Gamification: more than fun and games, it’s about engagement

Gabe Zichermann of Gamification.Co at GigaOM's Net:Work 2011Gamifications can have a bad rap, admits Gabe Zichermann, CEO of Gamification.Co. He said people think it means turning everything into Angry Birds.

But he said companies are increasingly turning to gamification to accomplish a number of real world goals and they’re not simply turning everything into a game. They’re realizing that gamification, or the use of key game concepts to engage users and solve problems, can be a powerful way to create happiness and innovation and spur on results and education among its workforce, said Zichermann at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference.

The key, he said, is that our brains are wired to want to go through a process of desire to mastery. That process, which includes incentives, challenges, achievements and feedback, looks a lot like videos games, following a similar path. By tying into those mechanics, companies are able to tap into the higher desires of people, who often see work through the lens of self actualization and esteem. When companies employ game techniques and provides broad metrics tied to social interactions, it can motivate people in very significant ways, he said.

Zichermann said it can be simple like a checkout game for Target cashiers, who get audible feedback noting how their product scans are going. It takes a mundane and job and makes it a little more fun and gives workers a little more sense of control or agency in their lives, Zichermann said.

Other companies are looking to leverage feedback and use it to encourage people. Apps such as Rypple and DueProp are being used by companies to prompt more immediate feedback among employees, so workers can recognize each other in real time for the work they’re doing. Car companies are using feedback in their hybrid cars to encourage users to drive in a more eco-friendly way, showing them the results of their driving habits on screen through representations like a growing tree.

Zichermann said teamplay can also have a strong effect. He noted the experience of NextJump, an employee rewards provider, which now has more than 80 percent of its employees working out because of a new gamified health system that splits the workforce into teams and doles out cash to the teams that work out the most.

Zichermann said that it’s still hard to create the change that companies want to see internally but they’re increasingly seeing game mechanics as a way to accomplish their goals. He said a Gartner study found that 70 percent of the Global 2000 expect to use gamification by 2015 and 50 percent expect innovation to come from game processes.

“In order to get us to collectively create the major change we’re looking for, we need to design things in ways that are motivating and meaningful for people individually. Gamification gives you a toolkit to accomplish that,” Zichermann said.

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Photo by Pinar Ozger.