Gamification is serious business

It’s a beautiful summer day and you’re in your Volkswagen with the windows down, driving around the suburbs of Stockholm. But you’re exceeding the speed limit. That’s a shame — the Swedish National Society for Road Safety in Stockholm has already started their Speed Camera Lottery program, and you just made someone else’s day.  

The Swedish road safety program was started in early 2011 as an attempt to make more drivers obey speed limits. Cameras take pictures of drivers while measuring their speed, and if your car is over the limit, you will have to pay a fine. However, in this unique program, even drivers going below the speed limit are photographed, and these safe drivers are entered into a lottery to win the money paid as fines by the speeders. In the first three days that this program was tested, taking pictures of almost 25,000 cars, the average speed dropped by 22%. Focusing on positive reinforcement (lottery) instead of negative reinforcement (fines) had dramatic results. And this was all because of Sweden’s intentional use of gamification. 


How many players?

A growing number of organizations are motivating people by using gamification. Gamification is the use of game mechanics to engage people and communities and to motivate them to complete actions that they may not normally perform. By understanding human psychology and what motivates people, you can apply mechanics that drive desired behaviors. According to Gabe Zichermann, CEO and founder of Gamification Co and chair of the Gamification Summit, gamification usually consists of three Fs: fun, friends and feedback. Gamification is not about making something into a game; it is about making something feel like a game.

Large organizations are currently using gamification to promote their brand, drive sales or engage customers. But many have found benefits in gamifying their employee training programs too. Siemens’ Plantville, SAP’s ERPsim and IBM’s INNOV8 are just a few examples put forth by Forbes Global 2000 companies that have shown documented improvements in learning and knowledge retention during training by converting the process into a form of a game. This is a relatively new concept, but it is growing, and quickly. There are examples of gamified processes everywhere, and analysts predict that the rate of adoption will continue to rise. Gartner Inc., a leading technology research firm, claims that 50% of all organizations will innovate through gamification by 2015. Gartner also believes that larger companies will recognize the value of gamification first, calculating that 70% of Global 2000 businesses will apply gamification in the next three years, while most small businesses will not.

We are not talking about small money, either. M2 Research calculates that gamification will grow from $100 million in 2011 to $2.8 billion in 2016. Everyone is not going to use gamification in the next few years, nor is it appropriate for every organization — but expect to see much more of it in the near future. 


Choose your weapons

Gamification is taking the best of games and applying their feel and motivations to purposes other than games. Game mechanics are rules or constructs that guide how elements of a game, including players, will interact. Many of these mechanics can also be powerful tools outside of games, and thus the rise of gamification. You are already familiar with some of these mechanics, such as bidding. Others, like discovery, are less obvious, though people love to explore or be surprised with new things. Countdowns are also often used as a constant reminder of a pending deadline, leading to increasingly frenzied activity as time runs out. Similarly, progress bars are a constant reminder of how much users have accomplished, and how close they are to reaching their ultimate goal.  

Aside from a long list of game mechanics, game theory can also be applied. Much research has been done on gaming, games and the people who play them. There are four basic player types: achievers, socializers, explorers and killers. These four types of key motivation can be exploited by gamification because it is based on behavioral psychology. Other concepts such as cascading information theory and Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s flow theory do not have their origins in gaming, but game design has developed and expanded on them. Gamification now takes advantage of the game version of these ideas also. 

One effective and common tool is points. Collecting, managing and spending points has numerous possible applications. Having the highest score, or the most points, is a form of status. Points can also be part of a resource management system, where points are used to buy items or actions of high value to the users, even if they do not have high dollar value. Users should want to earn points. Then the agency just needs to offer points for behavior that it wants the person to engage in, while continuously reminding the participants how many points they have, and how many they need for various purchases. 

Leader boards are a classic example of points creating a hierarchy of status. Already used by some sales teams, sales people earn points for each success in their pipeline. This can be actual completed sales transactions or it can include some presale tasks. Sales people are usually already earning a commission, but the leader boards provide status to some, while attempting to bring out a friendly sense of competition in everyone.  

