People like playing electronic games, as evidenced by the size of the market – estimated to be worth US$112 billion by 2015. Gamification is a technology trend that seeks to exploit the psychology and mechanics of games, such as progressing through levels and achieving awards, in the business world.
Enterprises are typically using games to motivate and influence employees and allow them to learn new skills and behaviours. They are also using games to create more compelling engagement with customers and gather valuable data about their behaviour. In addition gaming is being used in a societal context by governments who are keen to get their message across in a new and compelling way, and to interact with demographic groups who are hard to reach through more traditional channels.
Gamification has received a great deal of hype and coverage. As a result, CIOs looking to experiment with games in their organisations will need to think carefully about what they want to achieve and be aware of both the value and limitations of gaming.
Gaming and learning
It is likely that gaming will have a significant impact on the way people learn in the future and throughout their lives. However, there is more to gaming than simply awarding virtual trinkets and prizes. To modify behaviour games must provide a suitably challenging balance of risk and reward that will encourage repeat plays to embed learning effectively. Used creatively, games can be used to better engage people in otherwise mundane tasks.
Location-based games can be used to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds. FourSquare with its badges, mayor-ships and league tables has already demonstrated its value as a platform for building loyalty and engagement with customers, while at the same time providing businesses with valuable intelligence about exactly when particular customers are on the premises.
Games are designed to be fun so many organisations are looking to gaming to create a positive link with their brands. One way to approach this is by rewarding desired behaviour such as taking medicine correctly or going to the gym. On a more superficial level it is possible to design games that are simply there to provide a fun experience based around the brand that will build a positive association.
One size does not fit all
The psychology underlying gaming is complex. Points, levels and badges are not rewarding in themselves but rather the underlying phenomena such as social status, group identification and reputation. Game mechanics are therefore unlikely to affect everyone in the same way. For example, some people are inclined to seek status, while others may be status averse.
Understanding gaming in a business context is still in its infancy and there is a risk that in some situations games may actually be counter-productive. For example, the extrinsic and often short-term and superficial motivators of games, may compromise valuable intrinsic motivations such as a simple desire to be part of a community of shared beliefs and interests.
An opportunity to experiment
Game mechanics are undoubtedly effective motivators for some people in some contexts and the concept is well proven by examples such as Yahoo Answers reward system which long predates the current wave of hype. Well-designed games and incentive systems can enhance collaboration, encourage diversity of thinking, strengthen brands and build engagement.
Gamification is not a panacea for promoting all kinds of collaboration and learning and much more research is required to deliver its full, valuable potential. CIOs should be willing to experiment with gaming concepts, watch the wider market for success stories and monitor the outcome of Gamification projects to ensure that they are delivering the expected benefits.
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