What’s Game Good For?
Before we can talk about applying game mechanics to anything, we need to understand what a game actually us. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a game as “a form or spell of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength or luck.”
That’s pretty hard to digest as a something you can say to a decision maker! However, if we break it down further we can start to get at some core ideas that should help. Play and sport are all activities or tasks. Played is not a strong word in the corporate world. It conjures images of nerds playing quake after hours on the corporate network. So instead, how about we use completed.
Rules Can Be Starting Points
Next, rules. We all have rules, but it is not something you hear people talking about in businesses. Instead, we could say parameters or guidelines. All projects have parameters or guidelines. That leaves us with a new definition, that really does mean the same as before, but one that is easier to apply to day-to-day activities. “A task that is completed according to a set of parameters or guidelines.”
Give Us Tasks / Call to Action
Sounds familiar, but doesn’t sound much fun now, does it? You have to look deeper into what games are, beyond the words on a page. Games are fun, but why?
Throw Me Something
Rewards. Every game you play, from childhood and onwards is based around a simple principal. Complete a task, get some kind of reward, enjoy the process and repeat. The last bit of the definition gives us more; “decided by skill, strength or luck”. To complete these tasks and to get the rewards, you need to demonstrate some kind of skill.
How do you make a task fun?
The task can be anything from jumping over barrels in Donkey Kong to learning the basics. In the case of Donkey Kong, there are two rewards for the task. The first is the fun of the challenge. It is fun to jump those barrels, you enjoy perfecting the skills needed to achieve the task. The second is the satisfaction of completing a level and being rewarded with a virtual kiss from the damsel. Task and reward.
Learning your ABC’s is not intrinsically fun if it is just done through repetition. There is very little joy to be had from the task its self. However, add some word association to it, add a reward or two – such as merit marks or extra playtime – and suddenly we have a game. The task has been made more enjoyable with the addition of a reward for completing it.
This means we need to add back two important ideas to the new definition: competition and skill: “A task that is completed according to a set of parameters or guidelines in a fun, competitive and skilful way.”
Where is gamification in the real world?
It is at this point that you should start to see what we mean by gamification and how it can work. Let’s look at a couple of examples of how these simple ideas have been used in the real world.
First, a very simple concept that has been used a lot in the last few years are Badges or Awards. I have personally used them on my Games Review Site recently, to quite a bit of success. The idea is that for tasks that have been achieved on the website, badges and experience points are awarded. So on the site; if a user has a review published, they get some points. If it is their first, then they will also get a badge on their profile. If they have 10 published, they get another badge and so on. Editors get points and badges for adding news, publishing articles and editing reviews. League tables are then available to show how well each team member is doing each month. A little bit of competition builds between the editors and suddenly we are getting more news, reviews and articles published than ever before.
Another great example of this task and reward system being used in the real world is with a GPS system called Waze. You install an app on your mobile device and start to use it in just the same way as GPS. However, the game is in helping other drivers become more aware of what is happening on the roads around them. If you are stuck in traffic, you can get your passenger (safety first) to report the jam to other users. This then appears on all the other drivers’ maps and alerts them to the problem. It also earns you some points and badges. Again, the simple task of reporting traffic or road issues becomes a game.
Just recently, I read about these game mechanics being applied to Accounts Payable!. The company in question had a system in place that awarded points to individuals and teams for every line of data that was entered. At the end of each month, the team with the most points chooses a charity that the company then would donate money to. This is a great example of how adding a little bit of game theory to a very, very mundane task can make it a whole lot more interesting and rewarding.
Motivation, Engagement and Game Mechanics
At the end of the day this all boils down to one thing. Motivation. If a person is motivated, they will be more productive. Most motivation is negative. You are motivated to do your job because you need the money and don’t want to get fired. Gamification gives you the opportunity to motivate people in a much more positive way. Imagine a group of workers who are competing to be the best at even the most mundane of tasks, just because at the end of the month they may get to put a trophy on their desk. Happy workers leads to increased productivity and retention.
This nicely leads us into one of the key benefits for you, the person who first wanted to delve into gamification, engagement. Imagine people coming back to your site, over and over again, because they want to get enough visits, or actions on your site, to get the title of Chief News Monkey. This kind of engagement would be much less likely to happen if there was not something in it for the user. Humans will invariably look at all tasks with a little bit of “What’s in it for me?”. Once the user is engaged in the task, you will get more from them. On a website this would be seen in the length of time they stay on the site. Rather than just looking at the page they came for, an engaged user will maybe look at two or three extra pages, especially if they were getting rewarded for doing so. Within a company, engaged workers will be more productive. Name me one company that is seeking to reduce productivity! Employing simple game mechanics can help achieve all of this and more, if done properly.
Video games have been using this trick to achieve high retention for years now. Do you think people would continue to play Call of Duty or World of Warcraft for all this time if there was not some kind of reward for playing for longer? Of course not. Many play so that they can unlock the best weapons, or get to level 70 or unlock a particular badge they want to display on their profile. These awards motivate them to play more and more and buy new addons when they are released. Again, motivated and engaged by simple rewards.
You may not yet understand how this can help you. That’s fine. It is a hard concept to apply to work. It is even harder to sell the concept to the holders of the purse strings.
However, if motivation, engagement or productivity are things that interest you – Gamification is definitely something you will want to probe into further.