In an Incentive Research Foundation webinar entitled It's a Game-Changer: Game Mechanics and the Future of Reward and Recognition Programs, game mechanics are portrayed as a way to motivate employees by tapping into basic human desires for recognition and prestige.
Barry Kirk, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Silicon Valley-based gamification provider Bunchball Inc., said whatever the goal of the program, be it to recognize good work or the achievement of a sales quota, gamification can enhance the program by making it "more collaborative, more competitive, or allowing it to be more social."
By igniting an employee's drive to acquire more points to achieve a certain goal or reward, game mechanics can "change the nature of [the program] to make it more engaging," he said.
Melissa Van Dyke, President of the IRF and webinar co-presenter, stated that research has boiled down any single instance of human behavior as the product of three factors: motivation, ability and trigger. "The most important thing about all three of these factors is that they have to converge at the same time, which means in order to successfully drive or influence a behavior through a game mechanic, the game mechanic has to insure that all three of these factors occur at exactly the same moment," she said.
To achieve that goal of convergence, program managers must understand how different people are motivated to play along. Van Dyke said four basic personality types have been identified: achiever, explorer, socializer and killer. "The killer personality type requires a gaming dynamic that moves much faster than does the socializer personality type," Van Dyke said.
Then the reward mechanism for a program must be identified. The reward can be tangible (gift cards, travel) or intangible (virtual goods, badges). Points gained on the road to that reward are a "natural, basic, building block of game dynamics," according to Van Dyke. Points are popular because of their flexibility; they can reward customers, employees or be used to achieve a variety of business objectives, she said.
Leaderboards, such as pop-ups that appear at the end of arcade games, are another popular game mechanic. "Leaderboards can help drive healthy competition," Van Dyke said. "The gamification also extends that leaderboard concept by not just using points or, for example, sales dollars to rank and create leaderboards, but by layering and combining it with other concepts, such as achievements and levels."
Van Dyke said the gamification market is estimated at $100 million, but is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2016. Gartner Inc. research suggests that over 70 percent of the 2,000 largest global companies will employ gamified rewards and incentives programs by 2014, she added.
The webinar detailed several case studies that showed how game mechanics improved program performance. One Fortune 500 company instituted a loyalty program to educate channel partners on the company's redesigned website. The partners explored product-related information on the site to earn badges. The result was that site visits tripled, return visits increased and sales claims doubled.
Another company used game mechanics to reduce call times at a virtual call center by 15 percent for some agents. And Dell Inc. employed quick response (QR) codes to boost attendee participation at a conference. The extensive data accumulated from attendees scanning QR codes at booths, education sessions, exhibits and food stations allowed Dell to adjust content, visuals and food types at the conference in real time.
One pitfall to avoid is to layer an actual game on top of a boring task. The webinar cited a sales organization that created a golf game to assign leads. "That effort, however, backfired because it took sales managers longer to play the game than it did to simply assign the lead, as they had done in the past," Van Dyke said.
Kirk added that a great advantage of gamifying rewards and incentive programs is that people are already familiar with the language of games. "So we don't feel like we're experts, but we're all using all of the tools, or at least many of the tools, that are used in gamification," he said.
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