Interview: Aaron Dignan, author of Game Frame, on what games can teach business owners...
What's the difference between a massively multiplayer online role-playing game such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and your job? An awful lot obviously - unless your workplace is routinely populated by goblins. But such details aside, the most obvious difference is surely that one is a game and the other is work.
Yet there is a surprising amount of crossover. Tasks, achievements and goals exist in the world of work, and in the Warcraft Universe. So what else sets WoW and work apart? Or to put the question another way, why isn't your job as engaging as a game of WoW is to one of its 12 million-plus subscribers?
It's questions such as these that US author Aaron Dignan sets out to answer in his book Game Frame, which explores why people are motivated to play games and how businesses can use game mechanics and behavioural tricks to engage employees and customers.
"[Playing games] feels more important to a person than completing their expense report at work because of the way the game system is structured," says Dignan.
"It's structured in such a way that it makes them feel powerful and important and special. At work we have that constant struggle with what's powerful and important and special about what we're doing - so that's why people rush home to get on their video game because they frankly feel like a more recognised and substantive member of society in some of these other settings. That's the problem I'm really raising a flag on right now.
"The idea of why we're so compelled by games isn't any one thing. It's not just the aspects of competition, or just the fact that they take us out of everyday life and make us a hero, or just the fact that they let us practise our skills - they let us put all that together so it's kind of the perfect catnip for our brain," he adds.
"It involves things from the world of behavioural economics and psychology and entertainment and so many other art forms that create this little apex."
Dignan is not alone: whether it's game designer Jane McGonigal's TED talk about how the world should be tapping into the skills of millions of gamers, or self-styled chief ninja Seth Priebatsch giving a keynote at SXSW on how to add a game layer on top of life to make it more exciting, gamification is the buzzword du jour.
This umbrella term encompasses a variety of techniques, often at their most potent when deployed in games, that games evangelists argue can bridge the disconnect described above: what makes games so addictive - and jobs so frequently disengaging?
Businesses should be looking at the world of work through the eyes of a game designer and reconfiguring its roles and processes so they tap the addictive power of games, says Dignan. They could sprinkle some of this magic engagement dust around the workplace to transform dull disengagement into glittering possibility and purpose, or turn a bland product into a living and breathing social phenomenon.
Internet companies such as Facebook, Foursquare, Google and Twitter are masters of putting game mechanics to work for them inside and outside their businesses but gamification is nothing new, says Dignan. He points out that the Boy Scouts movement has been...