Training and Development

Gamification: Changing businesses now and for the future

This is a contributed piece from Gideon Lask, CEO and Founder of Buyapowa

When asked to cite a notable gamification success, most people would say the Nike + fitness challenge, Foursquare’s ‘badges and mayors’ and the LinkedIn profile bar. But given so much has been written since Nick Pelling first coined the term in 2002, you would be forgiven for questioning why there have been surprisingly few successes outside of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (‘MMOGs’).

Four years ago, Gartner promised wide scale adoption in innovative and global businesses only to backtrack by 2012 claiming the industry was based on ‘hype’ and that 80% of gamified applications would fail due to ‘poor design’. But it is not all gloom and doom as there have been notable successes in marketing and social commerce, and progress has been made in professional and personal productivity and wellness applications like Playvox, Red Critter and Yomp.

I believe that the next few years will finally see the great strides in gamification we were promised years ago. This is not only due to the success of the early adopters and better game design, but also by the convergence of four key trends: always on connectivity, wearables, Open Government and changing attitudes to personal data.

Was gamification oversold?

By gamification we mean incorporating ‘game elements’ such as badges, leader boards and prizes into non-game environments to get people to:

  • Do something (get a qualification)
  • Stop doing something (quit smoking)
  • Keep doing something (keep exercising)
  • Buy something (new and repeat customers)

As long as the gamification remains a secondary element to something seen as intrinsically beneficial, such as learning a new programming language, then it can really power success. But if the ‘game’ becomes too important compared to the underlying value of the desired behaviour then this can be counterproductive.

For example, one of the main reasons Foursquare has struggled to break out of its core niche user group is that the game of getting ‘badges’ and ‘mayorships’ seems more important than the objective of getting accurate local information and discovering new places. And clearly not everybody believes that they can be the mayor of Starbucks in Oxford Street.

Examples of businesses that have really understood this in the context of social commerce or ‘getting a great deal on a product you love’ are EE, Sony and Debenhams. As not all participants will believe that they can win a top prize, these businesses made offers that benefited all participants as more people joined but also allowed super referrers to compete for special prizes.

Gaming the game

Another problem of badly designed games is that they can be gamed for purposes other than those intended by the creator. For example, the perception that the number of contacts held affected LinkedIn search results led to ‘self-publicists’ seeking thousands of contacts. So much so that LinkedIn no longer shows the number of connections above 500. Similarly, a system like Klout has been criticised for being too simplistic and too easily gamed by those wanting to appear influential.

One of the best ways to prevent ‘gaming of the game’ is to require that the participants pay something, either by buying or putting down a deposit for the product that they want, or by making a donation to the charity.

Better ‘game design’

In the short term, I believe we will see more of the kind of applications described above. Gamification has come through its troubled adolescence and shown its worth in areas as diverse as ecommerce, IT, shows and events, subscription businesses, and personal training. The lessons in ‘game design’ from these successful applications are there to be copied by all.

In the medium term, several societal and technological changes offer a host of opportunities for gamification:

  • Firstly, we now live in an ‘always on’ world where we can participate in a common endeavour, share, invite and consult our achievements at any time from almost any place
  • Wearables offer the ability to connect real time, accurate personal data to that ‘always on’ connectivity
  • Official data is increasingly available due to initiatives such as the UK Government’s Open Data Initiative
  • And finally, the younger generations have a more relaxed attitude towards personal data, at least when you consider what Generation Z is willing to share on Snapchat and Tinder

These trends offer the opportunity to mix public and personal data in real time into gamification, opening a host of exciting opportunities across health, weight-loss and learning.

The convergence of different technologies, such as with Google’s Ingress, which combines the connectivity of smartphones and the data of Google Maps to create a game based around monuments and buildings in a city, could be an example of what to expect. Although it is difficult to know if the intrinsic appeal of what is being gamed in this case is enough to attract more than early adopters.

In the longer term, the future of gamification may be linked with legislation surrounding personal data, digital currencies and lotteries, but I think we will see increasing use of gamification principles in many areas from large scale social commerce to smaller challenges such as reducing personal electricity consumption. In ten years from now, you will definitely be able to come up with better examples of successful gamification than Nike +, Foursquare and LinkedIn.


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