Want to be a gamification expert? Get certified

Gamification, that buzz word panned as hype by some, has increasingly won over companies, investors and even research firms like Gartner (s IT), which now predicts half of all companies will use gamification by 2015. So what’s next? How about gamification certification.

The Gamification Summit, which is coming to New York on Sept. 15-16, is now announcing it will offer the first Gamification Design Certificate to people who complete a two-day course at the summit. The curriculum and workshops are designed to establish the basics of effectively adding game mechanics to drive consumer and employee engagement. Students will also need to complete a practical exam applying gamification to a project, which will be reviewed by Gamification Summit founder Gabe Zichermann and top executives from gamification companies such as Bunchball, Badgeville, PlayGen and BigDoor.

Growing need for gamification skills

Zichermann said organizations and individuals have increasingly requested formal training on gamification. He said the program will explore the basics of human motivation, segmenting player behavior and implementing features like leaderboards, achievements, challenges and rewards in a very agile way. A recent survey by Saatchi & Saatchi found that 83 percent of respondents were interested in working for a company that used gamification to motivate people. Zichermann expects there will be 10,000 gamification jobs created in the next decade.

“We’re seeing gamification going into all kinds of organizations: education, government, health care, all kinds of companies,” said Zichermann. “We need to have a reliable, predictable, quality education series of processes and steps that people can follow so they can build gamified solutions.”

Gamification continues to gather steam and some of the top companies are pulling down some big money. Badgeville last month grabbed $12 million, while Bunchball raised $6.5 million in June.

Game mechanics show results

Next Jump's Fitness Portal health program

I wrote about some of the problems and the promise of gamification last year, and I do think it has a lot of potential when applied well. Many instances, however, have been thoughtless implementations of badges and points that aren’t relevant to the product or company. That’s why certification could well be a good thing, serving to establish the basics while insisting that game mechanics must be intelligent and relevant if they’re going to succeed.

Skeptics still question the effectiveness of gamification and may look at certification for gamification as just piling on more hype. But I’ve seen it in action, and it can work well when implemented intelligently. Next Jump, an offers and rewards company in New York, built its own internal health application that split the company into five teams and rewarded the winning team that exercised the most with cash in each team member’s health savings accounts. The percentage of workers who exercised regularly at the company’s gym went from less than 20 percent to about 70 percent with the new program. Now Next Jump is looking to license its software to other companies.

Gamification is an engagement tool

This is the power of gamification. It isn’t about building up points for its own sake; it’s about engagement, said Zichermann. He said companies are looking past the buzzy name and seeing the value of gamification because it ultimately builds a better, deeper relationship with users.

“If you build engagement, revenue flows. If you engage them well, legitimately, honestly and transparently, they will buy from you,” Zichermann said. “It turns out gamification is the best tool to get engagement.”

The Summit — which will feature speakers from Microsoft (s msft), Google (s google), Mint.com, GiltGroupe, Aetna (s aet), MLB and others —  is expected to sell out with 400 attendees, about 50 of whom Zichermann believes will seek certification. Over time, he hopes to expand the certification program, offer more levels and branch out across the country.

Again, I think there are still plenty of bad examples of gamification and there are cases where it doesn’t do much to achieve a deeper goal. But in best case examples, I do agree it’s all about engagement, and when done well, gamification can produce results, as it did for Next Jump. It’s early days in understanding gamification and I’m not sure every company will need to have a certified expert to understand these concepts. But I think that gamification is here to stay, with or without certification.