Sustaining employee engagement through gamification

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Overview


Video games have changed the way we play; they’re now set to change working life as well. If you don’t already know what a strong hold games have on contemporary culture, it’s time to find out. Here’s one measure: video games are now bigger than Hollywood.

In November 2011, ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ grossed $775 million in just five days – outselling ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’, Hollywood’s biggest-ever blockbuster, by 60%.The ‘World of Warcraft’ gaming franchise has over 12 million subscribers worldwide. Its 2011 release sold 4.7 million copies in one month, a record high for PC game sales. And that’s just two of the best-known games: collectively, gamers spend an estimated three billion hours each week inhabiting parallel worlds, defeating relentless enemies and embarking on epic quests.

If you’re well into middle age, you probably think the gaming demographic centres on teenage boys. Wrong. The average gamer is 37 years old and 42% of gamers are women. They play solo and in teams, using dedicated consoles, PCs, mobile phones and social media such as Facebook. On-line multi-player games are free-form collaborative enterprises. Player teams involve people from all over the world who mostly never meet or speak to each other, and may not even share a language. It’s an immersive experience that has shaped the consciousness of a generation - including business people who are now entering the ranks of senior management.

How games foster engagement

What could game techniques offer, in the context of employee engagement? Gaming guru Jane McGonigal believes that games have enormous potential in the real world because they:

  • increase optimism by holding out the possibility of an ‘epic win’
  • help to build a social fabric (multi-player games are collaborative and they encourage socialisation because we like people better when we have played with them)
  • enable productivity (people like to be busy and are happier when playing a stimulating game than when just ‘relaxing’)
  • create meaning– a basic ingredient of any engagement programme - by making it possible for participants to take on inspiring missions

Gaming has many other features that can help to build employee engagement, including:

  • the constant feedback participants receive on their progress through scoring mechanisms – contrasted with the annual or semi-annual performance reviews that are standard practice in most companies
  • clear success criteria, rewards and most important of all,public recognition - through the use of achievement badges, Facebook-type ‘post a comment’ features, sport-style leader-boards featuring employee photographs, and reward points as in consumer loyalty programmes
  • permission to fail, which facilitates learning– a taboo within traditional corporate cultures but acceptable (even celebrated) in a gaming context, for example in war games where players are routinely ‘killed’
  • the ability to collect and analyse data on performance-enhancing business intelligence software, allowing companies to track progress, see where change is needed and assess ROI

Since games have so many positive features, it’s surprising that businesses have only lately woken up to their potential for engaging customers, employees and others on whom their success depends. ‘Gamification’ is the ugly new word that’s been coined to describe the use of gaming techniques outside the pure gaming arena. Media and entertainment companies have led the way, using gaming techniques for on-line product marketing. But during the last two years, interest has spread to so-called ‘enterprise’ applications. Most are private internal systems, operating below the radar, but some enter the public domain when their originators believe that there’s a broader corporate marketing benefit. Here are some public domain examples that I’ve come across.

IBM’s INNOV8 2.0

INNOV8 2.0 is IBM’s Business Process Management (BPM) simulation game. IBM says that the game is designed to provide ‘a better understanding of how effective BPM impacts an entire business eco system’. A 3-D virtual reality game in the mould of Second Life, INNOV8 2.0 allows players to form teams which jointly investigate problems, try out options, get feedback and make decisions. Demos can be viewed on www.ibm.com and YouTube.

Siemens’ PlantVille

PlantVille is Siemens’ FarmVille-style game that allows players to learn about the interconnections of manufacturing processes. Players get to manage a bottling, vitamin, or manufacturing plant using key performance indicators such as safety, quality and delivery. They can enter the PlantVille Café, where they can discuss game solutions; and there’s the PlantVille Puzzler where they can test what they have learned. A series of demos is available on YouTube.

HEC Montreal’s ERPsim

HEC Montreal’s ERPsim is based on SAP’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software applications. It’s a real-time simulation game in which students have to run a business using an SAP ERP system. Teams of five to six players operate a manufacturing company, working with suppliers and customers. Players make plans, operate the production process, sell products and receive payments, becoming familiar with the complete business cycle and the associated information flows. Information and videos are on http://erpsim.hec.ca/ and YouTube.

The UK Department of Work and Pensions’ Idea Street

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions created an innovation game called Idea Street - a collaborative application that includes points, leader boards and a ‘buzz index’. In its first 18 months the game attracted 4,500 users and generated 1,400 ideas. Some information about Idea Street is available on Spark, a website about state-sector innovation: www.sparkdev.co.uk/

The future: development of soft skills and behaviours

The first phase of enterprise gamification has focused on core business functions, systems and processes where there is a clear business case and a history of using training and education tools. I predict that in the near future, gamification will be used to develop soft skills and behaviours that are equally important to the business but have an ROI that’s more difficult to establish, such the development of leadership, cross-functional and international collaboration, and the cultivation of values and behaviours as part of branding and employee engagement projects.
 

Comments 

 
# John Costello 2012-04-11 08:17
Nice article. I agree gamefication is an ugly word!

As a web developer I have been looking at the gamefication story for a while and I do think that the approach has much to offer and will spread into more applications over time. Depending on how you define it you could say that it is ubiquitous in consumer software products and will become so in business tools.

At one end of the spectrum you have applications that are games, like the examples that you give, however at the other end the game mechanics (another lovely term) are used to foster engagement in an application which is not an explicit game. An example of this is Twitter where the 'game' is to become an influential tweeter and the score is displayed prominently (#followers, #following, #tweets). This feedback drives use of the application. I think that the application of game mechanics to web tools is the main area that we will see gamification in the business world.

Our own application, careergro.com, is a business tool for career development and we have applied some very soft, non-intrusive game techniques to help guide users in knowing what to do next and to motivate them to continue.
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# Andy Jankowski 2012-04-26 21:21
This is an excellent and very important post. It is the "other" features that I think are so important in context of a corporate setting, namely; providing constant feedback, clear success criteria, permission to fail and performance analysis data. I think we should all keep a close eye on this space and if possible, work to move it forward. Thanks again for a great post.
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# Barry 2012-10-12 08:12
Hi, really nice, insightful article, thanks for sharing.

I have recently written a piece on the same subject at - http://www.computersinpersonnelhr.com/blog/index.php/2012/10/gamification-is-your-company-playing/

Thanks again.
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