Gamification is an increasingly popular strategy being employed by everyone from charity organizations to Fortune 500 companies in order to engage their audiences and encourage desired behaviors. Despite its name, gamification is a distinctly serious business, expected to be worth nearly $3 billion by 2016.
Gamification in short
Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game systems. Some popular gamification elements include the awarding of experience points which allow people to progress through levels in the manner of a video game character, badges or other recognition of reaching predetermined milestones, and granting special privileges to users who perform certain actions or reach certain goals.
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The purpose of gamification is to guide human behavior by using the natural feedback mechanisms that exist in all of us. The satisfaction of achieving a goal, even an artificial one set by someone else, and the desire to compare favorably to others are both powerful motivators and are used extensively in gamification.
Real-world examples of gamification
In order to better understand gamification, it can be helpful to look at applied gamification strategies. An obvious example, and one most people are probably familiar with, is Twitter. When you visit someone’s Twitter account, one of the first things you see is a series of numbers showing information such as how many tweets the account holder has made, and how many followers that person has. The desire to gather something for its own sake is referred to as the “collection” mechanic. In the case of Twitter followers, there is an additional competitive aspect in that you can directly compare the number of followers you have to the number other people have. In an age when blogs, email, and instant messaging are available to almost everyone, why use a service like Twitter? One answer may be the gratification provided by having an easily quantifiable measure of your success and popularity and being able to easily compare yourself to others using an apples-to-apples metric.
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Badges and achievements are another popular gamification mechanic. Sites such as FourSquare award badges for participation, and give you the ability to put your achievements on display by showing your badges to visitors. This combines the game mechanic of awarding achievements with the collection mechanic. Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online console gaming service, makes extensive use of achievements. All Xbox Live online games include goals that award achievements for completion. When you view another player’s profile, one of the first things you will see is the total number of achievements that player has earned.
Directing people to a goal using gamification
Almost every complex task people take on is broken into multiple steps. You complete step 1, then move on to step 2, and so on. Gamification can be used to guide people toward large goals using incremental steps. For example, Weight Watchers Online has gamified weight loss. Losing 100 pounds is a daunting goal, and many people are overwhelmed by the task. Weight Watchers Online, which uses a points system to help dieters track their food intake, uses incremental goals and rewards to make a large task, such as losing 100 pounds, more manageable. The user of the Weight Watchers Online system is always working toward a small goal, such as losing 7 pounds, or repeating a healthy activity 5 times. By guiding the person from one small goal to another, larger goals are achieved almost as an afterthought.
Consider also organizations such as the Boy Scouts. By encouraging members to learn one skill at a time, and by rewarding that learning with badges and recognition, Boy Scouts learn large and valuable skill sets. The constant feedback and the achievement of incremental milestones keeps the members interested and makes the learning process fun and exciting. This strategy has served the Boy Scouts for over 100 years.
The future of gamification
Badges, points, and progress bars are already very popular. Gamification has been around for a long time, but has only recently become a field of its own. The term was coined in 2002 and has only reached widespread recognition in the last few years. As awareness of gamification spreads, expect to see more applications of gaming concepts in non-game contexts. The internet has allowed many businesses that might otherwise have been confined to local influence to compete on the global stage. This increased competition brings with it the need for innovative new ways to capture an audience and to connect with your customers, and gamification is an important tool in that arena.