June 07, 2012, 5:00 PM — Back in 2006, Jim Lavoie, president of Rite Solutions, a Defense Department software contractor, wanted his employees to play a more active role in innovating new ideas. But he knew a top-down approach from management ordering such behavior wouldn't work. "Organizations that are smart enough to ask employees for ideas know that the best approach is to do it in a fun way," he says. "If it's not fun, it's work; and if it's work, it sucks."
So Lavoie created a game called Mutual Fun. Employees are given virtual money they can invest in ideas created by themselves or co-workers. If enough people in the company buy into an idea and it comes to fruition, those that have invested earn more money. Top earners appear on a leaderboard for all the participants to see and rewards for successful new products or services can be incorporated. Mutual Fun took off and now Rite Solutions sells Mutual Fun as a cloud-based software-as-a-service business application.
MORE GAMES: The 20 best iPhone/iPad games of 2012 so far
Rite Solution's Mutual Fun application represents an emerging area dubbed "gamification of the enterprise," which means incorporating game-like features to business applications or settings to encourage collaboration or engagement. It's a potentially big industry, some researchers predict. Constellation Research analyst R "Ray" Wang predicts that by the end of next year, half of social collaboration tools will have some competition, reward or game elements in them. Gartner predicts that by 2014, 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have incorporated gaming techniques, such as competition, recognition or role-playing, in at least one application.
"The big issue is that everyone's looking for a way to get people engaged," says Wang. "Everyone's looking for the things that will influence behavior." Competition and jockeying are a natural human traits that can be used to encourage people to do things they may not have done before, he argues.