Is Gamification being used properly by businesses?

Recently there’s been a lot of chatter about how Gamification has somehow failed to meet expectations in certain sectors, but the evidence seems to indicate that it is actually due to poor design and implementation

If you’ve ever been employed in a very serious business environment you’ve probably heard someone say “stop playing games!” at least once.  This of course implies that someone isn’t taking their duties seriously or perhaps is acting like a clown.  But what if you could merge the fervor that the average person seems to have for “playing games” with serious duties?  Well, this is exactly what Gamification seeks to achieve; creating a balance between what someone might identify as “fun” vs. what they see as “effort-based labor”.  Regardless of how you might personally feel about Gamification, you have to admit, it’s a very interesting approach to running a business and general management.

Over the course of the last half of the 2012 calendar, and up into the first couple of months of our current year (2013), many businesses began reporting problems associated with their gamification strategies.  Almost immediately there were those who stepped up to blame gamification itself, claiming that it’s a flawed concept.  Well, let’s set the record straight…

There are great examples of Gamification nearly everywhere you look in society.  In fact, where would the entertainment industry be right now if not for gamification?  Likewise, think about how gamification is used in an educational capacity, literally, around the world (for decades now).  The simple fact of the matter is that gamification is used in early childhood education to train future students to accept routines as well as reinforce group-based critical thinking.  Furthermore, there are plenty of great examples of gamification success on the retail side of things; where companies link social media to “gamified” contests or offers.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of gamification in action is the “Speed Camera Lottery”, which is an idea developed by Kevin Richardson as part of a Volkswagen’s “Fun Theory” award.  The basic idea was to create a system that would reinforce good driver behavior and adherence to speed and traffic laws.  In essence, he created a system where those who are driving faster than the speed limit are given a fine, and those who are under are entered into a “lottery” (which is based on the amount of money paid by the offenders).  In other words, drivers who obey the traffic laws and speed limits are rewarded, while the offending drivers are punished. Needless to say, it’s been a complete success; people are engaging this form of Gamification because of it is fun, immediate and features a rather simplistic design.

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What does this mean, what’s the bottom line?  This all leads to one conclusion; gamification is currently being implemented ineffectively by most businesses; furthermore, one might make the argument that most forms of it feature poor to terrible design.  It would seem that most of these businesses are simply engaging their workforce with gamification apps and expecting immediate results, often without even breaking down how the system works (or if it’s right for their organization).  For example, given that we’re talking about an approach to management that’s supposed to be inclusive and fun, it would make sense to allow one’s employees to vote on which Gamification platform is most suitable.  Are companies doing this?  The answer to that question is likely no, since it’s clear that their chosen platform or app(s) are consistently motivating the wrong individuals.

This situation is neatly summed up by Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner:
The focus is on the obvious game mechanics, such as points, badges and leader boards, rather than the more subtle and more important game design elements, such as balancing competition and collaboration, or defining a meaningful game economy,” Mr. Burke said. “As a result, in many cases, organizations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience. Some organizations are already beginning to cast off poorly designed gamified applications.

He also states that:
“The challenge facing project managers and sponsors responsible for gamification initiatives is the lack of game design talent to apply to gamification projects,” said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. “Poor game design is one of the key failings of many gamified applications today.”

The point being made here is clear, the blame or immediate “failure” of gamification to positively influence businesses is not due to the concept (of Gamification) itself, but rather two separate factors: Poor implementation and Bad design.

However, as time rolls forward, many of the problems associated with design and implementation are likely to be resolved.  Think about it, all it’s really going to take is a few really good designs which are customized for various types of corporate environments for the entire gamification industry to bloom.  Once this happens, everyone will rush in to implement these gamification systems and competing designers will mimic their successes.

Perhaps one of the best approaches to improving upon your business’ use of gamification (or the scope and success of your IT career) is to seek out certification programs in it.  More specifically, companies should consider hiring more IT workers with training in gamification design and implementation.  By the same token, IT professionals should make an effort to become certified in one or more specialized areas of Gamification.

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