Got Game? Businesses Leverage Game Mechanics to Drive User Behavior

Cover Story

Got Game? Businesses Leverage Game Mechanics to Drive User Behavior

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  November 12, 2012

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

Babies play on iPads. Preteens don’t remember life before the Wii. And Generation Y has been raised on a regular diet of broadband-enabled computers, smart mobile devices, and connected gaming systems like the DS and the Xbox. In fact, a 2011 MTV study revealed that members of Gen Y, which make up 25 percent of today’s workforce today, think a “game-like metaphor” can be applied to virtually every aspect of their lives.

Of course, electronic games are not an area of interest reserved exclusively for the younger set. People of all ages like to play free games online; the average age of a World of Warcraft player is in the mid 30s; and one recent report indicates the average online gamer is a 43-year-old woman.

Whatever the demographic, there are some 1 billion regular game players on the planet. That number is growing, and it’s never gotten smaller, notes Brian Blau, research director of consumer technology and markets at Gartner (News - Alert) Inc.

Electronic games have become so embedded in the human experience that many organizations are now working to leverage game mechanics – like avatars, leaderboards, online badges, and other rewards – in non-game environments to drive sales and user engagement, enhance learning, and increase productivity.

The Players & the Field

If you have heard about this kind of thing, which is commonly referred to as gamification, chances are good that the reference involved one of the following companies: Badgeville, BigDoor or Bunchball. These outfits are the big three Bs of gamification, says Blau. In addition to these pure-play gamification companies, there are several other companies, including social profile manager Gigya and cloud-based CRM pioneer Salesforce, that deliver gamification features related to their offerings. And there is at least one creative agency (Dopamine) that has popped up to help businesses implement programs that use gamification.

“It’s thought that [for] all of the vendors combined, there is maybe $200-$300 million in revenues, but the vendors neither confirm/deny [that], as they are trying to seem bigger than they really are,” says Blau.

Perhaps, but gamification appears to be poised for growth.

Gartner forecasts that by 2014, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application. And M2 Research forecasts the market will reach $242 million by the end of 2012 and hit $2.8 billion by 2016.

“Gamification is growing up from a hype into a significant business opportunity for gamification platform providers,” according to M2.

Businesses are using gamification to drive certain behaviors by customers and employees.

End User Engagement

For example, some TV shows invite viewers to get on their computers and participate in a community related to that show to drive engagement. in October of 2007 launched an audience engagement initiative leveraging gamification technology from Bunchball. Based on the NBC show The Office, a site called aimed to keep viewers interested in the show, especially between episodes and between seasons. Visitors would join the online community as employees of Dunder Mifflin (the name of the fictional paper company depicted in the TV show) and they would receive Schrute bucks (named after the character Dwight Schrute played by Rainn Wilson) for participation and submitting content.

Interestingly, this was also a revenue-generating site, which made money through ads for Toyota and promotions by other companies. MasterCard did a sponsorship on site, providing $200 Schrute cards to visitors that completed certain online tasks. The site also had a store at which visitors could use real dollars to buy virtual items (such as a model Toyota car) to customize their virtual desks on the site.

In another, and more recently, effort using gamification to build fan loyalty, the NFL has gamified Visitors earn coins for entering the site and doing other things like watching videos, reading articles and completing online challenges. Participants in the free NFL Fan Rewards program can then use their virtual coins to purchase actual NFL merchandise. Fans also collect badges and points, and are ranked on leaderboards, as part of the program, which is powered by BigDoor.

Gamification has also been embraced by mobile service provider Verizon Wireless (News - Alert), which retooled its community website with the help of Gigya and digital agency Modal. The Gigya Social Gamification Platform rewards users with badges for engaging with the site. That allows Verizon Wireless to encourage behaviors like commenting on articles and sharing that can draw referral traffic to the Verizon Insider site. The companies claim that Verizon Wireless has seen a big boost in website traffic as a result of this effort. More than 50 percent of the site’s users participate in gamified activities. And users who logged in via Social Login spent 30 percent more time on the site and generated 15 percent more page views than others.

Beth Tourek, social media strategist at Verizon Wireless, comments: “By allowing users to interact using their social identities, we’re not just engaging with them more effectively but also understanding them like never before.”

Several leading software companies also are using gamification to help train customers and, in the process, encourage use of their tools.

Microsoft built a gamification application called Ribbon Hero 2 into Microsoft Office. The goal of this effort is to motivate users to learn how to use Microsoft Office without creating the feeling that they’re going through training. “Ribbon Hero 2 takes users out of their normal ‘work mode’ and puts them in ‘explorer mode’, where it’s fun to discover new things, safe to fail, and where users feel accomplishment for having completed something hard,” according to a whitepaper by Bunchball, whose gamification technology powers the solution.

SAP is using Bunchball technology in the SCN Contributor Recognition Program, which is part of the SAP Community Network. Through this program users can earn points for every contribution they make – be it submitting content to the SCN, commenting on content, or otherwise sharing or collaborating on SCN.

Nitro for Salesforce, a platform that allows for online sharing, goal setting, competition and badge-based rewards related to sales, is also powered by Bunchball.

