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Gamification: a business and societal model for the 21st century


Gamification: a business and societal model for the 21st century


It is common to hear that the only constant in the world is change. But organisations and individuals are very often overwhelmed with the prospect of change. Beyond the monetary cost, change requires seeing and doing things in a different way, and to get there it may be necessary to unlearn and re-learn to do things differently.

Playing is one of the most effective and engaging ways to learn, and learning is a source of value creation in our knowledge-based society. Gamified initiatives have proven successful in engaging individuals to solve real-world problems and to enable experiential learning in the process.

Experiential knowledge covers the whole range of capacities from judgment and discernment to openness of mind and the aptitude to assimilate new formal knowledge. It is one thing to know grammatical rules, but knowing how to speak a language is something fundamentally different.

In this context, companies can maximize the value of their staff through experiences (like games) that are able to turn the most complex business problems into intuitive answers. This way, people don’t really need to transform themselves to generate positive change. All they need to do is play.

A remarkable example took place at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington. Instead of using the processing power of computers, developing new teams, new capabilities and new ways of doing things, scientists from decided to hire video game developers to help them solve some big challenges.

The result of that was Foldit, an online, video puzzle-game, where the ‘score’ is calculated based on how well-folded a protein is. The developers of Foldit focused on crowdsourcing human intelligence and imagination through an experimental video game. This approach attracted a much wider audience than those in the scientific community.

Even without a formal scientific education or background, Foldit gamers in 2011 helped decipher the crystal structure of an AIDS causing monkey virus – a problem that had remained unsolved by scientists for fifteen years. And on January 2012, Scientific American reported that the Foldit gamers had achieved the first crowdsourced redesign of a protein.

In 2013, the game creators announced a plan to add the chemical building blocks that included organic subcomponents to enable the Foldit players to design small molecules. And, who knows, maybe by 2030 a cure for diseases will come from teenagers’ joysticks.

According to video game developer Jane McGonigal, gamers are motivated to face and overcome challenges. This is because they are invited to participate in epic adventures where every achievement is rewarded with bonus points. This provides a sense of accomplishment that results in extreme productivity – often thousands of hours without food or sleep.

With an army of tireless problem-solvers ready for an ever greater challenge, the Institute for the Future and the World Bank Institute (WBI) combined efforts and created a series of games where oil, poverty, health, security and other pressing issues were turned into video games.

WBI certificates were issued for those who could successfully complete the game. Although still in the experimental stage of a bigger plan to save the world, other more practical and specific projects are strong proof-points of how gaming can engage people through a common objective to improve things.

Gamification, however, is not a project; it’s a business channel invested for the long-term. And this is not limited to academia or money-loaded organisations like the World Bank. Companies of all types and sizes can take advantage of it. Below are six good examples:

  • Cisco used gaming strategies to enhance its virtual global sales meeting and call center company and reduced call time by 15%, improving sales between 8 and 12 percent (source: Deloitte Review)
  • Deloitte training programs using gamification took 50% less time to complete, and kept its staff more involved than ever before (source: Huffington Post).
  • Bell Media increased customer retention by 33% by incorporating ‘social loyalty’ rewards on its website (source: Society for Human Resource Management).
  • Nike used gamified feedback to drive over five million individuals to beat their personal fitness goals every day of the year (source: Huffington Post).
  • Spotify and Living Social replaced annual reviews with a mobile, gamified solution in which over 90% of employees participated voluntarily (source: Huffington Post).
  • Verizon users spend over 30% more time on-site with social login games versus a regular site login. Their site experienced more than 15% more page views (source: Entrepreneur).

A gamifying strategy has the ability to embrace complexity, smoothen change, increase a company’s bottom line and, ultimately, it has the potential to transform people into enterprises for themselves.

In this sense, the learning organisation—one that creates value within and outside its boundaries – can and must be the paradigm for a learning society in which the development of each person’s abilities is everyone’s goal. So dust-off your joysticks; it’s game on!



Sérgio Brodsky

Sérgio Brodsky (L.LM, MBA) is an internationally experienced brand strategist, a marketing lecturer at RMIT and chairman at The Marketing Academy Alumni. He is passionate about cities and culture and the role of brands and technology in society, an intersection from where he drew inspiration to conceive a radically innovative approach to brand communications, he coined Urban Brand-Utility. Connect with Sérgio on www.sergio-brodsky.com or through his Twitter handle @brandKzarglobal brand strategy and innovation. Follow him on Twitter: brandKzar.

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