How Gamification Impacts Motivation
Companies of all sizes and types can benefit by using gamification mechanics and game theory to improve engagement, learning and desired behavioral changes
By Ira Ozer
Last fall’s Gamification Summit in New York City saw leading professionals in the field gather to present best practices, research and case studies. Although gamification is a relatively new term in the world of human capital and engagement, the concepts of game mechanics are well supported by research from psychologists and behavioral scientists, with studies that span more than half a century. Leading performance improvement companies in the incentive industry have used fundamental game strategies and tactics for more than a decade, but only recently has the integration of multiple methods been used to create “gamified” websites that dramatically improve participation and results.
Gabe Zichermann, gamification author, expert and founder of the Gamification Summit, defines the term as the use of game thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems. He jokes that “it’s all about drugs…dopamine to be exact,” going on to explain that experts in the field of brain research have established a connection between the incremental rewards that video games provide and the pleasure experience related to the release of dopamine, an organic chemical that produces a kind of “high” when transmitted by the brain.
“The popularity of video games is not the enemy of education, but rather a model for best teaching strategies,” notes Dr. Judy Willis, MD, a respected authority on brain research, adding. “Games insert players at their achievable challenge level and reward player effort and practice with acknowledgement of incremental goal progress, not just [the] final product.”
According to the most recent findings from M2 Research, the gamification market, which is currently estimated at $100 million, is forecast to grow to $2.8 billion in the U.S. alone by 2016. Companies of all sizes and in every industry can benefit by using gamification mechanics and game theory to improve the engagement, learning and desired behavioral changes needed from employees, channel partners, customers and everyone across the enterprise.
Call To Action
Rajat Paharia, the Founder and CEO of Bunchball, a leading gamification technology company, explains that to be most effective gamified websites must use the key tools of points, badges and leader boards, along with numerous “calls to action” that inspire people to not simply visit a company’s website, but to engage in experiences, collaborate on challenges, invite friends to join in and then compete with them and other members of the community who are also “playing” on the site.
For consumer programs, in which anyone can participate, the “intrinsic rewards” of playing the game and conquering the various challenges often provide enough motivation to keep the person engaged and entertained for a significant period of time, even to the point that they’re willing to spend their own money to upgrade the experience. Farmville and Angry Birds are prime examples of such sites.
Bunchball started by helping large media companies such as NBC Universal (NBCU) gamify their websites. For example, to promote the Blue Ray sales of the movie Despicable Me, NBCU used Bunchball’s Nitro platform to power a web, mobile and social media promotion in which participants were able to earn “Minions” points for playing various games, sharing movie content with friends and even participating in a photo challenge. Points were then used in a drawing for aspirational sweepstakes prizes ranging from gift cards to family getaways.
Bunchball also ran the USA Network’s Club Psych campaign, which was designed to improve loyalty for the show Psych. Although it didn’t have a sweepstakes promotion or any kind of tangible rewards, the game-oriented campaign resulted in a 30% increase in overall site traffic, a 130% increase in page views for the official show website and a 47% increase in online merchandise sales.
Motivation & Engagement
Bunchball realized that there was also strong interest and need from companies that wanted to improve motivation and engagement among employees and customers. In a business context, it’s the addition of extrinsic rewards, such as recognition from peers and managers, as well as tangible award items such as merchandise, special privileges and other benefits, that keep people involved for extended periods of time.
By gamifying corporate employee and channel partner sites, companies can train and educate the participants, recognize them in front of their peers, drive competition and reward them with incentives all in one integrated platform. During the past year, Bunchball partnered with Maritz to offer the Nitro platform to their clients, and also launched a new application for Salesforce.com at their September 2011 “Dreamforce” event. With this application, any company that uses Saleforce.com can opt to add the integrated gamification experience to their CRM workspace and create dynamic incentive programs quickly, for a reasonable cost and in a highly measurable and actionable way. Participating companies can choose whichever tangible incentives fit their participant demographics, psychographics, budget and program theme.
According to Michael Wu, PhD, Principal Scientist for Lithium, one of the leading companies that create “Social CRM” communities for large enterprises, the semantics involved are important to understanding how such program are implemented and operated. He defines game mechanics as “the principles, rules and/or mechanisms that govern a behavior through a system of incentives, feedback and rewards with reasonably predictable outcome.” Wu defines game dynamics as “the process, patterns and evolution of the game over time to make it more engaging and enjoyable.”
Since people are different and are motivated by different things, in different ways and at different times, the game mechanics that work well for one type of person may work poorly for another. Dr. Wu explains that the game researcher Richard A Bartle identified four types of gaming personalities – Achievers, Explorers, Socializers and Killers – noting that each one requires different game dynamics to be engaged. For example, Killers require a faster, more competitive game than Socializers. In general, since people tend to get bored by routines, the most engaging games tend to get progressively harder in order to challenge the achievement-oriented part of our personality.
Gamification Summit participants were careful to point out that gamification isn’t just for consumer brands that are perceived to be fun and entertaining. Connie O’Brien, SVP of Internet Strategy and Development with insurer AXA Equitable, explained that they have created a game that helps people better understand the benefits of insurance and the difference between Term and Whole Life policies.
Since insurance isn’t something most people want to learn about, AXA Equitable launched a game called “Pass it On,” which is both educational and fun. As participants move around the online virtual game board, they earn points they can use to buy badges. Bronze badges represent Term policies and Gold badges represent Whole Life. At the end of the game, the player’s assets are passed on to the next generation. O’Brien explains that even children who play the game learn important financial concepts and the total value of their purchase decisions.
Another presented, Robert Plourde, VP of Innovation at United Health Group (UHG), explained that there are many ways game techniques are used to education people about their health needs, specific diseases and courses of action to take to live a healthier lifestyle while improving the healthcare system and reducing costs. You can read more about UHG’s use of gamification techniques and game theory in the November/December 2011 issue of ESM, available at engagementstrategiesonline.com
Ira Ozer, CPIM, is President of Engagement Partners, an enterprise engagement consulting and solutions company. He can be reached at 914-238-2220 or
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