What Companies Can Get from Games in the Enterprise

Ann All
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Five Innovations that Could Change the Way We Live, Work and Play

I've been following the gamification trend with interest, at least partly because it makes me feel like less of a "bad mommy" when my son spends hours playing "Little Big Planet." I've written about IBM and SAP products that incorporate game elements in an effort to get folks more interested in boring business processes, and companies like United Parcel Service that <strong>include games in their employee training programs</strong>.

 

Just last week IT Business Edge colleague Susan Hall wrote about Plantville, an online game created by Siemens to boost sales of its equipment, enhance employee knowledge of its products and get students interested in manufacturing careers. She pulled that example from a Businessweek article that highlights several other interesting examples of gamification in the corporate environment.

 

The article also mentions research from Traci Sitzmann, an assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado's business school, who spent more than a year examining 65 studies and data from 6,476 trainees to assess the impact of games on training. She found trainees using video games had a 14 percent higher skill-based knowledge level, an 11 percent higher factual-knowledge level, and a 9 percent higher retention rate than trainees in comparison groups.

 

Gartner has been paying attention to these examples of games in the workplace. According to a just-published report, it predicts more than 70 percent of the world's 2,000 largest companies will use gamification for at least one aspect of their organization by 2014.



I usually find these kinds of Gartner forecasts almost absurdly optimistic, but this one may not be, given the broad spectrum of possible ways companies can use game concepts, from marketing promotions to idea generation to training. In some cases, it's as simple as creating a leaderboard or other mechanism to allow employees to see how their performance stacks up against their peers.


Idea generation is an interesting use case, given companies' interest in finding ways to tap broader pools of knowledge. A silicon.com article about the Gartner research cites one of Gartner's examples, an innovation game called Idea Street used by the UK's Department for Work and Pensions to encourage the ministry's 120,000 employees to contribute ideas. The collaboration platform includes points, leaderboards and a "buzz index," among other game concepts. Within 18 months, it had generated 1,400 ideas from 4,500 users, with 63 ideas actually being implemented.

 

Because online games obviously will require a heavy technology element, CIOs are a logical candidate to play a leading role in introducing gamification to business leaders. Gartner says CIOs should educate other business executives about using gamification in the enterprise. At the very least, I'd add, CIOs should familiarize themselves with it so they can contribute relevant insights and ideas to conversations generated by others.


One point I found interesting in comments following the Businessweek article: A reader named Robert Becker suggested using "serious games" rather than "gamification," mentioning many game designers did not like the gamification term. While I had used the term serious games in an older post, I switched to gamification as it seems to be the most commonly accepted term.


A good place to get a sense of some of the current activity in this space is the Gamification Blog, created by Gabe Zichermann, author of "Game-Based Marketing" and the forthcoming "Gamification by Design." I also recommend an hour-long video by the fast-talking Zichermann. Among the high-level points in the video:


. What gamification isn't ("putting crappy badges on a crappy website")
. His definition ("using game thinking and mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems")
. What engages users ("status, access, power and stuff," in that order)


It also includes Zichermann's take on gamification patterns and pitfalls, with him offering plenty of examples from real-world games most of us have probably played or at least heard about.



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