Aside from status, companies could allow employees to redeem points for rewards. Rewards should be unrelated to work — for example, gift certificates, spa days or small electronics. Hard work and earning points becomes positively reinforced with fun benefits. Do not arbitrarily give out points, as this could undermine the system or even patronize the receiver. People need to assign value themselves to the points by knowing that they truly earned them.  

One example of resource management and points is the language learning website Livemocha. You begin learning a specific language at the entry level, and at the end of each level, you complete exercises in your target language. Before you can move on to your next level, though, you have to correct the exercises of other users who are studying your native language. Each exercise you review earns a certain amount of credit, and when you earn enough credit you are allowed to advance to your next level. This process of requiring one user to review and send feedback to other users creates a collaborative system of feedback. It uses points to motivate people to perform necessary tasks, which Livemocha’s employees would otherwise have to perform by themselves. 

Collaboration can also be a powerful tool in gamifying a production staff. Much of the marketing we see today implies that collaboration is a new business approach, but for years we have all talked about our “teams.” Teamwork, of course, is social in nature, making it a powerful motivator. In fact, David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work and director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, said “social interaction is addictive because it activates the rewards center of our brains.” Social activity can be a stress-reliever, even if it is used for work itself. We all worry about how much productivity we lose to Facebook or Twitter, but production teams can chat in groups without ever leaving their desks. While continuing to work, employees can discuss a project with each other, with supervisors or even with vendors.


Build your team

Gamification is in large part about motivation. In business, most of us assume that money is needed to motivate. But the research just doesn’t support that. According to Zichermann, there are four features central to a successful gamification process: rewards, creating a hierarchy, building a network and providing a challenge. Even Abraham Maslow suggested in his triangle of needs that money was not the most important motivator of employees once baseline salary needs have been met. 

Microsoft uses gamification to motivate employees to perform tasks that are not part of their normal job duties. Staff not in the quality assurance department can perform bug testing tasks for rewards. Multilingual employees can also contribute better translations on localized content for rewards. After providing this extra work, the employees are given recognition rewards or certificates, or they receive direct benefits such as short-term use of a more desirable parking space. These accomplishments are also posted publicly to provide additional status and to motivate non-contributing peers. 

Gamified networks of people can be collaborative or competitive. It is easy to assume that most game players are motivated by competition, but studies by Richard Bartle and Jon Radoff show that only about 5% of players focus mainly on competition, while about 75% of players are concentrated on collaboration. The component that drives people is the meaningful social interaction that both collaboration and competition can create. Many business applications are collaborative. They use cloud-based networks to allow teams to work together in real time. But competition has its benefits too, as evidenced by organizations that have used crowdsourced competitions to complete tasks and to generate ideas. The people who thrive on competition will often respond to such an environment by rising to leadership roles. Naturally, people are different and respond differently to each model, though it is possible to combine the two models, where a team collaborates to compete against a common competitor. 

For example, in New York City, the CEO of tech firm Next Jump, Charlie Kim, decided to bring his personal passion for fitness to his staff. He built gyms in each of his offices and created an application that employees could use to check in and track their workouts. A cash prize was offered to the top achievers. But Kim knew that he could raise the 12% rate of regular gym usage. He allowed employees to form teams and work together to compete against each other. Leader boards tracked team progress, and prizes were awarded along with status. Participants encouraged or received encouragement from other team members. This shift to a social approach to competition allowed employees who were not top achievers to still feel as if they could win. The rate of regular gym usage quickly jumped to 70%, consequently lowering employee absenteeism and long-term insurance costs, as well as raising overall morale and staff cohesiveness. 


Select a mission

Gamification aims to solve problems or achieve goals. Which goals could translation and localization companies try to accomplish with gamification?  Perhaps you want more vendors to register in your online database, or for the vendors already in it to update their information regularly. With a points system, vendors could earn a large number of points as a signing bonus, and they could earn points or rewards each time they log in to update or verify their profile information. Rewards do not need to be points, though. Be creative. Perhaps they earn marketing. Each time the vendor updates its profile, your system automatically sends an e-mail to the company project managers reminding them that this vendor is available for work. 

