Call it Scott Pilgrim vs. The Boardroom. Points, progress bars, achievements and badges - features once inherent to video game culture - are making the jump to office life.
It's a process referred to as gamification, and involves taking traditional video game mechanics and applying them to real world scenarios. And as some businesses have already discovered, everything from levels to leaderboards work just as well in the boardroom as they do on an Xbox.
Consider the likes of Foursquare, Weight Watchers or the Aeroplan program. Each is a distinct, dissimilar service, but rely on shared gameplay elements disguised as functions of everyday life. And therein lies the magic.
Gamification can turn work into fun, and make the menial manageable. It's a way to engage users, customers, and employees by appealing to basic human needs and desires. And over the next four weeks, we'll be speaking with some of gamification's foremost players to see what works, what doesn't, and how to get the best results.
The mechanics of play
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that a company must also become a game developer for gamification to work. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
"You're not going to compete with Angry Birds if you're a company that makes salad," explains Gabe Zichermann, a consultant, author and gamification expert. "You need to understand who your user is and what motivates them instead."
And that doesn't mean slapping points and badges onto a lacklustre product either.
Newcomers to LinkedIn, for example, are greeted with a progress bar. As they complete pieces of their public profile, the bar advances. The company found that users were more inclined to complete their profiles when the results of their efforts were reflected in real time. It's not quite gamification per se, but it's a start.
Meanwhile, Rajat Paharia, founder of the gamification platform Bunchball, believes a strong social element is also important in driving a successful gamified experience.
"As soon as we start capturing stats … then there are all sorts of interesting things you can do to motivate people," Mr. Paharia explained during a talk at Stanford University last year.
For example, by presenting historical data in a way that Bunchball's users can understand, not only can a player track their own progress and performance over time, but compare it against friends and co-workers as well.
But that's only the beginning.
There are roughly two distinct approaches to gamifying a startup or business. The first involves augmenting a product or service with which a user or customer will interact. This could be as simple as a retail store offering Foursquare discounts to the mayor of a location. But that's hardly a comprehensive solution.
Instead, there exist services such as Badgeville, Bunchball or BigDoor, which offer more extensive platforms and services. These products can be integrated into existing online strategies, and tailored in such a way that isn't always possible with a rigid service such as Foursquare.
The other approach, however, is much less obvious, as it involves the gamification of internal systems instead. Here, the goal is not to engage and encourage customer participation, but that of your own employees.
After all, says Mr. Zichermann, "mundane activities get the attention they deserve."
Thus, a common approach is to use game-based mechanics to improve otherwise menial activities in a corporate or office setting.
For example, the U.S. retail chain Target employs a rudimentary game that ranks cashiers based on the speed of their checkouts. The system compares the current score to recent checkouts, and gives cashiers a metric or history against which to compare themselves and potentially improve their score.
Meanwhile, a San Francisco-based startup called Green Goose is planning to launch a variety of tiny sensors that, when attached to objects such as light switches or thermostats, will track usage and award points. Such a system could give business users an incentive to make more financially and environmentally-friendly decisions around the office.
"Most people get feedback very rarely. That doesn't give employees very much motivation," says Mr. Zichermann.
But frame that feedback in the context a game, and you could give employees an incentive to keep that office fridge clean.
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