Gamification as Value Driver for Your Organization?

As a kid, I used to play a lot of video games. I still remember getting my first gaming console – a bright blue Nintendo 64 – and playing Super Mario endlessly. Now that I have a full-time job, I don’t find the time to play as much anymore. But what if gaming doesn’t have to be restricted to my time off-work only? What if gaming could be part of my actual job? Gamification suggests that there might be value in applying gaming principles to organizations. 

Gamification 101

In short, gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements from games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. Potential purposes include motivating employees, engaging customers or increasing supply chain efficiency.

The LinkedIn progress bar is a successful example of gamification; it motivates users to fill out their profile completely. Dutch people will also recognize the example of ‘Holle Bolle Gijs’ – speaking garbage bins in the shape of big men at a popular amusement park. The speaking bins motivate visitors to throw away their waste by saying “paper, here”, followed by a simple “thank you” as a reward.

Nike plus example

Nike+, a popular running app and successful example of gamification; how many game-design elements can you count?

Serious gaming versus gamification

I’ve noticed that gamification is often confused with serious gaming. Whereas gamification occurs in everyday life, serious games are played in fictional, closed-off environments – just like regular board games or the typical video game. They are called ‘serious’ games, however, because they aren’t played with the primary goal of entertaining people.
As consultants, we often use serious games in training sessions, because they can be great educational tools – they have the potential to make learning fun, motivating and more effective overall. Serious games enable people to experiment and make mistakes in safe learning environments before they put theory into practice.

Should you apply gamification?

Several years ago, gamification was a big hype in the business world. Around 2013, Gartner even predicted that gamification would become one of the primary mechanisms to transform business operations. While that hasn’t happened and it appears that the hype is over, now might be the best time to apply gaming principles to your organization.

Back in 2013, Gartner acknowledged that gamification was then at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. This is a stage in Gartner’s Hype Cycle where people have unrealistic expectations of a new technology, fuelled by early success stories and publicity. For gamification, it was generally believed that adding badges, points or leaderboards to organizational processes would automatically increase engagement. As this is not the case, many experiments and implementations failed to deliver and interest in gamification appears to have dropped. It would seem we’re now in the “Trough of Disillusionment”.

The good news is that this means the time is likely ripe to apply gamification effectively. As we’re hopefully moving closer toward the “Plateau of Productivity” on Gartner’s Hype Cycle, gamification solutions are more likely to be successful now than ever before

Pressing 'play'

So, let’s assume you’re willing to transform organizational processes by applying gamification principles. How would you go about that?

A good first step would be to take a look at your current organizational processes. Are employees and customers having fun, or even feeling addicted to what they do? How can you make it so? What parts of their work and life can you gamify, so they will love what they do even more? Ask them to come up with their own solutions; sometimes small actions like using LEGO bricks or offering cake as a reward can make a huge difference.

Yu-Kai Chou explains his gamification framework along with great examples
To make your gamification solutions even more likely to be successful, I recommend the Octalysis framework and accompanying tool by Yu-Kai Chou – perhaps the world’s leading guru on gamification. By smartly steering away from temporary engagement drivers (such as point systems and rewards, for example), the Octalysis framework provides a way to design sustainable gamification solutions, meant to have a long-lasting positive result.

Brave new world

Despite its potential, it remains to be seen whether gamification will reach mainstream adoption. If it does, however, life as we know it may never be the same.  

Yu-Kai Chou believes that “if the world adopts good gamification principles and focuses on what truly drives fun and motivation, it’s possible to see a day where there is no longer a divide between things people must do and the things they want to do”.

All we would have to do is play all day. Just like I did on my Nintendo 64.