Despite the best efforts of a few pals, I've resisted the lure of playing FarmVille, Mafia Wars or any of the other numerous games on Facebook. Lots of folks, though, have apparently given in to the time-killing temptation. The popularity of such games is driving corporate interest in what is being call "gamification," using elements such as virtual "badges" and points to create interest in products and services.
According to a Los Angeles Times story, media and entertainment research firm M2 Research estimates in a recent report that spending on gamification projects will grow to as much as $2.8 billion by 2016 from $100 million this year. The story quotes M2 Research analyst Wanda Meloni:
We know anecdotally that engagement increases substantially when game mechanics are applied. How that affects customer loyalty and translates in terms of increased revenue is still being worked out.
Among the story's examples of companies using gamification are NBCUniversal, which increased page views and stickiness on the website for its "Psych" series when it added games that allowed fans to earn points, and SAP Labs U.S., which rewards contributors to its SAP Community Networks forum with points.
Last spring when I interviewed Mark Yolton, SVP of the network, he told me points are part of SAP Community Networks members' public profiles and "really become reflective of a member's reputation" by reflecting how involved he or she is in helping other community members.
SAP is also exploring the idea of using gamification to get users more engaged with its enterprise software. It's a worthy goal, given the way many people feel about the software they use at work.
Writing for InformationWeek, Josh Greenbaum describes an SAP product demo that incorporated game elements as the most fun he's ever had at a such an event. He writes:
... there was engagement at multiple levels. We engaged with the product, we engaged with one another, we collaborated, we competed, and, here I am, a few days later and still under embargo about the product itself, mulling over how what I saw and what I experienced is still fresh in my mind.
Greenbaum notes that SAP recently hosted Stanford professor Byron Reeves, author of a book on the subject of gamifying the enterprise, and sent a member of its technical team to the recent Gamification Summit in San Francisco. If the company can make enterprise software more fun by adding gaming elements to its products, it can help transform the workplace into "a community environment where that old coercive model of engagement is a thing of the past," he writes.
SAP isn't the only software vendor experimenting with gamification. IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard and I have both written about some of IBM's efforts to get folks more excited about boring business processes by designing games about them.
I wrote a story in which I interviewed Phaedra Boinodiris, IBM's Serious Games product manager, as well as folks from Assurant Employee Benefits and Hilton Garden Inn, two companies experimenting with business training games. Assurant Employee Benefits, a subsidiary of insurer Assurant Inc., partnered with game maker Propaganda 3 to produce four game modules customized for its work force to help get employees in line with corporate strategy during a business transformation. The first module, covering corporate strategy, featured a challenge in which the company president, in avatar form, hangs from a parachute. With each wrong answer, the parachute lost a string. It was a hit when demonstrated for employees at an all-company meeting. Successive games allowed employees to spend a virtual "day in the life" of coworkers and learn all of the myriad and sometimes complicated ways Assurant earns money.
More recently I wrote about the video games United Parcel Services is using to help train its drivers. The rate of recruits who failed the company's six-week training program dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent after UPS added the games.