The Way We Work
January 18, 2012 by Julia Camenisch

From senet – a game played by Pharaohs in ancient Egypt – to the more modern phenomenon of Monopoly, games have a powerful draw. And now they are being partnered with business objectives. Yes, it is the hot startup buzzword of 2012: “Gamification”.

If the pairing of “business” and “games” immediately conjures thoughts of time wasted on Farmville, then it is time for you to take a second look. Gamification is all about injecting fun, recognition and/or competition into otherwise standard business relationships – using game-like techniques to motivate employees and customers to help you reach your goals.

Why should you care? People will alter their behavior based on the rewards they receive for doing so. Case in point: Foursquare. Millions of people now make a point to “check-in” at a location just so they can receive rewards in the form of badges and mayor status. These rewards are mostly intangible and valueless, but have still persuaded a whole class of smartphone users to strive to achieve them. That is the power of games.

The Anatomy of a Game

As noted above, do not let the term “game” throw you. Using gamification in your business is about figuring out what you want to accomplish, and finding something that will motivate your audience to help you reach those goals. This has been used for years in the sales industry – high performers are often rewarded with cash, vacations and other desirable prizes.

How could this work for you? Here are a few game-style elements you could incorporate into your business model:

  • Levels: Reward your customers in greater increments as they achieve new “levels” of status. A great example of this is how Starbucks awards their customers an increasing amount of perks the more they frequent the store.
  • Progression:  Show a status bar or some other progress indicator so people can see how much they have left to do before they reach the desired end. LinkedIn makes use of this technique by using a progression bar to show how much information you have added to your profile.
  • Status: Everyone likes to know that they have value. For some, status in their community – whether online or off – is an incredible motivator. Many forums use this system by giving increased status to users who contribute most to the community.
  • Time Limit: Base user rewards on their completing certain tasks within a pre-determined time limit. Certain airlines make use of this by requiring customers to fly on a regular basis in order to keep the reward miles they have accrued with them.
  • Loss Aversion: Motivate your audience not by rewards but instead by withholding penalties. This can include the threat of losing membership if they do not log-in within a certain period of time, or loss of status in an online community if they let their participation drop off.

There are many more of these types of game mechanics that can be applied to your business. Learn more about them on the wiki at Gamification.org.

Getting started

Are you intrigued by the potential of gamification but at a loss as to what your next steps should be? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my objectives? Game elements should not be instituted haphazardly. Instead, figure out what it is you want people to do. Then evaluate which of those goals would most benefit from gamification.
  • What would most appeal to my target audience? There is a big difference between what motivates a risk taker versus a more cautious personality. Take time to figure out what rewards would mean the most to your customers; if they dislike it, you could do more harm than good.

For more information, have a look at these resources:

Now it is your turn. What do you think about gamification? Do you agree that it is the next big thing, or is it another overhyped startup idea? Contribute your thoughts in the comments section below.


Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.