In modern culture, games are everywhere we look; not just video games. Recently. the top movie in the theatre was the “The Hunger Games." The most popular TV show is “Game of Thrones” and the most watched entertainment on television on an annual basis is the Super Bowl game and skill-based game shows like American Idol. Games are everywhere. So it’s no wonder the concept of gamification has really taken off over the last few years.
[Editor's note: Nathan Lands will be speaking at Vator Spark Get Game conference on May 1, at the new incubator at Berkeley Skydeck. Register here. Use #vatorspark when referring to the event.)
It’s a pretty easy phenomenon to understand because games are essentially about creating fun playful experiences -- whether that means creating excitement, intrigue, a smile, a laugh or even fear. We as humans all want to feel something.
Games and play are something we are naturally compelled to since birth. The excitement, mystery, challenge and the big high of a victory all compel us towards gameplay and playfulness. For proof of this, look at how a baby responds to any form of game, or how animals, such as dogs and cats, naturally play with one another. It’s a basic essential part of life and it’s becoming a huge part of culture world-wide which has led to the desire for things outside of typical “games” to be turned into games or have game-like experiences built into them.
“Work sucks? DUDE, gamify it!”
One of the common hypothesis of gamification is that by generating some form of a game-like experience for your business, service or product you will associate your business with the positive feelings that result from it and/or be able to use the rules of the game to influence your “players”, turning your product into something that people don’t just use, but love and are compelled to use. In theory this can work for almost any use case, like making losing weight fun, turning learning into a game and anything else you can imagine.
Researching the trend
Since we first started Gamify (before there were even any google results for the word) and Gamification.org, we realized that there were going to be a plethora of gamification projects and implementations that would fail and several that would do awesome so we started a wiki to document the trend for our own internal research and for the use and benefit of others around the world.
Gamification.org has now become the most visited gamification related website on the Web and is currently being translated into over 22 languages and expanding into new verticals such as Education and Enterprise thanks to our community of over 40 content partners and translators. Interest in gamification continues to grow steadily world-wide, which can be seen by looking at Google Trends for gamification.
A few of the insights we’ve gleaned from building Gamify & Gamification.org.
- Gamification is not a magic bullet that can solve everything. You can’t just easily gamify something to reach a goal like “increased engagement” without really thinking of how it fits with your product or service.
- The types of gamification that have worked really well have been the ones that are actually fun to use and treat gamification in a playful way.
- Despite everyone thinking gamification is just a Silicon Valley thing, it seems to be even more popular in other countries, with the largest language searching for gamification being in Korean. Which makes sense considering gaming is even a bigger part of the culture in Korea. Starcraft is like a national sport there that is played on television and even hotel lobbies have it installed. :) I believe America and other countries are on a similar path, just behind a few years.
A few key examples of industries and companies that we’ve seen do well with gamification:
- Education & Learning: Khan Academy, Codecademy
- Health & Fitness: Fitbit, Nike+, RunKeeper, Fitocracy
- Entertainment: Turntable.fm
- Enterprise: Badgeville, iActionable
- Marketing & Rewards: Kiip
So those are great examples of companies that have done reasonably well, but what is the main reason that gamification has failed for many other companies? Here is my theory.
Gamification should be fun
Fun and gamification are two words that should naturally go together -- however, most of the time the innocent simplicity that can create fun is lost in the fog of business objectives led by well meaning but misguided executives and hype surrounding gamification when companies are thinking they can magically “gamify” their product or service.
“Farmville for my website? Yes, PLEASE!”
A lot of gamification promoters and solution providers to date have focused on gamification that is what I call light-gamification, meaning that it applies very light game mechanics like points and badges to a product and doesn’t do much else in terms of generating a game-like experience. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, however I do feel strongly that we need to expand what we think of as gamification and remember that in a lot of cases, fun is a necessary component. I believe that consumers expectations are growing higher by the day for fun experiences with products they use and that is where the big opportunity for gamification is.
I believe we should define gamification more broadly as the presence or addition of game-like characteristics in anything that has not been traditionally considered a game. So the more game-like characteristics and mechanics are present, the more gamified something is. Keep in mind, there are many kinds of games. Games of skill, luck, video games, sports and gambling are all games.
So, it could be said that gamification has a kind of spectrum that ranges from gamification that has many game characteristics, to gamification with few game characteristics. A lot of the ones on the side of few game characteristics focus on reward structures that they believe will influence users.
Both sides of the spectrum can in theory be effective, but primarily companies have stayed on the light side because it feels safe. That is why I believe that the majority of companies that will become wildly successful with gamification will be startups that are willing to take risks to innovate, try new things in a simple and playful manner, and rapidly experiment, a la the Lean Startup methodology. Also, startups don’t take themselves nearly as serious as big corporations and thus are more easily able to actually connect with users on a more personal and fun level.
So if you’re a start-up or an existing company, how can you gamify your business?
Well, everyone asks me this all the time. How to gamify their business and what “game mechanic” would I suggest they use, as if we have some secret recipe book that need just be followed to be successful at gamifying. Let me say now, there is no magical answer! You really should start simple, think at a basic level of how to craft a fun game-like experience into your product -- and of course before that really think over if it makes sense for your business in the first place.
Before you design for business objectives, think about what kind of experience you’d like for your users to have. If you make an experience that makes a product better or creates an entirely new product that is fun to use -- you will most likely exceed any business goals and can tweak to improve those things later. Don’t over think things, fun can be created in the most simple ways sometimes.
Will the future be like countless movies that depict a dystopian and dreary future? Or some marketing-ran nightmare where you get points for everything you do and the Government or Mega-corps have control over you using these systems to manipulate your actions? I think those concepts are both equally unlikely and really just make for good stories or movies.
Based on current trends and changes happening in the world I see a future where life is simplified by our gadgets, and we demand more things that make us smile, laugh and allow us to enjoy most things we do because we only have one life. Technology becomes an enabler of a more fun and happy life -- catered towards whatever that means for you as an individual.
Time will tell if Gamification is a long-term trend that will be widely accepted and integrated into our daily lives, but I think betting against people expecting experiences and the world around them to be more pleasurable and fun in the future would be a really bad bet, like shorting Apple stock or trading in time travel futures. Gamification that is truly fun and keeps the spirit of games has a future.
(Image source: Businessweek)