Making games of enterprise software

Gamification is an emerging technique of using gaming techniques to better engage software users

By , IDG News Service |  Software, gamification

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flickr/San Sharma

Thanks to computers and the Internet, everyone is playing games these days.

Teenagers rack up hour after hour on "World of Warcraft," as their parents grow crops on Zynga's "Farmville." All in all, about 83% of the people living in the U.S. play a video game at least once during the year, according to a 2009 National Gamers Survey.

At first glance, all this game playing may not seem relevant to the enterprise. Deeper inspection, however, reveals that the mechanisms that guide and score online game playing can be used for much more than the keeping tabs on virtual farms.

In fact, the large social networks are already using people's love of gaming to keep users returning. Foursquare has amassed 20 million users who enjoy checking in at various locations, winning coupons and recognition for doing so. Social networks know that, when embedded in software or services, gaming techniques can help motivate users, keep customers loyal, and provide a wealth of data that can be used to analyze and improve operations.

Games have distinct characteristics. They have set goals for their players, as well as rules that specify how to reach these goals. And, perhaps most importantly, they have feedback systems to let the players know how well they doing. Gamification is the process of applying these game-like feedback systems to online, social or work activities.

With gamification, "you are awarding the behavior you want to see people doing," said Tom Richardson, a managing partner at Deloitte.

Most businesses have been constructed to run as efficiently as possible. But what too many organizations leave out is a way to engage with either their customers or with their employees. Gamification addresses this shortcoming by using techniques from online games to motivate and guide people in business environments, said Michael Hugos, author of the book "Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business," published by O'Reilly Media.

At first glance, a manager may not see the point of adding game controls to enterprise software that is already being used by employees. The employees are paid to use the software, after all.

But money is not the only motivator for people. Think of how interesting a football match would be if no one kept score, nor kept any statistics on the players or teams. Gamification can make a routine business process more enjoyable for both customers and employees, thereby making it more them more likely to interact with your organization.

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