Make Gamification Work In Your Business

Gamification — using techniques adopted from video games for training, innovation and customer engagement — is a commonly-discussed topic in IT circles. But how can you make a gamification project work? Here are some practical tips.

Gamification picture from Shutterstock

Gartner analyst Brian Burke is a firm believer in the potential of gamification, but says that the vast majority of efforts to use the technique in workplace environments fail. Indeed, Gartner has predicted that 80 per cent of gamification projects won’t produce the desired results. “A lot of people are getting it wrong,” Burke said in a presentation at the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit, which I’m covering as part of our ongoing World Of Servers series. “Gamification is not a magic elixir that is going to solve all your problems. It is useful for some things but it is not useful for everything

The big failing? Most projects focus too hard on achieving a specific corporate goal and neglect the objectives of the actual players, whether those are staff or customers. People don’t play games to reward others; they play for their own enjoyment. If you want a gamification project to succeed, you have to recognise that. This is why gamification by individuals often works better than gamification at a corporate level.

“One of the biggest issues is that people look at this as being really easy: ‘I can slap some point and badges on my web site and I can get people to do anything!’ That’s not how it works,” Burke said. “People are not stupid, people not puppets and you will not be able to manipulate people to achieve your organisational goals. Trying to motivate people to achieve corporate objectives rather than their own objectives doesn’t work.”

Burke points to Nike+, which has 11 million users tracking their fitness, as an example of how to do gamification well. “One of the thing’s it’s not doing directly is selling Nike shoes. It’s designed around making athletes successful in achieving their goals.”

Other common mistakes blight gamification efforts. “A lot of people tend to think that gamification is about making boring things fun, and it’s not,” Burke said. “It’s about tapping into peoples’ motivation and engaging people at an emotional level to participate in that task.”

The terminology doesn’t help either, Burke argued. “Gamification is a lousy word. One of the things that makes it a lousy word is that when you talk to people in your organisation about gamification, they say: ‘We’re a serious organisation — we don’t play games here’ and they just shut down immediately. It’s really about engaging people and motivating people.”

Where To Use Gamification

The shift to technology-based systems that has disintermediated many areas (think travel, for instance) is a problem gamification can assist with, Burke suggested, since technology design tends to focus on efficiency rather than friendliness. “Human interactions are not designed for efficiency,” he said. “One of the things that gamification can help with is to create a more engaging kind of relationship.” Gaming money picture from Shutterstock

Three main areas can benefit from gamification: changing behaviour, training and education, and getting people involved in innovation and design. (If you want an easy way to remember these, think of them as Triple-S: shift, skills and solve.)

Since gamification involves people pursuing their own objectives rather than company goals, a crucial first step is identifying where the two overlap. “We design the game from the fundamental premise that we’re going to make the players successful in achieving their objectives, and as a consequence the organisation will succeed in achieving its objectives,” Burke said.

Identifying the potential target audience is also important. World of Warcraft does not use the same mechanics as Farmville, and by the same measure a training system won’t use the same mechanics as one designed to help foster innovation.

Burke advises against falling into the “easy trap” of offering monetary or physical rewards. “In video games, you often see pure fun being used as a motivator. What we see way too much of in gamification is rewarding people with things like cash, rewards and prizes. Better rewards can be related to self-esteem and social capital. Use the game mechanics carefully and lean towards intrinsic rewards. Shy away from the easy approach of giving people prizes and you are more likely to be successful.”

Individual gamification projects may not require engagement over a long period. “A lot of games really only need to be engaging for a short period of time,” Burke said, pointing to one-off training as one obvious example.

However, developing those projects does require a long-term commitment. “Incremental launches are common; you won’t get it all right the first time,” Burke said. “It’s very unlikely you’re going to introduce something that’s going to be wildly successful on day one.”

Lifehacker’s World Of Servers sees me travelling to conferences around Australia and around the globe in search of fresh insights into how server and infrastructure deployment is changing in the cloud era. This week, I’m in London for the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit, looking at how to plan and deploy your overall enterprise architecture for maximum business value and efficiency.

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