Message from the editor

A business view of gamification and human motivation

Few new technologies have entered the corporate mainstream with a label as off-putting as gamification. The term brings to mind employees wasting time playing video games. But there is a deeper, more compelling story behind gamification than most would suspect.

A big part of that story has to do with motivation. A person on an assembly line performs the same task over and over again for the money. But knowledge workers are more effectively motivated by much deeper, enduring factors.

Video games have somehow tapped into these deeper motivations. Why are video games successful? It’s not as though gamers are paid to play. Gamers are curious about other worlds, eager to test the limits of their own abilities, and interested in interacting with others playing the game. The best multiplayer games offer many levels of challenges, rich virtual worlds, and the opportunity to lead, compete, and collaborate. For decades now, video games have directly tapped into the human need for autonomy, mastery, purpose, and relatedness. Business could learn more from the gaming industry. And it has been.

Companies don’t need to build games themselves to be able to tap deeper sources of motivation, but they do need to get more inside the heads of their customers and employees the way games have.

Jun Kim, a senior user researcher at Tableau Software, performed field studies on the use of deal-of-the-day coupon services that underscored the appeal of discovery. “I found that people were going to their favorite site every day, not for the discounts, but for the experience,” Kim says. “They wanted to find something new that they can do—an activity that they hadn’t thought of. They would say, ‘One day I found this blueberry picking activity. On another day, I found this balloon ride. I would never have thought of those things, and it gave me some new ideas of things I could actually do and save money at the same time.’”

When done well, gamification is really the studied, thoughtful, and creative application of game design elements to business processes. Companies already acknowledge their business outcomes are tied to how well their employees engage. Introducing game elements to their business processes gives them a new way to encourage much higher levels of engagement.

This issue of the Technology Forecast examines the wide range of game design techniques that can be used in nongame environments for business benefit. These techniques are turning out to be pivotal in motivating customers, employees, and other stakeholders, and the most compelling use cases underscore the degree to which success depends on a thoughtful reassessment of the user experience.

The article, “The game-based redesign of mainstream business,” explores how techniques long used in video games are now being used online in business to engage and motivate the workforce and inspire customers. Companies don’t need to build games or make business a game to take advantage of these techniques. Instead, they can take tips from gamers on how to motivate and challenge stakeholders, and they can modify their online environments to enrich interaction.

Improving the customer and employee experience with gaming technology” describes the baseline technology that can help enterprises become familiar with the use of game mechanics and dynamics. Enterprises that readily mix capable user experience design, psychology, social group dynamics, and enterprise architecture will reap the most rewards. There are straightforward ways to start small when it comes to gamification, but enterprises should plan over the long term for more ambitious efforts that are sure to follow.

Getting past the hype of gamification” considers the topic from a CIO viewpoint. For most CIOs, the first reaction to gamification is dismissal, either because game approaches just don’t feel like they belong in serious business, or because the CIO team’s agenda is already overloaded with mobility, social media, cloud, big data analytics, IT security, and other major initiatives. But in dismissing the opportunity, CIOs may forgo some very tangible benefits and a creative new way to make IT much more productive by leveraging the human factors that are the essence of gamification.

This issue also includes interviews with executives who are using gaming techniques and with subject matter experts who have been at the forefront of development in this area:

  • Bryan Neider of Electronic Arts shares what a game publisher thinks about when it design its own internal training software.
  • Bill Fulton of Ronin User Experience compares and contrasts examples of good and bad emotion design in socially networked online environments.
  • Ari Lightman of Carnegie Mellon University ponders the challenge of workforce disengagement and how game mechanics can accelerate knowledge sharing.
  • Milt Riseman, former president of Advanta Mortgage, describes how he used business simulation to get employees across the enterprise to see the mortgage business through his eyes—before the advent of the web.

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As always, we welcome your feedback and your ideas for future research and analysis topics to cover.