Robert Yardy
Robert Yardy 15 July 2013

Your parents were wrong! You were not "wasting your time" playing computer games

Gamification can be a powerful tool for influencing consumers and motivating staff.

Remember those glorious days whiling away hours playing Paperboy on the Commodore 64, Super Mario on the original Nintendo or, for the younger readers, Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation when you should have been doing homework or revision? Who are we kidding, we still spend hours causing chaos on Grand Theft Auto or racing super cars on Gran Turismo. Well, we are truly delighted to say that playing computer games can help you in business!

Gamification is a phrase you will have no doubt heard bounced around a lot recently. It is one of the current marketing buzz topics doing the rounds, such as CXM, and no prizes for guessing that it is born out of the gaming world. 

The phrase was created by computer programmer and inventor, Nick Pelling. Wikipedia defines gamification as: 
“The use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, Return on Investment (ROI), data quality, timeliness, and learning.”

It is the user engagement and ROI qualities of gamificaton that this blog post will elaborate on and provide some real world examples of just how powerful gamification can be. 

However, that is not to say that gamification does not have its detractors and criticisms and I will come to those later.

Gamification is on a (Nike) Mission

Everyone likes to gain a sense of achievement for completing a task, whether it be mowing the lawn or going for a run. It is this human characteristic that gamification taps into.

This could be as simple as watching your progress through a taskbar when completing a profile creation process on a website or a far more complicated process such as the incredibly popular Nike+ products which involve logging details of your fitness efforts to gain points. 

The latter example is arguably the greatest evidence currently available to show how powerful gamification can be. Nike+ membership increased by 40% in 2011 which helped boost revenues in the company’s running category by 30%. These numbers are outstanding which is why It comes as little surprise that Nike have continued to develop their gamification strategy. 

Just before Christmas 2012 they launched Nike Fuel Missions. These are so cool I could write a dedicated blog post just on Nike Fuel Missions but in summary they are challenges (of varying difficulty levels) that users need to complete in a certain timeframe e.g. a 5km run in 25 minutes, the results are logged by Nike Fuel Bands and if the challenges are achieved the user’s character advances in the online game meeting real Nike athletes along the way.

The amount of user interaction that Nike have created really is outstanding and will lead to the Holy Grail for any organisation; customer loyalty.

Your customers are your greatest marketeers

As a marketeer I know how great it is when customers start telling the world how much they love your company. This is arguably the most effective form of marketing because the messages are genuine with no hidden agenda….or is there?

Econsultancy recently wrote about how the children’s retailer Step2 use gamification. Points are given to users depending upon their social media interaction and activity within the BuzzBoard community. Customers are rewarded with points for writing reviews, following fellow reviewers, subscribing to have reviews sent to their Facebook news feeds, uploading photos and videos and sharing content on Facebook.

As users pick up points they are rewarded with new badges going from “New-bee” all the way up to “Queen Bee”. There is also a league table that helps promote a bit of healthy competition and keeps users motivated once they have achieved Queen Bee status. 

How do you get kids to enjoy school work?

At MMT Digital we have done a lot of work in the educational sector for clients such as Hodder Educationand Pearson. We have built many digital products designed for education since we formed in 1999 so we got to thinking about how gamification could be applied to the school environment.

We know from speaking with those on the frontline, i.e. teachers, that keeping children motivated and engaged are the two major dilemmas teachers face on a daily basis. It is easy to see how gamification could help with these challenges and one teacher in America is leading the way. His pupils compete with their classmates and children at schools from around the world on learning games where points are awarded for success. If you have a spare 8 minutes watch this video and inevitably wish you had gone to this school:

Now we know that not every school can afford the resources that this one boasts but the principles of keeping students engaged still ring true no matter what budget and resources a school has.

