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Gamification the name of the game

A new highly engaging generation of software has the power to super-charge any organisation’s worker productivity. John Jones explains the how and the why.

‘Gamification’ might just sound like another one of those hyped-up buzz words bubbling out of wide-eyed techies extolling their magical Gen-Y answers to yet more problems that once didn’t even seem to exist. And, in all honesty, that can be quite a fitting description when the concept’s taken to extremes.

But for business leaders willing to chew the meat and spit out the bones, there are some genuinely revolutionary insights in gamification that have the power to super-charge organisations’ productivity.

The key factors behind this potential are pretty well encapsulated by a few words – such as fun, enjoyable, motivating, visual, intuitive and meaningful. You see, if we look back, for many decades making games and making ‘serious’ software were totally different worlds, but a simple observation had to be made; games are more fun.

In very straight forward terms, people pay to play games but usually have to be paid to use the serious software. So games clearly have something that Microsoft Excel, email programs, and even New Zealand’s beautiful Xero do not. That something is massive engagement, and this kind of engagement is probably the most precious element known to mankind. With it, human beings have conquered mountains, established empires, overcome impossible hardships and created stunning works of art, technology, and construction, which at times, have almost seemed superhuman. On the flip side, without engagement, human beings can easily turn into lifeless sponges that suck the energy out of everything else around them.

So is gamification, especially when related to staff engagement, just another tick-box to add to some utopian wish-list, or does it contain real magic?

Let’s start by uncovering what gamification is, some ways that it can be applied and how it relates to this powerful quality: ‘engagement’.

Wikipedia says that “Gamification commonly employs game design elements which are used in so called non-game contexts in attempts to improve user engagement”.
Although this can include things like scoring, competition and game-like scenarios, some of the more commonly applied elements are to do with visualisation, intuitive touch (or mouse) interaction, simplification of concepts and applying game-like rules to controlling the flow of operations.

As an example, some of the innovative new products we’re building for clients, while still enabling increased efficiency and information access (which software has long been about), are also bringing day-to-day operations into a visual, touch and intuitive experience that workers themselves love.

When truck drivers can see a picture of their truck with loading information overlaid across it, the meaning is obvious and the experience is both natural and interesting. When they have to complete simple tasks to move to the next stage there’s a tinge of achievement reminiscent of getting to the next level in a game, especially if the odd “awesome” or “nailed it” can be woven in.
As another example, when a contractor on a construction site can simply pan and zoom around building plans using natural gestures on a tablet, touch points of interest and enter information rapidly with predictive text; when he can snap a photo that self-attaches, print a label to a Bluetooth printer hooked up to their belt, then ping the report to the client at the touch of a button, suddenly hours of tedious paperwork and label writing are not only greatly reduced but turned into something quite enjoyable.

To add another layer of motivation to this, staff could be set up to gain scores on every piece of info recorded and the highest scorers in a company could receive rewards, or their activity could be directly linked to performance bonuses. When technology enables a micro analysis of exact worker activity, which is then linked to pay, incredible things happen. We know of a forklift driver under such a scheme, who in his early 20s was earning enough to buy a late model Corvette, put himself through flying school and still have plenty of money to play with. Lucky guy, yes, but the incentive scheme was no doubt weighted to benefit his employers even more.

Power, control and purpose
The true secret of gamification is that it’s not only about the obvious qualities of being prettier, easier and more visual, but that it also draws on deeper sciences such as Daniel Pink’s psychological self-actualisation factors of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Software that creates a sense of power and control; that provides scope for purposeful achievement in a way that is deeply connected to our real world; that’s cool, easy to use and knocks down barriers rather than putting them in our way – that’s the kind of software anyone can work with all day without dropping into a state of data-induced hyper-boredom. And this is a key point about engagement, that it’s not just about profits; it’s about people’s lives and the state of mind that they spend them in. Businesses need to make money, but there’s no small satisfaction in seeing people happier and more fulfilled in their work as well. That’s next level ROI.

So while gamification isn’t likely to be the entire answer to engagement encapsulated in one silver bullet, within it there are insights that have real power to unleash human potential by making the world of technology and computers fall into sync with us, rather than trying to press us into the mould of machines.
 

Publishing information
Magazine Issue: NZBusiness December 2015
Page Number: 42