Serious business made to look like a game

In recent years, the concept of gamification has taken prominence in various applications. For those new to the term, gamification is the use of game design elements and game mechanics within non-game contexts.

Although the term ‘gamification’ emerged in the digital media industry back in 2008, the concept behind it is not necessarily new. Back in 1912, Cracker Jack, an American snack brand, included prizes in every cracker box in order to increase consumer engagement with their products. This idea instigated other companies to use game mechanics and fun elements as a way of selling products or creating more engaging services.

Nowadays, gamification is often integrated within processes to improve the user experience, user engagement or to influence processes. It can be used across various sectors, such as retail, finance, health, education, news and entertainment. Existing gamification applications have been designed with game mechanics such as points, badges, levels and leader boards. These elements have also been successfully integrated within business processes, as it is a means to create engagement or facilitate mass-collaboration.

Gamification inspires participants to change their behaviour depending on the rules put forward by the system. Research by Tom Chatfield suggests that gamification can actually change the brain chemistry by stimulating dopamine, the brain’s ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Compelling game mechanics and design are at the core of an engaging user experience. Gamification must work to enhance user experience in order to better engage and motivate users.

In essence, the right game mechanics can satisfy the most fundamental human desires. With a set of game mechanics such as points, levels, challenges and scoreboards, a talented designer is able to fulfill basic human desires such as status, reward, achievement and competition. For example levels, points and challenges can be used, give the user a sense of reward, status and/or achievement, while scoreboards or leaderboards may be used to encourage competition.

Applying gamification to improve processes is no simple task. Firstly, a proper analysis of the processes that require improving needs to be carried out. Then, the best way to effect these improvements needs to be found. In order to do this, the system needs to be designed by people who have a full understanding of how to effectively design and apply game mechanics.

In order to better understand how gamification is being used in today’s world, observe how two of the world’s most popular brands used gamification to boost their business. Nike launched a gamification platform called Nike+ back in 2006. The platform allowed runners to track, share and compare exercise results while earning “fuel points”.

The platform tracks the runners’ activity from one of many Nike products, such as Nike+ Mobile Running App, Nike+ Sportwatch, Nike+ Fuelband, and more.

Since 2006, the platform has helped the community to log more than 900 million miles of running with more than 11 million registered runners. Through gamification, Nike has been able to create an engaging platform which helps runners with their personal achievements while making it an enjoyable and social experience. In addition, through the data gathered, Nike has been able to gain valuable insight which will help them improve their products.

Another company, Starbucks, launched a loyalty programme in 2009 that featured an incentive as well as a faster way to pay. Customers could benefit from this by either registering for a Starbucks card or by using the mobile app to earn stars.

Registered customers enjoy free perks such as free coffee and tea refills with every five stars, or free food/drink with every 12 stars.

Since the launch of this programme, one in three customers pay with a Starbucks card and sales from registered customers alone account for $3 billion per year.

Gartner predicts that by 2015, a quarter of all redesigned processes will include one or more gamification engagement practices, while 40 per cent of Global 1,000 organisations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations. On the other hand, a 2012 study by Gartner anticipates that 80 per cent of current gamified processes will fail by 2014 due to poor design.

Mr Sammut is a software developer and game designer who researched gamification for his dissertation as part fulfillment for the BSc (Hons) Creative Computing degree with the University of London.

Ryan Sammut is a software developer and game designer who researched gamification for his dissertation as part fulfillment for the BSc (Hons) Creative Computing degree with the University of London.

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