It’s the latest buzzword to appear in the digital world, but is it just another concept that will come and go? Or is gamification literally a ‘game changer’? Having previously looked at social gaming and the opportunities is presents to organisation, Scott Sinclair, from the UK MSS practice is sticking with ‘games’ and taking a look at Gamification, the core principles that need to be applied to make it successful and how some organisations are applying gamification to great effect.

So what is gamification?

For years, game designers have been able to incentivise and motivate players through the use of mechanics like points, leaderboards, levels, challenges, trophies, badges and status. In a business sense, gamification is the concept of integrating these game dynamics into your site, service, community, content or campaign to drive community participation. It works because it satisfies the fundamental human needs and desires of being rewarded, gaining status, earning achievements, self expression, competition and altruism.

Gartner have recently said that more than half of organisations that manage innovation will leverage gamification in some way in their processes by 2015, and by 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application.

Gamification core principles?

The science of gamification is extremely complex and goes deep into the psychology of motivation – if you are motivated to delve deeper into the topic of gamification, I highly recommend reading the blog of Michal Wu, principle scientist at Lithium or the blog of Jane McGonigal – a gamification evangelist who is trying to ‘fix’ the world with games.

I believe that in order to make Gamification work in business we must apply the following principles;



  • Reward active and valuable participation in the community. Many people in the past have made the mistake of trying to recognise users based on the number of contributions – but this leads to the wrong motivations with users posting for the sake of posting. Sometimes, the most influential contributors may only post when they have something significant to say




  • Encourage a sense of competition. Research has shown higher levels of achievement are reached in a competitive environment where a clear winner is rewarded – we only need to look at sport to attest this. The use of leader boards is a well recognised mechanism for displaying results within a community.




  • Continually motivate through challenging but achievable levels. Referred to by Jane Mcgonigal as the ‘epic win’ – an outcome that is so positive, the player had no idea that it was possible. It is continual challenge that keeps the community engaged.




  • Award the most valued participants with meaningful privileges. Whilst some are motivated by public status markers such as badges. The most dedicated members of a community, referred to as ‘superfans’, are motivated by having the authority to manage the forums or have privileged access to new products




  • Opportunity to express individuality through self expression. Everybody likes to demonstrate their unique personalities. This ties in to the human desire of showing off a sense of style, identity and personality. This can be achieved through the customisation of avatars, gear, personalised spaces with achievements awarded


And  what are the early adopters doing?

As with every ‘hot topic’ there are always early adopters, but gamification core principles have existed for years – the most obvious examples are  frequent flyer or hotel reward schemes. What has changed is the emergence of social platforms and mobile devices, freeing up more of our time to incorporate game mechanics into our daily lives.

Nike Plus App A great example of gamification directly influencing the behaviours of participants is Nike+ and iPod. They created an app and online social community that brings like minded people together – runners in this case – and created a game of tag. Members tag each other and ‘keep on running’ to avoid being ‘it’. Those who run the shortest distance become ‘it’, creating an incentive to keep running. Nike have taken what can be a challenging motivation and ‘gamified’ it to encourage more participation.

MyStarbucksIdea Another example is Starbucks who have created, an online community where fans of Starbucks share ideas that matter to them, and as Starbucks have said, help shape its future. Starbucks have implemented gamification principles through a leader board allowing users to earn points and recognition for suggesting the ideas that get the most votes. To date Starbucks fans have shared more than 75,000 ideas.

It’s not just retailers who are getting in on gamification, the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions created an innovation game to generate ideas from its 120,000 staff. The game was “Idea street” and introduced gamification to encourage participation. Within 18 months, 4,500 users have created over 1,400 new ideas.

The opportunities for businesses are tremendous – from having more engaged workforces and improving employee performance and knowledge sharing, to creating highly engaged communities of ‘superfans’ and crowdsourcing innovative new ideas from customers.

I believe gamification will be a ‘game changer’ in the digital world – what do you think?