Bunchball founder and CTO Rajat Paharia tells INTERNET TELEPHONY that he started the company in 2005 as a social gaming platform, which he and his co-workers tried to sell to social network sites. But the market wasn’t ready for this solution, he says, so the company began looking for other opportunities. During this process, Paharia and his colleagues noticed that online games frequently would see a spike followed by a fall off in use. Paharia also noticed that the Internet gaming site Pogo had tied all its games into a fabric and enabled users to create avatars, accrue points and get badges as part of their missions. That made the Pogo experience incredibly engaging and kept users on longer and brought users back again and again, he says. That happened, he says, because the Pogo site involves goal setting, real-time feedback, and rewards, which are all things that appeal to people’s interest in of altrusism, competition, and self expression.

“Then we realized that you can tie any experience together – community, e-commerce, content – and can use it as a motivation engine to drive any behavior,” says Paharia.

The Gamified Workplace

Now Bunchball, its competitors and many organizations are applying that both to drive behavior by their customers as well as to reward certain behaviors internally within their own businesses.

Paharia says that Bunchball is building integrations with popular office programs from Adobe, IBM (News - Alert), Jive, Microsoft and Salesforce in an effort to help companies motivate their employees to sell more, collaborate more, better serve customers through contact centers, and adopt new software tools.

Badgeville announced integration with Salesforce earlier this fall. Called Badgeville for (News - Alert), the app is available via the AppExchange. According Badgeville and Salesforce, this solution can create a more dynamic experience for users that rewards their participation and recognizes them for their sales contributions; updates Salesforce records more regularly so managers can better gauge their sales performance and pipelines; surface and socialize key rewards in Salesforce Chatter to improve collaboration between sales teams and champion valuable user behavior; and grow revenue and reduce sales cycles.

And in June, Badgeville introduced a Microsoft SharePoint connector that identifies the most high value behaviors of users in SharePoint environments. That behavior can include document management (create, contribute); creating, editing, or contributing to a wiki page; starting or participating in a discussion thread; posting or responding to a blog; posting a comment on content (docs, wikis, blogs, discussion threads); viewing pages; rating content; voting on content; liking content; and/or tagging content. That way, organizations can keep tabs on who is using the Microsoft collaboration tool for what, and managers within those businesses can recognize employees that best contribute to such collaborative efforts and in the process encourage future behavior along these lines.

Technology from Badgeville, which recently closed a C series round of funding that brought in $25 million, is also used by such major companies as Dell, Deloitte, eBay (News - Alert), Samsung, and Universal Music.

Another company, True Office, offers a truly unique twist on gamification in the workplace.

The company has gamified compliance applications, which can run on mobile devices and desktop computers, explains Adam Sodowick, True Office founder and CEO. Targeted primarily at financial services organizations like banks, these apps are designed to train employees on the often complex issues related to compliance. Applications available include anti-bribery and corruption, diversity and inclusion, HIPPA, information and data security, and workplace discrimination prevention.

Organizations using True Office applications, which are designed in a scenario-based way, create a higher level of employee engagement and retention; help employees to better understand complicated laws and regulations; and can decrease risk by identifying the bottom 10 percent of employees who have the lowest levels of understanding about compliance, Sodowick says. True Office apps have been rolled out in beta at some of the world’s largest banks, data and IT security businesses, and companies in the pharmaceutical industry, he says, and the solution becomes generally available late this month (in November).

Driving certain behaviors in the workplace via gamification makes sense when you consider that 63 percent of employees say they are not fully engaged in their work, says Elise Olding, research director at Gartner, who refers here to a 2012 study by global professional services company Towers Watson.

Julie Gebauer, managing director of talent and rewards at Towers Watson says that when workers are not engaged it can lead to lower productivity, weaker customer service, and greater absenteeism and turnover rates.

“Without attention and interventions aimed at improving on-the-job support for employees and creating a sense of attachment to the organization, this trend could worsen – and directly affect business outcomes. Companies have known for years that employee engagement is important to business performance.”

Many of the above examples of how gamification is being used in the workplace have to do with motivating workers in office environments. But programs using gamification are also in place in other kinds of workplace situations, like at restaurants, notes Gartner’s Olding.

A restaurant called Not Your Average Joe’s is using Objective Logistics gamification technology to track how parameters such us how quickly food is served and customer satisfaction; motivate wait staff by giving them specific up-sell challenges (sell five appetizers within two hours, for example) and rewarding winners with the ability to pick their hours. Olding says the gamification effort is responsible for increasing sales by 1.8 percent and increasing gratuities across the chain by 11 percent.

Another company called Stella & Dot uses gamification to motivate and train the independent sales representatives that sell its jewelry. During training, sales reps create avatars, which the company recognizes with virtual rewards following various successes.

When creating programs that leverage gamification to drive certain behaviors it’s important to consider the culture of the organizations, departments and individuals being targeted by those efforts, Olding notes, adding that not everybody is motivated by the same things. Sales people tend to have very different interests and work styles as compared to, say, folks in R&D, who may not be comfortable having their names posted on a leaderboard, she adds.

Companies implementing gamification efforts also need to be sure to design programs so people can’t game the system. It’s also important, she says, to plan for different iterations of activities to avoid user burnout.

“I don’t see a lot of organizations planning for iterations, and looking for game fatigue, and designing with that cheater in mind,” she says.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi


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