterday, you are contributing to the goals of the enterprise, and the tools for growth and personal development are in your hands. Game on.
Where do you start?
Gamification is about influencing behavior. At its roots are simple psychological constructs of ability, motivation and triggering1. “Ability” reflects the individual’s skill, time, attention and mental capacity to perform a task. “Motivation” describes desire to engage – personal interests, the perceived value of potential outcomes and their willingness to participate. A “trigger” is something to prompt targeted behavior. Triggers can be either explicit (directing the user to take action) or experiential (providing a sandbox where possibilities can be explored). All three factors must converge at the same time to achieve desired results. This basic framing will help inform you where to start:
- Pick your target. Establish clear, simple objectives that are well-suited for gamification. Not all business scenarios have obvious triggers where behavior can be influenced. Tasks that are very complex are hard to gamify. Tasks that are very mundane may be immune to motivational influences. Early adopters of gamification have targeted training, back-office processes, sales, marketing and promotions to consumers.
- Know your audience. Not every individual will react the same way to game dynamics. Different personality types have different motivations. To this end, Richard Bartle identified four types of game players: socializers, achievers, explorers and killers2. Having a balance of game mechanics – collaborative, collect-and-curate, discovery and competitive – will be necessary. The balance should match the needs of your specific community and desired results.
- Ride the wave. Social and mobile players have been early adopters of gamification techniques as means to stand-out and gain traction (e.g., Foursquare, Twitter, Getglue). Businesses that are rethinking their processes to take advantage of mobile and social dynamics can find many opportunities for gamification. From strategy to creative to user experience to engineering, consider the potential of game mechanics to improve engagement and performance. Ride the coat-tails of mobile and social initiatives that the business already understands – and likely has already funded – to start layering in gamification concepts for enhanced business outcomes.
- Knock down the fourth wall. Look for ways to use gamification to engage with business partners, customers and the general public. A mobile service provider in the United Kingdom with no retail distribution, no call center, no advertising, and only 16 full-time employees uses social customers and gamification principles to operate their business. They use points and rewards to source service referrals, help to solve customer service issues and even create promotional material for the company. Gamification can help organizations leap-frog into broader social business3, user empowerment4 and measured innovation5, tapping into external constituents in new and exciting ways.
Gamification is riding three waves. The first is the growing base of workers and customers raised under the influence of video games and consumer technology. The second is the meteoric expansion of mobile, social and cloud technologies across the business. The third is the ongoing efforts to improve business process execution and performance through technology. Gamification looks to embed game attributes into day-to-day business activities – interacting with the next generation in their native language, and tapping into an enthusiastic older generation that has embraced gaming. As the bridge to the postdigital era is being built, organizations are making big bets to take advantage of this transformation.
As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.
1 Fogg, BJ. BJ Fogg's Behavior Model. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://www.behaviormodel.org
2 Richard Bartle, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players who suit MUDs, http://mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm
3 Additional information is available in Deloitte Consulting LLP (2012), "Tech Trends 2012: Elevate IT for digital business", www.deloitte.com/us/techtrends2012, Chapter 1.
4 Additional information is available in Deloitte Consulting LLP (2012), "Tech Trends 2012: Elevate IT for digital business", www.deloitte.com/us/techtrends2012, Chapter 4.
5 Additional information is available in Deloitte Consulting LLP (2012), "Tech Trends 2012: Elevate IT for digital business", www.deloitte.com/us/techtrends2012, Chapter 9.