“We do not stop playing because we grow old, but we grow old because we stop playing”. So said Benjamin Franklin, possibly foreseeing today’s ultra-competitive 24/7 business world from his 18th century outpost in the newly-founded United States of America. The emotional and psychological benefits of playing games were recognized even before Franklin’s time, and companies are increasingly enrolling their staff in a new process known as gamification.
At its core, gamification involves learning by playing computer programs or online applications, which can subtly inform and motivate without being overly prescriptive. There is a growing attempt by forward-thinking companies to engage their workforces in light-hearted (yet effective) gaming techniques, to learn about existing patterns of behavior, and how to influence it positively in the future.
While the concept of a game about pensions might sound fairly improbable, Kingfisher (the parent company of B&Q and Screwfix) recently launched an app that encourages staff to think about their pension plans – or lack thereof – in a scrolling platform game reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog. With addictive gameplay and a high-score leaderboard, the workforce has been hugely engaged. More importantly, Kingfisher soon recorded a 20% rise in the number of employees putting the maximum contribution into their pensions.
Successful gamification encourages learning and alters opinions almost without the participants realizing. The massively successful Dumb Ways to Die franchise is a fine example, created by an Australian train company to improve passenger safety and reduce accidents. Allied to a catchy song and some fairly ludicrous death-avoidance mini-games, this cartoon classic remains one of Android Play’s 30 most popular downloads, despite being launched back in 2013. It’s also led to reductions in dangerous behavior and near-misses at Melbourne train stations – the app’s primary objective.
One of the accusations wrongly leveled against gamification is its supposed focus on encouraging competitiveness, yet this is largely an inaccurate belief. Dumb Ways to Die certainly has the addictiveness of all classic platform games, but every challenge is subliminally reinforcing the idiocy of dangerous acts like jumping into train carriages or sticking forks into toasters. Indeed, leaderboards and bragging rights are merely tools that underpin gamification’s focus on collecting information and challenging behavior.
Gamification is now being used everywhere from job interviews (to determine skills and patterns of behavior) through to training seminars (where leadership dynamics and competitiveness can be assessed). It provides a fairly unambiguous analysis of performance in a neutral context, and it can deliver illuminating feedback on anything from lateral thinking to key performance indicators. A well-planned game can identify unique skillsets, and potentially highlight differences between otherwise well-matched colleagues.
Obviously gamification shouldn’t be introduced without a focus and purpose. Bespoke game creation isn’t cheap, though costs can be offset by making the product available to the general public in due course, either for a modest fee or with paid advertising. Any game feedback should be harvested by analytics software, such as new hardware that can be play-tested to identify potential bugs or conflicts. As long as the gaming element doesn’t overshadow the project’s original intention, gamification can benefit everyone. That’s a rare feat in business, which is partly why this concept is becoming so influential in companies around the world.