As we are all playing Diablo III, we are witnessing another role-playing trend emerging in the software industry that is called gamification. It is not driven by game developers, but by a handful of quickly growing vendors who believe that video games are more than just a small part of our entertainment life. They predict that one day video games could be at the heart of our professional and private lives as well.
There is no way around it. Our desire to be entertained, whether actively or passively, is deeply rooted in our human nature. It appears that our society is increasingly in love with great video games. In 2011, we spent more than $50 billion on video games, video game rentals, subscriptions, digital downloads, casual games, social games, mobile games, and downloadable content, according to M2 Research. There are now games that earn more than $1 billion in total sales.
Online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft have laid the foundation for companies like Blizzard to generate almost $5 billion in quarterly revenue. We should not forget the casual game industry that is growing at astonishing rates, especially due to the popularity of Facebook and its 970 million users. Almost a quarter billion of those users are attracted to the games of Zynga. It’s a market that is hard to comprehend by traditional measures, and one that holds the keys to unprecedented sales opportunities for those who can understand and take advantage of it. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that there are ideas forming to expand the concept of gaming for more purposes than those with which we are currently familiar.
The evolving trend is called gamification or, more scientifically, audience behavior management. The basic approach is to use mechanics in video games to devise much more appealing non-game applications. The goal is to change an existing behavior with non-gaming applications in order to achieve greater engagement with a brand or task that we normally would not enjoy as much. You could complain that, as a consumer, you are being unfairly exploited. However, if we realize that we are willing to completely immerse ourselves in video games and often spend hundreds of hours playing them, we may not mind as long as our private lives are not invaded and traditional gaming values are still provided.
The most fascinating part about gamification is its deeply analytical approach to creating a gamification platform or a single gamified application. Of course, the foundation for gamification has been around for a long time. Think about the Kid’s Meal from a fast-food restaurant, the game on the back of a cereal box, eLearning apps, or brand-sponsored casual games. These are all basic examples of gamification that are attempts to promote consumers’ engagement with a brand and product. Video game-driven gamification goes one step further. It aims to leverage the key gaming mechanics of the most successful game designs to reach our motivations that make us play a video game. Such motivations include, for example, our desire to collect rewards, to brag about our achievements and our desire to win.
Typical game mechanics include a discoverable path to win, cheats, progressive level design, self-education, team play, action feedback, scores, leaderboards and rewards. With the integration of social networks, communication and sharing is added. Remember the latest reports of video gamers solving a decades-old scientific puzzle that could lead to the development of a new AIDS drug? High-value entertainment has a stunning capability of making us do (and enjoy) things that we don’t usually do. There are countless more mechanics and dynamics, but you get the point. These are core features that make us want to play video games. Our engagement with gamification is measurable in various ways: the return to an app, page views, the time spent with an app, our willingness to click on a “share” button, and to purchase more products. These behaviors expose users not by what they claim they do, but what they actually do.
Beyond these core features, we are noticing a new industry evolving that is trying to understand our engagement with games in every detail. What UX design do we prefer? What drives our social engagement? How can you more reliably achieve crowd-sourcing from the people you target as well as those you do not? What are the sources for our desire to become popular, and what mechanics deliver on that desire? In this perspective, gamification is not just a layer on top of social marketing. It’s a new world of opportunities that can drive a new era of product and brand marketing, scientific advances, and professional achievements.
The most successful of solution providers, which include companies such as Badgeville, Big Door, and Bunchball (all of which believe that they will be approximately doubling their employee base this year), are already moving beyond those simple mechanics and will be offering ways to actually measure and tune our engagement with gamification. Within five years, gamification could turn into a $3 billion market according to M2 Research.
Gamifying Your Employment
Of course, gamification is not just an advanced version of the Kid’s Meal package at McDonald’s. Gamification is not industry-limited. It will also emerge in professional applications in a category that is referred to as enterprise gamification. Imagine a desktop for a sales person that turns into a video game application. The goals of the game, defined by the sales manager, may include traditional values such as actual sales, but also engagement on social networks to drive marketing values as well as team-building activity.
Achieved goals (which could include as little as a certain number of tweets) will result in “badges” for bragging rights as well as rewards such as points that can be used toward the purchase of actual products. In the future, your manager may not hand you a Starbucks gift card as a thank you, but you will be able to check out the company store to see what your achievements are worth in bonuses such as vacations. Competitive team play will be a major component to motivate employees to spend more time at work and, in the end, discover a strategy to win the game. It is not difficult to predict that a video game scenario will make dry sales applications much more entertaining and could increase employee engagement with relevant applications.
A similar scenario, with different goals, could be used for virtually all other professions. For example, imagine a nurse whose job is not to just provide health care service, but who is also a customer representative whose performance is largely measured by the customer satisfaction scores on the unit she works. Even nurses could be dealing with gamification as part of their evaluation process in the future.
The Bottom Line: Consumerization at its Best
There is no doubt in my mind that gamification will be the biggest trend in advertising and marketing in years, and it will be deeply integrated into marketing departments within 12 to 24 months. The most compelling argument for it is that gamification is a natural process that we have already accepted. The evolution of the technique will teach marketers how to balance their marketing message with consumer value and information retrieval. Marketers, however, will get new tools, and their creativity will be tested once more and more gamified applications flood the market and companies will still have to achieve success by standing out.
A much bigger issue may be enterprise gamification, which scarily compares to role-playing games that blur our capability to differentiate between a game and reality. While the obvious concern in such an environment would be trends toward greed and envy, we also know that enterprise gamification will especially appeal to a new generation that is growing up with video games as an essential and natural part of their lives. They understand games, are comfortable with games, and they are willing to play.
Besides the iPad, this may be the best example of consumerization yet. Coined as a term to describe the effects of Web 2.0, consumerization refers to trends that are created by consumers and then are adopted by the enterprise world. Sure, your job won’t be playing Diablo III, but there is a chance that it may be close.