Do you have difficulty finding vendors for a certain language or with special expertise? Existing vendors could earn points or rewards by referring other linguists. You should have specific criteria, however, that referrals must meet. If they qualify, the current vendor earns a reward. 

Using tokens and the capture concept can manage vendor performance. When vendors start working with your company, they are assigned a set number of tokens in a few categories. These could be quality, meeting deadlines, following directions and so on. Each time a vendor does not meet agency expectation in a category, a token is captured, like a chess piece could be captured. But the vendor is able to rescue lost tokens through some action such as excellent performance in that category on the next project. The vendor’s profile in your online database could display how many tokens it currently has, and remind the company of what it needs to do to win the token back. If this sounds like a vendor rating system, it is. But instead of simply giving out ratings, this gamified approach reminds the vendors how they can improve their rating and motivates them to do so. 

I have had conversations recently with owners of other language service providers about the need for continuous teaching and training of employees, especially in production. Most employees learn what they are required to during their original training, but once they feel comfortable handling their basic job description, the motivation to keep learning disappears. After that, existing staff typically only study something when it is required to complete their actual work. As owners and managers, however, we know that the more each employee learns, the more collective knowledge the company has.  

Your company can also use quests in an ongoing system of risk and reward. Each quest is a learning sequence, framed as a short adventure. Successful completion could involve a report to a supervisor, or maybe a presentation to other staff about what the person learned. But the criteria for successful completion must be clearly defined. Examples of such quests could be studying a specific font input system, learning the basics of specialized software, or creating a guideline for how to distinguish and identify similar languages. It could even be a problem that the company needs to solve but no individual wants to be burdened with the task of dealing with. Any documentation an employee creates can become part of a quest for another employee later. 

Why would an employee try to complete one of these quests when they already have plenty of work to do? Rewards. Your staff is not required to try any of these, but if they do, they could earn something for their efforts. What kind of rewards? That depends on you and your company culture. In his book Gamification by Design, Zichermann identifies the strongest types of rewards with his acronym SAPS: status, access, power and stuff. 


Are you ready to play?

So how do you start implementing these features and gamifying your organization? Wait just a second. Like any other process you add to your business, you need to do it wisely. Know what you are trying to accomplish. Have goals. Decide if gamification can help you achieve them. Determine which game mechanics or processes will move you toward those goals, and just as with any other business investment, measure your progress to evaluate the return on investment and general success. 

When you do decide to apply game mechanics, do not just copy what you see around you. Be original and remember your intent. You cannot copy what everyone else is doing and then call it innovation. The ubiquitous example today is badges, which are used to show a person’s status or achievements. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America successfully use badges to give the individual a sense a pride by showcasing each of their accomplishments. Today, badges are a very commonly used form of gamification. Many experts believe that they are over-used, in fact. They can still be valid, but do not use them just because you see them everywhere. They may not be relevant to your specific goals, and they still have to be applied properly. 

I am not an expert at gamification, so do your own research. I also recommend that you contact an expert before you gamify any part of your business. Gamification is not a task that you complete, it is an ongoing process that you will need to incorporate, monitor and adjust. Companies such as Bunchball, Badgeville, Dopamine or RedCritter can help you identify your goals, choose the best mechanics to apply and teach you how to manage continued use. 

Some people claim that there is nothing new about gamification and that it is just the reorganization of old concepts under a new buzzword. I personally disagree. But even if that were true, so what? The recent rise of gamification brings a variety of solutions to our attention that most of us were not previously aware of. And right now, there are more resources than ever, making it easier to find information and experts for these types of solutions. 

So consider gamification for your business. You will be forced to understand your clients, staff and vendors better by learning what motivates each of them. You could improve your business, and you might even have some fun along the way.