Can games really change the business world?Gamification? What's that got to do with business?
Ahha, an excellent question. Gamification is the use of mechanics found in games to influence behaviour in everyday life, and in the business arena it is gaining traction as a method of attracting customers or motivating staff.
The idea is simple: how can we make life as much fun as looting dungeons for treasure or waging a one-man war in the latest blockbuster video game?
The answer it seems is to take the regular cycle of rewards and other mechanics that make video games so compelling and build them into everyday tasks or problems that need solving.
At the same time modern technology is providing the tools and information needed to transform our lives into gamified services - thanks to smartphones that can track our movements or count our steps and social networks that allow us to rate ourselves against our peers in minute detail.
Businesses have been using simple game mechanics to lure customers for years - for example, retail and airline loyalty schemes that reward customers with points in return for purchases.
But businesses today are employing new game mechanics such as competition and are learning how to disguise the commercial motives at the heart of their games.
Brian Burke, VP of research for enterprise architecture at analyst house Gartner, said: "There is potential value in applying gamification techniques to any industry where you want to change behaviour or seek a higher level of engagement of any key stakeholder group.
"It could be customers or employees. Its [reach] is tremendously broad."
How are businesses using game mechanics?
A big draw of many business services is the social aspect, as people use these games to compete for achievements on social networks such as Facebook and location-tracking services such as Foursquare.
For example, the gamified service offered by coffee chain Starbucks, where Foursquare users are rewarded with discounts and badges for repeat visits to its stores. For some users the kudos derived from racking up more barista badges than their friends is motive enough to use the service.
Other schemes place a greater emphasis on providing financial rewards to their customers, such as the service offered by car rental company Avis, which gave users discount vouchers when they checked in at Avis outlets on Foursquare or Facebook’s location-tracking service, Facebook Places.
However, other businesses are using game mechanics and social platforms to do more than simply reward customers for visiting their outlets.
In the US, drinks company PepsiCo and retailer Safeway paired up to provide a service based on Foursquare that offered different rewards to users based on their lifestyle, as determined by the locations they visited. For instance, regular users of a gym were rewarded with a Foursquare Gym Rat badge and a SoBe Lifewater energy drink.
This approach represents a more ambitious use of gamification, beyond just getting customers in store, focusing on creating a positive link with the PepsiCo and Safeway brands by rewarding everyday behaviour.
Is that all game mechanics are good for, selling the odd cup of coffee?
No, game mechanics can also help organisations to tap into the collective brainpower of their customers and staff.
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