„Game-Based Learning“, „Serious Games“,„Games with a Purpose“ and „Gamification“– the list of concepts, which build upon the prospect of using the potential of games in other application areas is long. All concepts share the same idea of generating additional benefits beyond pure entertainment by using games, their technology or mechanisms. By no means, all of these expectations raised by the concepts are achieved. A lot of projects fail due to the incompatibility of games and serious applications and it often appears, that the effort for achieving compatibility is not commercially viable.
However, in the past years several prominent examples approved the believed potential: The serious game „Re-Mission“ supports children with cancer during their therapy by increasing their motivation and strengthening the perceived self-efficacy, increasing life expectancy through enhanced adherence to therapy. The game „PeaceMaker“ bases upon real events of the Palestine conflict and offers the player the option to experience the conflict from both sides. The puzzle game „Fold-it“ enables gamers to master complex medicinal challenges on which high-performance computers fail and which lead to important findings for e.g. the cancer and HIV research.
The concept of Gamification
The term „Gamification“ does not refer to a fundamentally new concept. Gamification describes the integration of game elements and mechanisms in a non-game context and borrows a lot of ideas from the related areas mentioned in the beginning. Gamification focuses on the optimization of user motivation and customer loyalty, raising the return on investment (ROI) or improving data quality or learning outcomes (Wikipedia).
The term Gamification may suggest a simple integration of game elements in non-game applications. In fact and unfortunately, Gamification is often interpreted and applied in this manner: Point lists, highscore tables or badges (virtual awards) are attached to an already completed product or an established process. Still in a lot of applications it is becoming evident that simply adding these game elements does not unfold the potential expected from Gamification.
Actually, there are a lot of service providers focusing on the superficial enrichment of systems by adding points, badges and highscore tables. This simple and low-cost integration of game elements is the target of criticism, because it often ignores the process or application context due to little or no effort going into the analysis of user, process or context requirements. Thereby, in some cases the game elements appear to be out of place and for this reason are destined to fail. Market research company Gartner estimated that 80% of gamified applications will fail to meet their business objectives primarily due to poor design.
At the same time there are counterexamples, which highlight the potential of Gamification. The application “Superbetter” by the game designer Jane McGonigal generates motivation to fulfill goals by the playful integration of friends. The mobile application “Zombies, Run” builds upon an interactive audio drama to increase motivation for runners and to make the whole activity more playful. The software giant Google applied a Gamification system in the advanced training for their sales personnel and thereby was able to accelerate the overall process. SAP uses gamified elements as well in order to motivate and reward the participation in its own community network.
When one takes a closer look at such successful examples, it can be recognized that the playful elements were considered from the beginning of the development. Similar to Usability, Gamification is rather a design process than a product, which can be added subsequently. For example, SAP uses the term “game-design thinking” and thus highlights the importance of the design process approach.
After all, how does the ideal process for the integration of gamified elements look like?
Gamification as a design process
Before defining the goal it makes sense to analyze the established process, interview users and investigate further requirements of the application context. In doing so, methods from the area of usability engineering are capable to identify numerous requirements and with it laying the foundation for the goal definition.
For the whole development process it is essential to set a clear goal for the application of game elements right from the beginning. What shall the game elements provoke? Shall they strengthen your customer loyalty? Or increase the motivation of your employees? Or make a process more efficient? The goal should be fixed in a clear and unmistakable mission statement, which can be recalled whenever needed.
Nearly as important as the goal is the possibility to measure achievement. When and how was the goal achieved? Can it be quantified in some way? Reasonable methods for the examination of the target achievement are questionnaires and interviews with customers and employees, before/after studies comparing efficiency data or investigating the data quality.
Also, one has to discard the idea that every process can be enriched through game elements. In some cases, it may be worth considering the redesign of the underlying process first before successfully integrating game elements. All stakeholders should participate in a redesign to represent the different perspectives on a process and the implications of the integration of game elements.
Early in the development process prototypes should be available to investigate the game elements in line with the process functionality. Experiences from game development highlight the importance of testing game mechanics as soon as possible. The tests should not only focus on a functional level, but primarily on the question if the game elements work as intended in the right context.
In order to estimate the implications of game mechanics skilled personnel is needed. As most companies do not have a professional game designer at their disposal, it makes sense to hire external expertise. Especially during the process, analysis and idea generation for the enrichment of those processes through game mechanics, persons with experience in game design should be involved, who ideally possess additional skills in the areas of usability engineering and interaction design in order to balance game mechanics and the general user experience.
This short wrap-up of recommendations for the development process illustrates the effort, which is needed to identify appropriate game elements and apply them in the respective processes and activities. The integration of game elements in work processes is not an easy task: In the design and integration of game elements one should proceed with caution to avoid running into the risk of being counterproductive through gamified concepts. If done right, Gamification is a powerful tool, which offers the potential not only to optimize processes but also to motivate employees and improve customer loyalty.