Games – a big problem or smart business strategy?

May 13, 2023

Written for, an Indian blog about business in India.If you have been keeping your ears on the proverbial “tech” ground, you will know about the “gamification” buzzword. It means incorporating what we know about games into businesses, user experience and consumer design.Let me explain.Games have often been touted as one of the biggest problems in society. Phrases such as “they are bad for children” and “they provide no useful value” have been common parlance and sound bytes for media around the world.This is changing fast. More recently, a lot of well-known presenters, tech blogs and books have been talking about the “value” of games – internal and external.The idea of using concepts in games to solve challenges in your organisation is fast becoming more acceptable.Perhaps the most discussed aspect is that of engaging consumers by using “game related techniques” in your products and services. Reward points for loyalty and maximum rewards give you prizes are something you come across on a daily basis. A large part of the success associated with technologies such as FourSquare, Gowalla and TopGuest amongst others seems to be associated with this aspect of gamification.The other aspect of this is internal. Arguably the most debated part about gamification is internal games for employee motivation and innovation. Various performance reviews, internal prizes and job competition are subtle games that take place in a lot of the large organisations. There are new techniques being tried as overt ways of engaging employees and leading them to the desired output. More and more organisations are setting up programs that lead to more innovation or keep employees motivated through internal games.Of course, the “games” at the core have to be fun and well integrated with your product and brand. That matters more than anything else.So how does it all work? What’s in it for you?There are a few rules that are usually discussed. We have some experience as an organisation, but a large part of what I am about to share is largely anecdotal. It is mainly a different way of thinking, less a revolution, so we continue to adopt it in our business in an on-going manner.There is some serious thought that has to be put in to game driven psychology. A lot of organisations are now in fact investing in “game designers” for internal motivation and support. You may or may not need dedicated resources on this front, but you certainly need to invest time and energy if you wish to incorporate gamification as a business strategy.Essentially there are a few ground rules for gamification.Firstly, game is a ‘construct’, and you need to appreciate that. There are various ideas associated with games that make them what they are – their intrinsic values. Being the “best”, “top of the charts”, improving over time, solving challenges – more than other things are motivational factors for people.However, when I say that competition in games is a motivational factor, it is with the understanding that it appeals if it only highlights the positives. Why is there no “dislike” button in Facebook? It is critical that you focus on the positives!The second aspect, as aforementioned, is making it fun and simple. Games do well when they look good and are easy to use. In fact they do best when they are also easy to master. Share a task with employees in two formats, one that looks plain but gives you points for reading and one that is appealing and gives you points for answering questions (with reading associated) – you know which task will be used more already.The desired output needs to be driven through an understanding of your audience, like everything else you do in business.The last rule is that of making the engagement meaningful. Provide a user with points for doing something straightforward versus being rewarded for applying their skills (still easy, but not straightforward). People are more likely to use your product for the latter than the former. In fact, it will encourage repeat use if you factor in recursive and automated behaviour in the game.You have to be careful in your design process and incorporate all these ideas. At the end of the day a meaningful, well-designed and simple task works as much in games as in real life.Think about your users and your employees – what motivates them? That should help you in your next game.