We’ve come a long way since the days where consoles and gaming were a niche hobby for kids and nerds. Video games are one of the highest-grossing markets worldwide. More than 72% of gamers are over 18 years old and 48% of US women play at least once a day. And with cloud-based gaming like Project Xcloud, soon we’ll be able to play pretty much anything with our mobile devices.
Gaming has had its fair share of criticism and drama. For example, MMO addiction became so prevalent in the media discourse that even South Park dedicated an episode to the big boy of the genre, World of Warcraft. And let’s not forget politicians trying to ban video games for inciting violence, or the 2018’s debacle with loot boxes and EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II.
But that’s just one side of the story. There are a lot of positives to videogames, like the social and cognitive benefits of gaming or how game concepts are being implemented in almost every aspect of life. Just ask any frontend or backend developer how trendy gamification has become in website, apps, and software development and you’ll quickly see it.
The process of implementing gaming concepts in non-game concepts (known as gamification) is an investment that requires planning and QA. For example, reward cycles are hard to pin down, which is why video game companies not only do in-house testing but also hire offshore software testing companies to test mechanics before releasing their products. Fortunately, the outcome is well worth the effort.
The art of turning business into a game
Jane McGonigal, game developer and author of two best-sellers, SuperBetter and Reality is Broken, is one of the biggest names in gamification. To put it in her terms, gamification is a way of adapting gaming concepts to reality in an effort to create a more engaging and worthwhile experience in all areas of our life.
One such area is the client-business relationship. In it, gamification can be achieved by applying simple concepts such as earning badges, score tracking, and levels. Thus, companies reward consumer’s engagement with their platforms and products through typical gaming elements. Sometimes that happens in very literal ways, for example, Stride Rite rewarded coupons to kids who earned a high-score in dance-off while trying out their shoes.
Granted, some of these strategies aren’t “new”. Loyalty punch cards have existed since forever, and we all probably know someone who earned a prize by being the 100th customer or some such. So what does gamification add to the table?
In one word, technology. Do you remember the Pokemon Go craze a few years ago? Well, if you were one of the lucky locations to be a Gym or a Pokestop (or you happened to be near one) people would visit your location in droves. A simple ARG was a game-changer for many stores worldwide.
Spelling work with fun
Gamification has also been implemented behind the counter. Perhaps the most famous example is Amazon’s warehouse project. Each employee’s workstation has a game-like interface that keeps track of the products that need to be dispatched, so workers gain points by filling their quota and earn badges and rewards for achieving high-scores.
Uber uses two dirty tricks with amazing results. The first is called the “ludic loop”. By creating a set of incremental never-ending objectives, the employee has a constant feeling of achievement without ever actually reaching a definite goal.
That’s the basis of looter games we know and love like Diablo 3 or Destiny 2. We spend hours grinding our way through activities for that piece that increases our stats just a bit more but to what end? To aim for higher difficulties and bigger challenges. It’s a never-ending cycle that keeps going as long as the developer adds more content and the player stays engaged.
The second trick is commonly known as breadcrumbs. You can see this technique commonly used in modern RPGs where designers make sure that you always have at least one quest in your log. Players tend to stay engaged since there is always “one more thing to do” before putting the controller down.
In Uber’s case, the algorithm automatically assigns a new job to the driver before they finish with their current client. The technique was so effective that Uber had to add a pause button because drivers weren’t taking any breaks.
And yes, you may have noticed that this is in fact the same principle behind binging series in Netflix, where the next episode pops up as soon as the credits start rolling, evoking that “just one more” thought pattern that keeps us watching despite our better judgment.
Gaming in the office
Not only are games a healthy way to relieve stress, but they are excellent tools for team building. If you’ve ever raided in an MMO or played a coop game like Overcooked you are well aware that communication is key. Get a bunch of people playing together and you’ll see how teamwork emerges naturally.
Researchers have found that adding video games to training courses increases productivity by up to 20%. Also, in a virtual environment, a newcomer is free to make mistakes and to learn from them while minimizing the effects on other coworkers and the company.
To quote Jane McGonigal: “Reality is broken. Game designers can fix it.” That’s what gamification is all about, after all: bringing fun elements to everyday activities to make them more enjoyable and engaging.