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Gamification: The Art of Turning Work Into Play

January 31, 2011 - 6 Comments

Gamification is a hot topic as of late and has seen marketing, education, and non-profit groups adopting the use of gamification concepts at a rapid rate. While some will say gamification is not true gaming and others see it as an unnecessary distraction, I think both groups may be missing the point. Before I dive into why I believe this let’s recap what gamification actually means and some real world exampled.

So what does gamification mean? According to Wikipedia it is defined as follows:

Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications (also known as “funware“), particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. It also strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, and by encouraging desired behaviors, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, or reading web sites.

Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners is credited with coining the term gamification and he recently participated in the first ever Gamification Summit (which sold out btw) that just took place 20-21 January in San Francisco. The chair of the summit was Gabe Zichermann, a self-described “gamification thought leader.” According to Gabe the biggest mistake someone looking at gamification can make is assuming it is all about prizes and rewards. In his opinion it should be about status, access, power, and then stuff. He says, “The heart of your game should be reach a higher-class tier and as a result getting more exclusivity in options, services and places available to your top players. Of course, people do like to get stuff, but status is a much better motivator over the long term.”

Some real world examples of gamification include:

Foursquare – Often heralded as the best example for gamification of social media

Quest to Learn – This NYC charter school says, “As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.”

Evoke – The goal of this social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems. According to Jane McGonigal, “”If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict and obesity, I believe we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week buy the end of the next decade.”

Wii Fit Plus and Your Shape Fitness Evolved for Kinect – Need I say more about the idea of gaming wellness?

So again I think naysayers are missing the point. Gamification takes activities that might be considered boring and, by layering game techniques, makes them engaging and highly motivating experiences. In my mind’s eye leveraging game approaches to disciplines like education or philanthropy will reignite interest and participation from a larger demographic and more importantly the next generation of our society. I call this a win, win scenario and don’t understand why anyone would say this concept should not be embraced and deployed widely. I say, game on folks!

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  1. Great overview Dannette. I can validate that I am seeing trends across both the INXPO client base (INXPO is a leading virtual business platform) and across my kids networks (they are 11 and 15). When the kids needs and the corporate enterprises intersect we know we have something big. I think that gamification and the needs of the digital assets will force marketers, trainers, communicators, designers, etc. to re-think all sorts of programs and communication methodologies. Key for mass adoption will be creation of solution that features: low cost, quick deployment, complete metrics, yet with appropriate level of customization and is simply fun to play! When this is found the role of gamification will start to change the way we work, learn and play. Thanks, Chris

    • Glad you liked the post Chris, Your comment about when the kids needs and corporate enterprises needs interest made me think of a post I wrote about a year ago, I think in addition to the key items you called out for mass adoption is the need for folks to understand that gamification doesn't mean you enable people to play a game but rather you overlay game mechanics to an experience. The more folks understand that game mechanics drive results we are looking for such as engagement, retention, and measurement of results the more it will be viewed as a viable alternative rather than adding 'fluff'. Regards, Dannette

  2. Dannette--great post. We are seeing game play in live events as well. From SCAVNGR to DoubleDutch to foursquare. The old "passport" program where attendees visit trade show booths to receive stamps on a card is now replaced with checking-in using a mobile app and getting rewarded for doing so. It will be the next big thing in the meetings and events industry. You post help to validate my thinking on that subject. --Michelle

    • Hi Michelle, Glad you enjoyed the post. I agree gamification of events is definitely getting a boost from technology. With mobile QR codes and augmented reality tools seeing more adoption I believe that gamification of events will grow beyond geo-location specific tools and create some very engaging opportunities for hybrid event attendees. Regards, Dannette

  3. Cool article! I've contributed to a site called that contains a lot of information on this subject.

    • Thanks Katherine, glad you enjoyed the post. I definitely have explored the site and recommend it highly for anyone researching this subject.