Many IT administrators and corporate managers are surprised to hear that so-called “gamification” isn’t just a means to get kids to use learning applications or to entice millennials to get some work done. When it comes down to it, humans are competitive by nature, and an element of gaming infused in a variety of applications can increase productivity, reduce learning curves, and improve job satisfaction.
When Microsoft introduced the ribbon interface to Office 2007, many users balked at a very different way of accessing many of the functions in the company’s bread-and-butter productivity suite. They refined and solidified the interface in Office 2010, closing the door forever on earlier navigation schemes, much to the chagrin of users who just weren’t ready to take the plunge.
In response, as the Redmond, Wash., software giant looked to increase adoption and quell the unrest around the ribbon to which they’d fully committed, Office engineers teamed up with members of the XBox team and introduced Ribbon Hero, a social, competitive game in which users earned achievements for using new features and interacting with the ribbon, among other powerful features of Office.
Not only did their efforts work quite well, but they signaled a willingness to employ gaming approaches and mindsets in mainstream enterprise software. Users across all demographics responded well to elements of competition and the training implications in particular for “gamified” applications were significant.
Gamification isn’t just about end users in the enterprise, though. Engagement with customers, leads, and other users outside of an organization is critical to building brand, developing loyalty, and nurturing potential sales. Social media and strong content are the hallmarks of “Sales and Marketing 2.0” but as more organizations saturate the social space and figure out that they need more than a Facebook page with lots of likes to succeed, gamification is becoming an important differentiator.
Although Foursquare has lost much of its luster, it provides an early example of the power and appeal of gamification for marketing and sales outreach. In Foursquare, users competed to check in more frequently than their fellow users at various businesses, in theory increasing physical traffic to brick and mortar establishments.
So what does gamification mean in 2013 and beyond? It definitely isn’t banner ads that ask users to whack a mole to win a prize and it probably isn’t Foursquare-style obsessive check-ins.
Rather, in addition to more frequent uses as a training tool (both for employees and new customers), gamification will meet big data in a big way. Market research, targeted advertising, and even traditional media will make use of gamification. For example, Viggle is a new mobile application that recognizes audio from television programming and allows users to earn rewards for “checking in” (i.e., watching) to various shows. TV watchers win via rewards they earn and an additional social layer for TV, while networks win by obtaining substantially more data about viewership than they get with Nielsen boxes. They also have the opportunity to surface targeted advertising via the app in the age of DVRs when most viewers simply skip commercials.
Gamification, in fact, is becoming part of Web 3.0, the increasingly personalized and social experience that users are beginning to expect online. It’s also being woven into the fabric of organizations looking to reduce the expense and increase the effectiveness of training programs that have traditionally just been seen as a burden by most employees.
Chris Dawson is a research analyst and writer for Ziff Davis, among others.