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The Next Game Changer after Social Media: Gamification

It is about to become one of the major trends of our times and it fundamentally changes the way we live and interact with everything around us. It is the latest gift from social networks and regarded as the next big thing; Gamification!


Becoming popular recently at SXSW, gamification is the concept of applying the basic elements that make games fun and engaging to things that typically aren’t considered a game. In theory, you can apply game design to almost anything: education, health, marketing, social good or personal training. It combines fun, rewards and the power of social networks in a single package.


The concept of gamification is not new – it’s been going on for years. But the growth of social networks and advanced mobile devices gave the concept a whole new dimension.


The tremendous success of social games with millions of users has proven that the concept has the power to connect people and companies in ways never seen before.


Fortune article stated that companies are realizing that gamification is an effective way to generate business. As gamers and developers have found, a fun process coupled with a system for incentives or rewards for a job well done can become downright addictive.

A common example of gamification in the real world is frequent-flier programs that airlines pioneered and benefited immensely. Loyalty programs and loyalty cards are also examples of gamification in the real world that encourage customers to spend more money to unlock certain things or get certain advantages. Have you ever signed up for a newsletter for a chance to win a prize? Do you collect frequent flier miles? Do you check in with Foursquare? Are you a silver, gold, platinum member of a club? You are in the game!

Gamification has made it into the workplace as well. As a new generation of knowledge workers land in jobs at organizations big and small, they’re bringing with them different expectations and are motivated differently than workers once were. One way to motivate those workers is by incorporating game mechanics into the workplace, especially when it comes to rewarding worker performance.


Gamification is a combination of quantification, rewards, autonomy and challenge which makes it ideal for the workplace. If it is used effectively, it boosts collaboration and feedback within the organization. It is so powerful that Facebook started using a software called Rypple's Loops for managing its internal reviews and communication. The program is the next step in using gamification and feedback loops to engage employees and provide near real time analytics at work. If the aim of game mechanics is to make work more engaging, then the mechanics need to be applied to actual business processes. It shouldn’t be time-wasting games tacked on to something else.


But gamification isn’t confined to social games or business world. Universities and educators have also adopted these techniques to enhance the way students process and use information. The Center for Game Science at the University of Washington presented their game FOLDIT, a game meant to help students better understand the structure of proteins inside the human body. The game has over 200,000 players, many with no background in biochemistry. Determining the shape of proteins is a slow and expensive process, so biochemists turned to computers to help them predict the shapes. It turns out that FOLDIT outperforms any known computational processes. And it’s a game!


On the other hand, if the concept is not executed in an effective and creative way, may have a negative effect on your customers.


Experts warn that some of the most popular implementations are not very sustainable. Just awarding badges and points does not create a game. It is simply taking the a single component of the games (pointification) and representing it as the core of the experience. Points and badges have no closer a relationship to games than they do to websites and fitness apps and loyalty cards. They’re great tools for communicating progress and acknowledging effort, but neither points nor badges in any way constitute a game.


Critics also point out that when it gets to the point every web site/service is giving people badges, most people will just stop caring. They caution the developers to avoid cliché, over-used game mechanics and expect to see the integration of some of the other, newer and or less mature concepts.

Another important aspect of gamification is that individuals don’t work and/or respond to incentives/disincentives in the same way. Just like any other business function, you need to know who exactly your target audience is and combine the right game mechanics for the right audience. You might have to develop different game strategies for different markets and try to combine different online and offline elements into your games.

Once  implemented effectively, “gamified” businesses, programs and products prove that people respond positively to this new level of engagement. Unlike in most games where there’s only one winner, successfully gamified programs will result in a win-win situation, both for the company and the consumer.


Gamification is more just games, it is a new way of looking at interaction. As with all emerging concepts, the success of gamification implementations relies heavily on a cross-disciplinary collaboration. Game designers, mobile application developers, educators, marketers, social network gurus all need to play together to make this exciting concept work.


What do you think? What is your next move? Please share your ideas, suggestions and questions.


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Comment by Emre Tuncbilek on July 18, 2011 at 2:25pm

@Jim, Very impressive work and great graphics. I am very curious about the projects you are working on and will contact you.


@Philip, Using game mechanics to support behavioral change is an effective way to do it. This is a very interesting implementation, I am looking forward to seeing it in action. Great news, thank you for sharing.

Comment by Philip Johnson on July 15, 2011 at 9:57am
My research group at UH is developing an energy challenge called the Kukui Cup that incorporates game mechanics to support behavioral change.  "The Quest for the Kukui Cup" will be unleashed on 1000 first year students at UH in October, 2011.
Comment by Kevin Luttrell on July 14, 2011 at 11:53am

@ Mika. Online job interviews are already gamified:

roll the dice

spin the wheel of fate

double down with a resume and website..

And the house always wins.

Comment by Jim Langford on July 14, 2011 at 8:08am

Please check out my company, we have been doing this for decades!!!


We are interviewing for our studio and working on some great development projects!

Comment by Emre Tuncbilek on July 13, 2011 at 4:38am

@Marcus, you are absolutely right, gamification addresses the very instinctive needs like competing and connecting. The concept works like a charm provided that it is composed right for the context. I loved the Euler example, one of the sentences that struck me was "The ORIC-1 wasn't really a toy, but a toy maker". I think it sums up really well what gamification is trying to achieve.


@Dan, mobile devices and social apps are the key components that make the concept work. The first developers who can replicate the success of GREE in the U.S. might as well be the next Google or Facebook. Maybe Zynga can do it? Apart from social gaming, there is also a very significant niche in gamifying business applications (ERP, CRM, HRM etc.) where user adoption either kills or crowns the implementation. 


@Cameron, I totally agree with you about the big bucks, next couple of years will require a great deal of change management for traditional networks.


@Mika, That's such an interesting idea. It reminds me of a movie called The Method by Piñeyro, which somewhat applies game mechanics to job interviewing process in a rather "corporate" way.

Also inspired by your question, I posted a new discussion on Gamification group, please feel free to post there as well :)

Comment by Mika Leuck on July 12, 2011 at 3:24pm
I wonder if online job interviews will become gamified :-) Why not?
Comment by Cameron Souza on July 12, 2011 at 3:03pm
I think gamification of social media is where the big bucks are to be made. As Dan mentioned, the biggest social network in Asia is a game based platform and we are starting to see the same trend in the US.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on July 11, 2011 at 11:11pm
Japanese game based social network GREE is now the largest social network in Japan having passed general purpose social network Mixi last year in terms of membership and revenue. The entire network revolves around games and over 90% of access is via mobile devices.
Comment by Marcus Sortijas on July 11, 2011 at 6:05pm

I think gaming plays on people's need to connect and compete with each other.  A former Electronics Arts executive delivered a great presentation on this topic: Every Startup CEO Should Understand Gamification.  Things on the Web are always moving toward being more social and more interactive.


Similar to your example of Fold.It, there's a website called Project Euler that gets people to learn mathematics and programming through solving puzzles.  It was featured in an article in The Atlantic titled How I Failed, Failed, and Finally Succeeded at Learning How to Code.


I'd love to see more examples from workplaces and schools that are applying gaming concepts to their environments.  If we could make productivity and learning more fun, we would get a lot more done.


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