How Using Games and Game Mechanics in Business Can Increase Your Bottom Line Starting Today

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Most people think that games are just for kids. According to Jane McGonical’s TedTalk, embedded below, three billion hours a week are spent playing games. Gamification, the underlying mechanics that make video games so compelling, can also help professionals develop into better team members, employees, managers and innovators in non-gaming environments.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is a workforce trend worth paying attention to. Great, but what is it? In the Pew Research Center’s study, The Future of Gamification, gamification is defined as “interactive, online design that plays on people’s competitive instincts and often incorporates the use of rewards to drive action.” Awards can be virtual (points), real (discounts, gifts) or status indicators (progress bars, ability to “level up”). These interactive design elements are powerful. The study reports that “such elements can cause feel-good chemical reactions, alter human responses to stimuli—increasing reaction times, for instance—and in certain situations can improve learning, participation, and motivation.”

Could this be all hype? Pew asked technology enthusiasts and stakeholders to make predictions about the future of gamification. Opinions were split with 53% agreeing about the prominent “game-changing” role it would play.  Pew points out that Gartner predicts 50% of corporate innovation will be “gamified” in the next two years and Deloitte referenced it as one of the top technology trends of 2012.

“Playbor (play plus labor) and weisure (work plus leisure) will be ubiquitous.” – P.J. Rey, managing editor of the Cyborgology blog, predicts.

How Play Can Increase Employee Engagement

Gallup released the results of a poll, which stated that 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from work. If game mechanics are indeed game changing, how can you use it with your teams? One way is to increase employee engagement.

Organizations share the goal of constant improvement and the desire to be at the top of their industry. Without employee engagement, this is impossible. Employees must be aligned with the organization’s mission in order to move beyond the status quo.  Computer games are designed to keep players in the game. By using similar incentives that motivate players to strive for the next level, work related games can inspire employees to reach for a higher level of performance and engagement. The design already exists; it is up to companies to implement it for the benefit of their organizations.

Play Leads to Increased Innovation

In Fast Company’s “How Serious Play Leads to Breakthrough Innovation,” Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence, says play allows for deeper engagement and creates the space for innovation. In his book, he writes: “When we play, we try things on and try things out. We improvise, taking on new roles, imagining what would happen if we possessed new capabilities or behaved differently. We throw away what doesn’t work and build on what does.” He also points out that you may lose a game or battle, but in play there is always a chance to start again.

We begin to see that games also teach flexibility and assertiveness. In the context of a game, employees feel at ease to speak their mind or explore new ways of solving a problem. Games and technology claim to facilitate this type of thinking, through something as simple as a room or space that serves as a design zone where creative thinking is encouraged.

How Leaderboards Increase Friendly Competition

Leader-what? A “leaderboard” is kind of like a scoreboard. It shows who is ahead, and by how much. There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, which is what leaderboards and achievement “games” accomplish, by allowing employees to compare themselves to others. Many apps focus on this element, such as Strava, where you track your runs and bike rides and challenge friends to beat your records.

Yammer released leaderboards to encourage experts to chime in more often and increase the resourcefulness of network activity for both the business using Yammer and Yammer itself. Everyone likes seeing their name in gold, right? Right, as long as the friendly competition stays friendly and does not create silos within the organization.

While incorporating game design into organizations can improve employee engagement, ultimately does this type of play help increase sales? Can it decrease costs? Will it help improve team collaboration? How are employees benefiting from their contributions? In the next few posts on gamification in business, I’ll look at organizations that successfully implemented games and play, and explore suggestions for using it internally to motivate and engage your own employees.

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