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Thursday, 12th April 2012 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By James Mullan


Abstract:

It seems that nowadays everyone is talking about "gamification" in some form or another, whether that's libraries looking at how they can make services more "attractive" or organisations (enterprises) looking at how they can use the concept of gamification to engage with and motivate their employees. Gamification seems like the next big thing, but what is and what are some of the benefits and risks of using it within an enterprise.


Item:

It seems that nowadays everyone is talking about "gamification" in some form or another, whether that's libraries looking at how they can make services more "attractive" or organisations (enterprises) looking at how they can use the concept of gamification to engage with and motivate their employees. Gamification seems like the next big thing, but what is and what are some of the benefits and risks of using it within an enterprise.

What is gamification?

For anyone not familiar with the concept, gamification is the use of game design techniques and game mechanics, and it usually works by making technology more engaging. The best example of a technology that uses gamification is Foursquare. Foursquare is a location-based social networking website for mobile devices. Users "check-in" at venues using a mobile website or a Smartphone application by selecting a list of venues the application locates nearby. Each check-in awards the user points and sometimes "badges" if users have completed certain "tasks".

The gamification concept behind Foursquare is that users are rewarded for doing things that help promote a venue by checking into it; this might be through a discount when they next visit or a prize. In this context Foursquare has been gamified extremely well. Other examples of gamification would be an airline or supermarket loyalty programme, where customers are rewarded and recognised when they make a certain number of purchases.

There are also a number of very popular games within Facebook which use the gamification concept. Perhaps the most well known of these is FarmVille. Despite being quite boring (at least to outsiders) and repetitive millions of Facebook users spend hours farming fake crops. Why? Ultimately because players’ achievements and accomplishments lead to increased social status and become a part of their in-game identity.

The benefits for an organisation

It might on the face of it not seem obvious how gamification can be used within an enterprise. But gamification does have some potential uses. Within an enterprise gamification, at its simples,t is about designing business applications that incorporate the techniques and mechanics from game design to increase the adoption and use of new technologies. The theory is that if you can make a technology more engaging, ultimately you will encourage employees to master skills and complete tasks using that technology.

Gamification is also often perceived as a different way to increase employee engagement within an organisation. Usually this is done by assigning points to individuals when they reach certain goals, or when they undertake particular activities using new or existing technologies. This, in combination with a leader board which highlights the top competitors, can be a good way to encourage competition within an organisation and also to encourage other individuals to use the same technology.

An example of a technology that is already using gamification principles to some extent is Yammer. Within Yammer there is a leader board on which all users will appear. This displays the users who have created the most posts, been most liked and have been replied to most. Other collaborative software like Confluence and SharePoint will also now display who has created the most posts, added the most comments etc. Publishing leader boards showing this information could act as an incentive to increasing the quality and quantity of other users' contributions to these social networks.

The challenges

Naturally with any new concept there are some perceived risks. By far the most significant of these is that by encouraging individuals to think of using a new technology as part of a game you're going to deter them from using it. Calling a new technology a "game" also might do more harm then good and could perpetuate the common misconception that social networking is simply a drain on an organisation's time.

Another issue is that an organisation could start to encourage inappropriate behaviour. For example, an employee might be so determined to get to the top of a particular leader board that they spend hours and hours trying to do so and neglect other aspects of their job. Finally no one reward or prize is going to appeal to everyone in an organisation. A bonus might be very appealing to a large number of people, but applying that fairly across a large organisation could become difficult.

When it comes to gamification, we need to remember two things. It's not a magic wand so if employees don't like what they do or the tools that they have to use, turning elements of their work into a game isn't going to help. Finally encouraging the use of any new tool, and especially a social networking tool, within an organisation is a serious business and has the potential to deliver significant benefits. But calling it a game might not be the best way to encourage adoption.

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James Mullan has worked in the legal sector since 2001. He is an advocate of social media tools and has been talking about how these tools can be used by information professionals and organisations since 2005. James is a Past President of BIALL and in 2009 won the Wildy-BIALL Law Librarian of the year award for his use of social media tools. Outside of work James is a keen runner and maintains his own blog called "The Running Librarian". You can follow James on Twitter @jamesmullan6 or friend him on Facebook.

James can be reached at james.mullan@freepint.com

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