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Gamification: Making Fun a Reality

You should know that I absolutely love video games; I have my entire life. Other than music, games are my primary source of entertainment. I’m not alone, though: two years ago a study showed that over 64 percent of Americans play video games. This year, thanks in part to the rise of casual gaming and smartphone platforms, the video game industry is expected to pull in around $74 billion.

The success of video games as a form of entertainment has placed them directly into modern culture, and this success hasn’t gone unnoticed. As businesses and societies continue to seek answers to problems from the boardroom to the classroom, they’re increasingly turning to games for solutions. The concept is simple: turn boring ol’ reality into an exciting game! This is known as “gamification”, or the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems.

So, what is a game? All games share 2 basics elements: goals and obstacles. Good games provide clear goals to the player, and design an experience around achieving those goals. However, easy games aren’t fun, so obstacles are put between a player and the goal. Obstacles provide ideal opportunities to engage the player. Consider the basic elements of a story: every great story has conflict, or obstacles, that the characters must overcome. Stories are often most exciting, most engaging, during the largest conflicts. From this basic structure, games have developed mechanics such as points, badges, levels, challenges, and leaderboards that measure and validate progress, and ultimately encourage players to game-on!

So what does that actually look like? Personally, I have an almost daily encounter with a “gamified” brand/product: Starbucks! After registering my Starbucks card, Starbucks shows me a bar of “points”, in the form of stars, to track my progress. Stars are earned every time I make a purchase. Once I’ve earned 5 stars, I get to advance to the green level. This level rewards me with free refills on coffee/tea and free syrups/milks. Once I get to 30 stars, I reach the gold level, and I start earning free drinks!

The workplace is another area poised for change by gamification. Many of the same mechanics that drive video game players to accomplish in-game tasks also drive employees to do better work. While sales teams have been using game design mechanics for years in the form of sales competitions (a ranked posting of total sales for each employee on the wall for all others to see), many HR departments have begun experimenting with “XP bars” showing the progress to a raise/promotion, or public recognition of completed tasks to encourage employees to go the extra-mile.

Below is a presentation recently given to Google by Gabe Zichermann, author of the book Game-Based Marketing and Chair of the Gamification Workshops and Summit. If you are even remotely interested in how games are changing our world, I highly encourage you to check out this video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O1gNVeaE4g]

By focusing on the ways that gaming and entertainment technologies engage us, we can develop methods that help shape behavior and facilitate life-long learning.

– Robbie Wanamaker

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