Gamers find the lost spark

Businesses now use gamification to boost engagement, motivation, recruitment and loyalty.

Business is gamifying the workplace to score some goals.

If you are in a frequent flyer program then you have been gamified.

Your purchase choices, brand loyalty and consumer behaviour are being heavily influenced, if not managed, by an intricate rewards system originally developed by video games designers.

Once you have earned enough frequent flyer points you’re boosted to a new level, allowing access to exclusive areas such as airport lounges.

In video games your points boost you to new worlds, challenges and maps.

As you move up through frequent flyer ranks you receive greater “powers” in the real world in terms of upgrade options and the speed with which you can check in and board the aircraft.

In video games your new powers might include greater skill, strength, better weaponry or the ability to jump higher or move faster.

And the red, bronze, silver, gold or platinum tag on your airport luggage acts as a leader board does in video gaming, telling others whether you’re above or below them in standing.

These rules and rewards systems have been carefully developed over the last few decades by video games designers and psychologists in order to ensure the games are engaging and motivating.

More recently, the business world has been figuring out how to apply this knowledge to their own challenges of better engaging individual staff, teams and customers.

Entertainment channel MTV increased viewer numbers and built anticipation for the MTV European Music Awards by creating celebrity “Fan Teams” online and awarding points to participants for watching video clips and for voting for winners.

They then awarded prizes to people with the most points.

The program led to a 236 per cent increase in fan voting and a 530 per cent jump in website page views, and was managed by US-based gamification specialists Bunchball.

The same group helped Ford Motor Company in Canada motivate employees to use Ford’s training and certification programs.

Bunchball created levels to be attained through training, encouraging competition with both individual and team leader boards, and developed a virtual “Dream Garage” where participants could show off their accomplishments.

Businesses now use gamification to boost engagement, motivation, recruitment and loyalty.

CPA Australia used gamification – helping players to learn about business through building a business empire – through its app, Boardroom Tycoon, launched last year.

“My epiphany around gamification for business came when I discovered the game World of Warcraft,” says Wes Sonnenreich, whose Intersective business runs gamification programs with several organisations including Ernst & Young, CSIRO and Aussie Home Loans, hand-in-hand with academics and researchers at various universities.

“What first impressed me was when I got to the advanced stages of the game and teams of 25 people worked together for six to 10 hours to achieve something,” he says.

"If I need my staff to do more of something then through gamification I can build a reward system that keeps them engaged." – Dr Daniel Johnson, Queensland University of Technology 

“Then I realised these teams were international – members didn’t all speak the same language. But still there were people managing and leading these groups. I wondered why businesses were not targeting these people, who were demonstrating skills around the handling of complex international projects, for recruitment.

“The next thing that resonated with World of Warcraft was the sheer amount of time I was spending with a spreadsheet trying to figure out what the right combinations were to win. I was sitting there for six hours playing with a spreadsheet and paying for the privilege of doing this because it was fun. So why is this not the experience for auditors? How can we bring the two experiences closer?”

These days some businesses are bringing the experiences closer, mostly without their staff or customers knowing.

Well executed gamification in business is invisible to the users, insists Sonnenreich. All they feel is engaged.

“If you want your staff doing more of anything you might want to gamify the process by which they work to encourage them to do it better,” says Dr Daniel Johnson, an associate professor of computer-human interaction at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and director of the university’s Games Research and Interaction Design Lab.

“The simple way to do it is by using rewards such as badges, leader boards and points,” he says.

“This can work, but there is another layer of gamification that some people are arguing is more meaningful and inspired. That is where you might start talking about building a narrative and, with it, a deeper engagement.”

Think of gamification as a process that moves people along the engagement continuum, says Johnson.

At one extreme there is a complete lack of motivation and drive. In the middle is external motivation, where a person does something because, if not, they will be punished.

At the other end is internal motivation where people do things well because they feel it is important.

“If I need my staff to do more of something then through gamification I can build a reward system that keeps them engaged, encourages them to perform at their best and gives them choices about how to achieve it,” he says.

“It is important that a pathway is laid out. Every successful game has a visible pathway leading to an end goal. And the user must be able to see their progress, to know what stage of the game they are at, to be fully motivated.”

Ultimately, gamification is going to become important to all businesses as work/life boundaries are blurred and technology keeps us constantly connected to our jobs.

“Great companies, especially start-ups, are building elements of gaming into their businesses,” Sonnenreich says.

“When it is done well, businesses retain and build their user bases in the face of competition without having to throw money at the problem. Their staff are engaged, too. And why shouldn’t they be? The process of work should be fun. It should be as enjoyable as life itself.”

Business gets its game on

Kevin Werbach wrote the book on gamification for business, co-authoring For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business (Wharton Digital Press). Here he talks us through the topic.

What is “gamification”?

“Gamification is about taking what we know about motivation from various branches of psychology and integrating it with what we know about engagement and fun from game design. Gamification provides a toolkit for motivation. A good game pulls players into the experience and then provides them with interesting, ongoing challenges, often as part of a social experience.”

Are there certain industries or personalities for which gamification is more suited?

“Virtually any industry can benefit from gamification, but they may do so differently. The key questions are really the nature of the business goal involved and the nature of the participants (or, as I like to call them, the ‘players’). Games designers talk about player types such as ‘explorers’, ‘socialisers’ and ‘achievers’, who respond to different kinds of opportunities.”

Can gamification have negative results?

“It’s important not to get too focused on competition, especially if that means only a small number of winners. Also think about how to sustain the engagement. The opportunity to earn a badge or score virtual points might be exciting at first, but if players don’t perceive an ongoing challenge or enduring motivation, they are likely to lose interest.”

Gaming for the greater good

Gamification is not just about business, it’s also being used to feed back into psychological wellbeing says Dr Daniel Johnson, who heads Queensland University of Technology’s gaming research group for the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.

“We’re applying all we know about gamification to help create greater psychological, physical and mental wellbeing among young people,” he says.

Johnson’s project designs, develops and evaluates multi-platform mental health programs to combat issues such as depression.

“For a site called [on meditation], we have incorporated game elements such as feedback around progress, a map of choices, levels and paths, and building in a sense of play that helps people reflect on what they are learning,” Johnson says.

“It is all to help build engagement with the site, and many of the game elements are borrowed from Super Mario Bros.

This article is from the October 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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