Behave like children in the workplace

It is easy to see how gamification can be used to motivate employees and not just customers. A company’s sales division, likely to be the most competitive department, is the most obvious part of a businesses in which gamification can be used for internal motivation. But discuss how various reward systems can be devised not just for sales but for tasks that may lack discipline or enthusiasm such as much hated data entry! For example, introducing a points system with a leaderboard and monthly prize, rewarding accuracy and frequency of data entry, could make an otherwise mundane task surprisingly exciting.

SAP, Warner Bros, Adobe, NBC Universal, Hilton, Target and UPS are just a few global companies that have embraced gamification in the workplace. I’d like to highlight just a couple of examples from this list of companies; (1) SAP have been thrilled with the increase in productivity within their accounts payable department since the adoption of gamification and the introduction of the SAP Gamification Cup. Points are awarded for accuracy and efficiency. (2) Being a cashier can be slightly monotonous which is why I forgive the girl in my local supermarket who seems to have an irrational detestation to the “smile”! Target have implemented a little game cashiers play when checking people out. It shows the cashier in red and green based on whether the item that was just scanned was done so in the optimum time. Then they see their immediate score on screen and know how "in-time" they are with the ideal time.

According to Gabe Zichermann, author of the brilliant “The Gamification Revolution”, the latter example brilliantly illustrates that gamification is not about turning everything into a game. It’s about using the best ideas from games, like loyalty programs and behavioural economics, to drive the behaviour that businesses are looking for in their employees.

If a recent article on is to be believed, which stated that nearly three quarters of employees are not fully engaged, then applying an effective internal gamification strategy could be the difference between success and failure for the entire company.

Gamification does not have Jedi power!

Some experts are far from convinced by gamification in both name and practice. They believe that it is just the latest marketing buzz word that is no more than the tried and tested “loyalty scheme” rebranded.

There is certainly an argument for this and perhaps even that a loyalty scheme is superior; what does a user do once they have reached the highest level they can through gamification and there is no league table to climb? The targets and rewards need to be constantly updated. Whereas a loyalty scheme can run and run with little, if any, further R&D....Tesco Club Card points!
I will counter this criticism by elaborating on a point made earlier in this blog post; sense of achievement. A loyalty scheme cannot rival gamification on this human emotion. People are not going to shout about earning a free Caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks!

The sense of achievement that is sought by the users is not completely motivated intrinsically. Users want everyone else to know how awesome they are! They want to show their peers they have just nailed a personal best (PB) for their 5k run, or they want to show the rest of their class that they rock at flowerpower (NB: thankfully this has nothing to do with kids wanting to be hippies, check out the earlier video). No one will know (or really care) if you used your Tesco Club Card points to buy some Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (an insight into my shopping basket). It is this social element of gamification that can lift it above a loyalty scheme and create a powerful marketing vehicle. 

Other experts have expressed moral concerns over gamification. Some have gone as far as to give it the rather ridiculous title “exploitationware” which sounds like something the Daily Mail would come up with when discussing discounted food in a supermarket!

These naysayers, as well as regarding Rock & Roll as the devil’s music and possessing fine collections of Royal Family emblazoned plates, believe that gamification encourages unintended behaviours and a false sense of achievement. 

Gamification is no game!

My concerns are more to do with the way some companies grab hold of every new marketing fad, with a grip Hulk Hogan would be proud of, believing that it is the answer to all their woes. Unfortunately, I cannot see gamification being any different.

Marketing Directors across the globe will implement gamification strategies with an air of self-satisfaction that they are “on the ball” in terms of modern marketing tactics. However, Forbes predicts that by 2014, 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives due to poor design. They would do well to remember not to confuse activity with success! 

People will not just behave as a company wishes purely because there are some points or leaderboard success to be had (further fuel to my fire that gamification does not have psychic powers!). Google learnt this with their now defunct Google News Badges, given to readers of Google News items. Much as responsive web design needs to be content-centric, gamification needs to be “user-centric”. Concentrate on the user objectives as well the business objectives, search and strive for the overlapping of each party’s motivations.

Now, time to convince your boss that playing World of Warcraft at work will increase profits!


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