by Gunjan Trivedi

Games We Play

Jul 23, 20134 mins
BusinessChange ManagementEnterprise Applications

Gamification promises to revolutionize the way organizations adopt new approaches, practices, and processes. But, is it worth playing?

Gunjan Trivedi is executive editor at IDG Media. He is an award-winning writer with over a decade of experience in Indian IT. Before becoming a journalist, he had been a hands-on IT specialist, with expertise in setting up IP-WANs.

Gamification is likely to become the next big thing, and maybe CIOs should figure out how best to play this game.

So, what’s the oldest board game we know? It’s Senet, which was a rage in Egypt during 3100BC. And the oldest game piece known to mankind is the dice. Playing games comes naturally to us, because we are pretty good at three things: Keeping scores, matching patterns, and acting on motivations.


Coming to think of it, don’t these human traits play significant roles in our actions and reactions in business scenarios as well? At the most fundamental level, these traits define the way an organization sharpens its competitive edge, creates its go-to-market strategies, and strives for product or service excellence. Albeit, sub-consciously.


It’s an irony that these human traits, which make us natural game players, are usually divorced from business environments, for games according to most of us are a little too non-serious. It is indeed an irony because the first wargame, as a gaming-meets-serious-practical-world scenario, appeared in the form of Chess in 6th century India. 


However, it was only in the early 2000s that business decision-makers and strategists began awakening to a term coined by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer programmer and inventor: Gamification.


Wikipedia defines gamification as “the use of game thinking, game mechanics and its essence—fun, play and passion—in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems. It is used in applications and processes to improve user-engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, and learning.”


Doug Palmer of Deloitte Consulting and Andre Hugo of Deloitte Digital touch upon this subject in their report: “Gamification isn’t just about scoring points—it allows for new ways of imagining, designing, and implementing solutions. As business becomes increasingly social, more opportunities are arising to augment performance and promote strategic objectives by embedding gaming mechanics into traditional processes.”


The Deloitte report states that organizations can harness gaming principles to improve morale, motivate behavior, and get stakeholders passionately engaged in different business functions. But to apply gamification effectively, companies should understand the organization’s inner workings, process interdependencies, and stakeholder behaviors, including the interplay between people and technologies.


And here lies the catch.


Since the birth of this term in 2002, gamification has actually come a long way in the last decade. In 2011, leading IT trend-spotting analysts touted gamification as the next big thing happening to the way IT enables business processes and the way business users consume solutions, thereby revolutionizing CIOs’ change management strategies. Two years hence, gamification is perhaps still trying to find a foothold.


While Gartner predicts that by 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations, it also highlights the fact that it’s quite likely that such gamification efforts may fall short of expectations. Gartner also predicts that by 2014, 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives, primarily due to poor design.


Besides poor design, the primary inhibitors of gamification, according to George Dolbier, IBM’s CTO of social and interactive media, also include not taking gamification seriously, no measurable success or impact, non-alignment to goals, over-exposure, and considering it a ‘game’ and not a ‘gamified process.’


The Deloitte report suggests that measuring outcomes and fine-tuning the approach should be continuous processes to enhance the gamification model and keep players engaged over time. Organizations should consider how to keep this process exciting and interesting after the initial achievements and how rewards, incentives, and recognition might be changed in light of the data regarding behaviors and outcomes.


As the models and approaches mature, gamification is quite likely to become the next big thing, as it has always been envisioned. Perhaps, it’s the right time for CIOs to begin observing this space and figure out how best to play this game.