Best aspects of gamification will happen when it’s just a regular part of life
Don’t simply count points or slap meaningless badges on activities
DONALD Farmer would definitely like to see more startups in Asia Pacific focusing on gamification.
“There are a few, but the platforms are not yet good or complete enough to really make a breakthrough in the market.
“I believe that gamification needs local understanding of both social and business cultures, so local platforms are needed too,” said the vice president of innovation and design at Qlik, a business intelligence and visualisation software company.
Farmer was sharing his thoughts with Digital News Asia (DNA) via email on the topic of gamification and the increasing adoption of its concepts in the workplace.
Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase their contributions.
The term was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer programmer and inventor, but did not gain wider popularity until 2010 with the first Gamification summit, a conference dedicated to gamification and ‘engagement mechanics,’ in the United States.
Farmer believes that we have reached a point where gamification is “no longer a novelty,” with people starting to take it seriously.
“I think the tipping point … has been the growth of personal ‘trainer’ applications which use gamification to help people exercise, lose weight, save money, meditate, and reduce energy bills.
“This has helped people understand that gamification can nudge our behaviour in useful directions, even in the workplace,” he said.
Farmer said that more game scenarios are being played out in many businesses now, more common in sales and marketing roles where metrics are easily available. But there are many interesting scenarios in manufacturing and process management too.
In verticals, some of the most fascinating work has been done in healthcare, where gamification aids both patients and staff to improve results.
“For example, patients can be encouraged to maintain difficult or complex protocols using games to encourage them and keep them engaged.
“On the other hand, gamification has improved hand-washing and other sanitation protocols among staff, leading to lower infection rates,” said Farmer.
Pitfalls of gamification
Gartner has predicted that more than 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have at least one ‘gamified’ application by the end of this year. However, the research firm also predicted that 80% of all reward-based applications will fail in 2014, thanks to market saturation and poor design.
Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, said the challenge facing project managers and sponsors responsible for gamification initiatives is the lack of game design talent to apply to such projects.
“Poor game design is one of the key failings of many gamified applications today. 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.
“As a result, in many cases, organisations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities, and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience.
“Some organisations are already beginning to cast off poorly designed gamified applications,” Burke said.
Farmer (pic) said that the biggest mistake is thinking that gamification alone will help – it will not.
“The management team needs to understand the targets that they are trying to meet – the specific, measurable improvements – and then communicate and train staff towards those goals, alongside the gamification,” he said.
In addition, if there is one potential pitfall to avoid with the incorporation of gamification theory is that it can introduce ‘winners and losers’ into processes which were not competitive before.
“This can help to encourage the winners; however, not everyone can be a winner. So the competitive aspects of gamification must be handled with a light and personal touch to ensure they provide goals and nudges, but do not discourage and demotivate,” said Farmer.
There are also cultural influences that must be taken into account. These vary not just from one nation to another, but from one organisation to the next.
Farmer said that successful gamification depends very much on understanding the culture of the society and the workplace.
“For example, in many Asia Pacific countries, people are more uncomfortable about sharing status information in public, especially if the information may appear to be negative.
“I have also seen problems where employees get too involved with the gaming aspects of gamification.
“If you have a gambling problem, you can end up with a gamification problem! This can happen anywhere, but sadly we can all recognise it is a bigger risk in South-East Asia,” he argued.
Getting into the ‘flow’
One key benefit of the use of gamification concepts in the workplace is to enable employees to boost their productivity, to attain a ‘state of flow.’
Farmer defines ‘flow’ as a state where users feel in complete control of what they are doing, very aware of all the different tasks to be done, but also feeling “super-capable” of achievements which may be very difficult.
“How you do this varies depending on the job people are doing, but I think three factors are very common.
“First, you need continuous feedback on your process and the current state of your work.
“Second, the work needs to have a rhythm which keeps them involved. Imagine programmers building an app – rather than working for one hour and then testing what they have done, it would be better to test regularly after they write every few lines of code.
“They can get into a rhythm of code-test-code-test which keeps them going and gets them involved.
“Third, you need tools – a user experience – which does not interrupt you. At the very least, switch off social media, email and your phone,” he said.
There is also a generation gap that must be taken into account when it comes to the use of gamification in the workplace, with Farmer sharing that in his experience, it is the younger employees who are more open to its deployment.
“Older employees often think game-like experiences are too trivial to be useful. However, there is a nice counterbalance to that. Applications which nudge employees towards better results – especially with badges and social-network recognition – often work best with older employees,” he said.
Farmer believes that there are two reasons for this. Firstly, older employees often have bad habits – learned over a long time – which can be ‘nudged’ very effectively to be correct again.
Secondly, older employees are often much more conscious of status and peer recognition as they have been around for longer, and so have longer track records to compare.
“On the other hand, younger employees may be ambitious but they are also new to the company and therefore are all fairly low in status anyway,” he said.
Asked about a use case which has stood out and impressed him, Farmer pointed to the Nissan CarWings programme for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.
CarWings is a vehicle telematics service offered by the Nissan Motor Company to drivers in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, and most other countries where the Leaf is sold.
“There’s a dashboard with regional rankings where you can compare performance with several parameters against other local owners. There are bronze to platinum awards and the prizes are substantial.
“Even better, the dashboard is built into an app which enables you to control charging, heating and other aspects of your car.
“So in this way, the gamification is seamless with the other tasks you need to do. While this is a business-to-consumer gamification app, the techniques and technology and very suited to business-to-business solutions too,” he said.
It is this state of seamlessness which Farmer envisions to be the future of gamification, when its integration into everyday activities becomes the norm.
“In many ways, the most interesting aspects of gamification will happen when we no longer see it as unusual. It will become just a regular part of our lives.
“We will be able to set savings targets and track progress with our bank accounts. We will have wellness tracking applications linked to our healthcare providers. Our driving, commuting, and consuming will be gamified.
“And we will not even notice it,” he proclaimed.
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