Is Gamification A Great Motivator?

More companies are applying game mechanics to internal and external apps and processes, Gartner says. But why gaming? Why now?
7 Examples: Put Gamification To Work
7 Examples: Put Gamification To Work
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The game is afoot in business, as more and more organizations integrate game mechanics into their internally and externally facing applications and processes. The market for gamification is expected to grow significantly in the next few years. But why gaming? Why now?

I recently spoke with Caroline Avey, director of innovative learning solutions at ACS Learning Services, a division of Xerox, and an expert in the area of game mechanics. She believes gaming is taking off at this point in time because of a combination of the increased ability to share information and the need to compete for mindshare as a result of all of that information. "The accessibility of information on the Internet and the ability to gather and share information has increased significantly over the past five years," she said. "Also, you're competing with other activities that a user might be able to do. How can you make your activity more appealing than other activities?"

Research from Gartner indicates that by 2015, 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes, and that by 2014 more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.

Xerox last year decided to look at gamification across the organization. The main reasons, said Avey, were to engage users, simplify processes, and compete for mindshare.

[ Learn how turnkey frameworks cut time to set up community rewards. See Badgeville Aims To Simplify Gamification Rollouts. ]

The idea of game mechanics, said Avey, is taking elements of games and putting them into a normal business process. Game mechanics integrated into applications can be quite sophisticated or very simple. Indeed, said Avey, users sometimes don't realize they are participating in a game. "It's quite possible that someone could be in one of our courses and not realize that they have the elements of a game or game mechanics," she said. "For example, think of a learning module where you have to complete one level before moving on to the next level--that's a very simple game mechanic called 'leveling.'"

One of the big drivers for the adoption of game mechanics among businesses--for both internal and external users--has been the increase in the use of social networking applications. Xerox, for example, has integrated the use of Yammer with its gamified learning programs.

The earning of badges is one way game mechanics are often used in a social setting. Avey explained how badges can motivate users.

"The use of badges ... is where the social side comes in," said Avey. "It might be enough for me to pass a certain level. So, yay, Caroline achieved Level 1. But only I might know that--the computer and I. But let's say the playing field is larger. Then, if I were to pass Level 1, I might earn a badge, and that badge would be posted on a profile of mine that would be accessible to others in the game. So I am the first one to achieve Level 1. Someone else in the game might say, 'Oh, my goodness--10 other people have almost finished Level 1 and I'm not finished.' It may be a motivator for a user to go in and complete an activity to also earn the badge."

Leaderboards are also a big motivator, said Avey: "Chris is a rock star. He might go in and complete all 10 activities and then go to the top of the leaderboard. ... Then there's Caroline down at the bottom. I might be motivated through the game mechanic of the use of leaderboards, which is public information among the gamers."

Gamification can also be used to encourage knowledge sharing, said Avey, and over time it can help users better understand colleagues' strengths and weaknesses, as well as their areas of expertise.

"Think about it this way," said Avey. "[You can design a program so that] instead of just replying yes or no, I have to give an answer as to why it's yes or no. I have to put my reasoning behind it. And you, and 20 other people who are part of my game group, might look and see what my rationales for making my decisions are. It's a sharing--they get to see what my thinking is--but it's also a feedback on my decisions in the game. So, that element of sharing knowledge and coming to a decision about what might be a best practice is used a lot in our game design."

How are game mechanics being used at your organization? We welcome your insight in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller at @debdonston.

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