Will gamification be short-lived in the enterprise due to unrealistic expectations? Not if done correctly, say industry experts. In fact, they said gamification not only belongs in the workplace but, ultimately, it will thrive.

Gamification is one of those industry buzzwords gaining in popularity. First coined in 2002 by British computer programmer and inventor Nick Pelling, gamification is the “use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems.”

Gamification measures and rewards high-value behavior using data-driven motivational techniques, according to Rajat Paharia, founder and chief product officer of gamification solution provider Bunchball. Gamification is often used in applications and processes to improve user engagement and return on investment.

In the consumer space, gamification is much different from traditional customer-loyalty programs, according to Brian Burke, analyst at Gartner Research. “Most loyalty programs [offer simple] payback schemes: Customers are rewarded for repeat business, and the vast majority of customers use loyalty programs simply for the rewards; the reward is the goal. Gamification engages people at different level and motivates them to achieve their personal goals, and most often, there is no tangible reward.”

While gamification has the potential to be game-changing by encouraging positive behaviors, it also has the potential to fall flat on its face if seen as just a cynical move to manipulate behavior, according to Carter Lusher, independent industry analyst (and former chief analyst of enterprise applications at Ovum Research).

Gamification efforts can also fail if companies have false or misguided expectations about what it can do for them. “There are a lot of potential pitfalls in gamification,” said Burke. “But the most common are not focusing on player objectives, not having clearly defined business objectives, and implementing incentives and rewards that fail to truly engage the players.”

If companies don’t heed this advice, their gamified applications could end up failing. In fact, back in November 2012, Gartner Research predicted that, “by 2014, 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives, primarily to poor design.”

Lastly, even though it has many potential benefits, gamification could become just another distraction in the workforce if employees don’t use the gamified application as the company intended. If a company wants to gamify one or more of its applications, experts said there are a number of issues that must be considered carefully when designing a gamified solution.

“Gaming the system, forced participation and adding work to the work are just a few of the potential problems,” said Burke. “My advice is to anticipate these potential problems and to spend the time to design solutions that avoid them.”
The benefits and pitfalls of gamification
The potential benefits from gamification are great if implemented properly and are not limited to a particular type of company or industry sector, experts said. “Gamification can be used to change behaviors, develop skills or drive innovation across broad ranges of audiences,” said Burke. “Given the vast number of uses of gamification, most companies can benefit from gamification. The only real limiting factor is that the audience must be large enough to make developing a gamified solution viable.”

Additionally, experts said that the effectiveness of gamification is not bound to age. “Gamification is not about video games; it is about motivation,” said Burke. “And people of all ages can be motivated to achieve their goals.”

Big Data and gamification
Gamification techniques use Big Data to analyze the behavior of employees or customers in order to motivate users to do more of whatever the company wants them to. “But I don’t think there is a causal relationship between big data and gamification,” said Burke. “Gamification is one example of a source of new information assets that enable the kind of enhanced insight and decision-making that is characterized by Big Data. In some cases, gamification represents an example of Big Data, but gamification did not evolve because of Big Data.”

But would gamification even have been possible without the rise of Big Data and the ability to analyze user activity? Probably not, according to Paharia. “People often ask me why is gamification happening now, why didn’t it happen earlier?” he said.

“Loyalty programs have been around for years. So, with loyalty 3.0, it’s basically taking that lens and saying, you know what, this stuff has been around for a very long time, if you use the word loyalty. But what’s actually happened is the rise of data and the fact that, in the past, the only things that companies were really measuring were transactional purchase data. And they were only measuring it from the consumers.

“But now you have all this other data. Every time somebody shares a link, posts a Facebook status update, buys a video, all that kind of stuff, it’s all there and it can not only be used by your customers, but by customers, partners and employees who are all interacting and living in your systems. So, the reason it didn’t happen 100 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, was just data and the fact that all that data is now available, and it can be processed in an automated, scalable, repeatable way.”