The Gamification Revelation


Why are you sitting there working when you should be playing games?

Gamification has become big business since 2010, leveraging the success of marketing platforms built to grow customer engagement and brand loyalty to tackle problems inside the firm. So what is it?

Gamification is a broad term to describe the application of gaming mechanics to everyday problem solving, analysis and discovery. People across generations have been using games to compete, learn, communicate and solve problems. What has changed in the last few years has been the penetration of powerful mobile devices and a generation of technology users who cannot recall life before the internet. People are actively participating in computer games, complete with challenges, rewards, cooperation and competition. This acceptance has been fundamental to establishing gamification methods as a viable approach to problem solving and insight generation. But how does this apply in the workplace?

Organizations are turning to gamification to gain consumer insights and solve complex problems. Traditional methods such as surveys, focus groups and data analysis have their limits. These approaches are typically closed systems which impose limits on the evidence being gathered and the results that are generated.

Gamification offers a different approach that is rooted in human behavior, motivation, inclusion and creativity. The CIO of the future needs to consider the practical application of gamification alongside their toolkit of hard technologies, services and skills. With the worldwide gaming industry forecast to exceed US$80 billion in revenue from 2015, one thing is very clear – playtime is paying off.

An organization is a collection of interacting social groups. There are sub-cultures, behavioral norms and systems of operation that exist through and around any business. For a CIO this typically means the dilemma of satisfying some parties and disappointing others. This is usually because of finite resources rather than disobliging intent. Providing solutions based on gamification solves this problem by tapping into these social enterprises and the human emotive qualities available within them. It is a way of harnessing the energy and imagination of people who are driven by reward, social inclusion, peer competition and collaboration. More importantly, it draws on the influencing power of normative behaviors.

However, gamification is not a panacea for every business problem. If a problem is well defined, repeatable and has a linear logical solution path, then there is likely to be a practical, established method of solving it. If it does not meet these criteria then traditional approaches are unlikely to produce a satisfactory result. It is a matter of being pragmatic and choosing the best approach for the problem at hand.

Games people play

Where to start? The type and structure of gamification platforms is broad, clever and often deeply engrossing. Consider the following game types:

Recognition – If you have ever completed a ‘Captcha’ or similar text recognition challenge, then you have played a recognition game. The outward intent of the game is to prove that you are human (also known as a Turing test). It takes advantage of the faculty that humans have to derive recognizable shapes – in this case a string of letters and numbers – despite them being skewed, incomplete or with significant background ‘noise’. Behind the scenes, Captcha style games have been used to perform character and word recognition on scanned documents that are unable to be recognized by computerized optical character recognition systems. For example, if 90% of people recognize a twisted character as an “h”, it is likely to be an “h”.

Creative – British media agency The Bank of Creativity taps into the imaginative, witty and sometimes outrageous minds of the Twitterverse with their regular “One Minute Briefs” competition. This combination of crowdsourcing, community and creativity is game playing on a worldwide scale. Participants are asked to submit (via Twitter) a rapidly produced advertisement on the topic of the moment, with the entries scrutinized and voted on by a jury of peers. The results are often hilarious, intelligent and nail the intent of the brief in a matter of hours. It is lightweight gaming that is 99% human and 1% technology. It also provides a model that can be used over internal social media across a large enterprise. Traditional creative processes cannot compete. Want to instantly tap into the imagination of thousands of people across your organization when a client throws you a creative problem to solve? Put out the call and watch the results roll in.

Optimization – Waze takes commuting to a new level by combining the insights of drivers – both passive and active – to provide a real-time, location-aware traffic navigation service. Drivers are provided a platform that extends beyond simple turn-by-turn navigation. It takes into account the speed of other drivers, user-lodged reports of accidents or hazards, and also allows for the editing of maps and routes to reflect recent changes. Posting alerts and logging miles earns experience points, increases the users’ credibility rank, and attracts gratitude from other drivers. The result is an optimized journey time that is both faster and more accurately calculated than non-gaming methods. It is a method of gaining real-time, contextual telemetry on a complex system compounded by ever changing speed and congestion. If applied to logistics or emergency services, it would save money and more importantly save lives.

Hunting – EteRNA, a crowdsourcing game that allows players to fold RNA combinations that make up ribosomes, has been shown to beat supercomputers running similar algorithms for both speed and accuracy. Not only does this leverage the human capacity for pattern aesthetics – it also means that the players are able to describe their problem-solving workflows, which can then inform future algorithm design. Back in the lab, this means more rapid drug development and more effective clinical trials.

Economic – Game theory has literally been part of economics since the early 18th century as a tool for the study of strategic decision making. Massively multi-player online role playing games, such as World of Warcraft and EVE are a step beyond the logical forms and decision trees that typify economic game playing. They are a true representation of incredibly complicated, chaotic systems that generate and destroy value. Their impact is not purely of interest to economic theorists who analyze the cross over between in-game and real-life economics. In many cases, an online universe simulation may exceed, in value or complexity, the gross national product of countries. There is no better way to combine and experiment with supply and demand, consumer behavior and the art of war. Just be careful of corporate pirates – they exist both online, and in real life.

Play by your rules

In your organization, go looking for a problem to solve through gamification. Start small. Find an executive peer who will champion this with you – someone who has an unusual problem at hand, and is willing to have some fun solving it. Begin with defining the problem and then work backwards to ideate how you’d go about solving it. Discuss the examples listed above to get your creative juices flowing. Be experiential – play some games yourself, and encourage your team to do the same. When designing the game play, keep in mind the problem to be solved, the data you want to collect, the target segment of people you want to attract, and the intrinsic rewards that will keep players coming back for more. Make it fun, and ensure it is healthily competitive.

If the CEO drops by and asks why all of your team are playing games, tell them it’s OK – they’re hard at work solving problems through gamification. If they’re still not convinced, then challenge them to a game. They didn’t get to be CEO without being competitive. Besides… what’s a good game without a Boss to fight at the end?

Does your organization use gamification to solve problems or gather data? What are some of the best examples you’ve seen?