As more businesses add gamification to their repertoire of tools, the misconception remains that awarding points or badges for existing activities should do the trick. After all, who doesn't like more points and badges?
Not so fast, says Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. By 2014, the firm estimates that 80 percent of current gamified applications in the enterprise will fail to meet their respective business objectives. The primary culprit of all those failures in gamification is bad design, says Burke.
"Gamification is built for engagement so it's an entirely different paradigm. A lot of people in IT organizations are not going to be familiar with [it]," Burke says. "That's OK. In fact, there is a real skill shortage in terms of understanding that process of getting to know who these players are and what their motivations are and building an experience that is going to engage them at an emotional level and help them to achieve their goals."
While gamification isn't the only path to increased engagement, businesses that leverage this opportunity effectively can drive substantial increases in revenue. The top 20 percent of major firms in terms of engagement average 250 percent higher revenue growth than their peers, according to Gartner.
Gamification can achieve multiple objectives for businesses, including employee satisfaction, an increase in innovation, skills development and changing behaviors. These solutions are typically applied to three audiences: customers, employees or any community of interest.
With those prospects it's no wonder Gartner expects gamification to be the primary mechanism used by at least 40 percent of Fortune 1000 companies to transform business operations by next year.
"What's different about gamification, and I believe definitional about gamification, is that it uses a digital engagement model as opposed to the kinds of engagement models that have been around for a long time," Burke tells CIO.com. "The Boy Scouts have been handing out badges for a century and the military for many, many centuries."
Aligning Player and Your Business Objectives
For any gamification project to succeed, businesses need to align the goals of players with those of the organization itself. "There are a lot of misconceptions there that you can slap points, badges and leader boards on to anything and it's going to magically become engaging," says Burke.
"It's a more involved process to understand who the players are, what their motivations are, what their goals are -- and [then] design an experience that's going to take them along a path to achieving their goals," Burke says.
[Related: How Gamification Makes Customer Service Fun]
"One of the most common characteristics is that any gamified solution that's going to be successful invariably focuses on enabling players to achieve their goals. And by doing so achieving the organizational goals, but the organizational goals are really a consequence of motivating players to achieve their goals."
While these goals are many times aligned, the intersections of which may not be obvious to those in the planning and building stages. Burke encourages businesses to spend a long time in that first step of the process, which he calls player experience design.
"They're engaging with you already, likely for a reason. It's a matter of teasing out what that reason is and then focusing on how to help them be even more successful in achieving that goal, the reason that they're there," Burke says.
Because many IT organizations place their attention on increasing efficiency with new projects, developing systems that focus on driving engagement with a design-forward approach can be a real struggle, according to Burke. Making matters more difficult for IT is the fact there are so few well-worn paths in gamification, but the good news is that these solutions are not bound by industry.
"The only real boundary for where you can apply gamification successfully seems to be in the number of players that you are trying to target," says Burke. "Gamification scales up very well, but because of that initial cost it doesn't scale down to one very well."
How Gamification Works
Companies aren't exactly faced with the prospect of reinventing the wheel with every gamified application they build. "Some of the biggest, most successful gamification efforts are those that are publicly available like Nike with Nike+, Quirky in innovation management and Kahn Academy in education. These organizations count their users in the millions," says Burke. In the case of Nike+, which continues to grow its user base at a rapid clip, the company reported a community of 28 million strong as of last month.
[Related: How Gamification Reshapes Corporate Training]
In his book, "Gamify -- How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things," Burke identifies four unique currencies of the game economy:
- Social capital
Every business should award at least one if not all of those currencies to achieve player and organizational objectives, says Burke.
Social media is not an absolute necessity, but it can dramatically amplify the impact of gamification, Burke says. Social media is a powerful motivator that enhances the value of the achievements players gain through gamification and brings with it the opportunity to go viral.
One of the most interesting and unique deployments Burke says he has encountered in his research comes from DirecTV. The IT organization at the broadcast satellite TV provider determined its staff had become overly risk adverse and hesitant to start more forward-thinking projects due to the fear of failure. It's a common struggle among IT professionals, says Burke, but DirecTV was determined to do something about it.
DirecTV Embraces IT Failure
"DirecTV wanted to develop a way to change the culture in the IT organization so they created a gamified solution that first-of-all focused on making failure OK and recognizing that failure is going to happen. What they wanted to do was promote more innovative approaches that inevitably carry with them a higher risk," says Burke.
The solution DirecTV arrived at began with a series of informational videos aimed at changing employees' mindsets around failure and innovation. Awards were given to employees who took specific steps to change their behaviors on things like sharing lessons learned from projects that had failed in the past.
Now the company has "failure vault" of at least 120 cases that detail the risks and problems IT staff had with previous projects. DirecTV's IT staff has also adopted a process called pre-mortems, which Burke describes as a "preventative approach designed to head-off failure before it happens at the outset of a project."
[Related: How to Use Gamification to Engage Employees]
With data and insights from the failure vault at the ready, these pre-mortems enable DirecTV to gain more understanding of the risks associated with each project, determine where projects have failed due to those risks in the past and take steps to mitigate those risks in the future.
Gaming Systems of Greater Importance in the Future
"Where we're seeing the most activity right now is in employee-facing applications," says Burke. This is a change from the initial pull around gamification, which came in the form of customer-focused apps from marketing departments.
Practically every day a new gamified application hits the market, but Burke says he is already thinking about opportunities still to come. Complementary technologies like virtual personal assistance could be leveraged to great effect by personal fitness and other coaching type of applications, he says.
It may not come fast enough, but public policy and education are two areas where Burke expects gamification to gain an upper hand. "Implementing the changes that we see in society and developing changes from a policy perspective as well, I think that's a natural opportunity," he says.
"Education is really in the midst of reinventing itself and gamification is not going to drive that, but it's going to play a key role in how education is delivered in the future," Burke says.
"I think that gamification will play a part in what's ultimately going to be the democratization of education," Burke says, "particularly higher education, where the kinds of learning that have not been available to people who are either financially or geographically disadvantaged will become available."