After my freshman year of college, I worked a summer job at an ice factory that involved grabbing large bags of ice off of a conveyer belt and stacking them onto pallets. When stacking the bags, each one needed to be placed a certain way or else the pallet would topple. To speed up time, I kept track of how many bags I placed flawlessly on the pallet without having to adjust them. From pallet to pallet, I would see if I could make improvements. If perfection was achieved for one entire stack, I would work to replicate it on the next. It wasn’t the most exciting contest, but it made my days fly by and I ended the summer with a good chunk of change saved up.
What I was subconsciously doing at the ice factory was gamifying my work process. I didn’t understand this at the time, but I used the strategy of gamification—“the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solves problems and engage audiences,” as Wikipedia defines it—as a way to bolster my morale, increase my productivity, and focus on the details of my job, as basic as they may have been.
This is a strategy that has been commonplace in the business world for some time now with the use of loyalty programs, project management, and company wellness initiatives. Gamification is picking up more steam today with the growth of Foursquare and it’s use of badges and points, health and wellness smartphone applications and their ability to set goals and track progress for individuals, and even the influencer measurement technology Klout, which rewards higher scores with ‘perks.’
Why gamification deserves the attention of not only marketers, web designers, and public relations professionals, but businesses and governments as well is that gamifying everyday tasks and services has the capacity to have positive motivation effects on how we live. In 2011, gamification garnered criticism as a buzzword. But contrary to this, it’s becoming a reality that the implantation of these design techniques can influence how we can live greener lives, spend/save money, and gather socially. We see this taking place with Foursquare and Klout on the social front; in the green lifestyle category with GreenPocket, an energy usage tracker application, and Recyclebank, an online platform that rewards people for making environmentally sound decisions; and, on the financial side with ReadyForZero, a debt aggregator that helps you figure out the best way to payoff each one.
Research agency PSFK has released a report titled The Future of Gaming detailing how gamification works, how it is currently being used, and how institutions can go about implementing its elements to solve problems and achieve goals. The reality is that gamification is certainly a buzzword, but it is one worth exploring because it carries merit that when used properly, it can integrate the social sciences with personal incentives to improve customer relationships, community services, and everyday tasks.
The people who only see gamification as a lowly buzzword have not given it its just dues. There’s much to consider when pondering the importance of instilling this method into organization environments. If you’re uncertain about its effectiveness, take 11 minutes and watch the video below from gamification and user experience/user interface expert Catherine Aurelio. If you’re still uncertain, take the leap and experiment with the design techniques internally first. If 2011 was any indication, gamification is certainly something you’re going to see more of in 2012.